March at Bodnant Garden, Wales ~ follow this link for more photos and garden history.
Few garden flowers do awakening more flamboyantly than oriental poppies. They are true spirit-lifters. This one is also catching the early morning sun – along with a tiny crab spider. They are also very obliging on the renewal front, each year creating several suckers which are easily divided to make new plants. And if you cut them right back after the first flowering, you will be blessed with a late summer flush. Bees and hover flies love them too.
Their vegetation is fleshy with a tendency to break, but they are surprisingly hardy. The leaves have been up in my garden for a couple of months now. But I’m guessing it will be a good few weeks before we can enjoy this year’s round of poppy power. For now, the photos will have to suffice.
With this winter that will not end, my thoughts are turning to our Africa days with a longing for some tropical warmth.
After one fine day yesterday (wherein I managed to plant out some onion sets and broad bean plants) the rain returned in the night. And today it has rained and rained and rained. There was also fog over the fields for most of the day. Only as I write this at 7pm (and I’m wondering if looking at this Zanzibari scene hasn’t worked some magic) is there a hint of watery sunlight over Wenlock Edge. But there is more rain forecast for the rest of the week. If it keeps up like this Shropshire will float away back to where it began 400 million years ago, and pretty much in the location of this photograph – off East Africa in the Silurian Sea.
It’s an amusing thought, floating back to Africa. I can already smell the jasmine and the sea-salted frangipani. And the soft lap of waves. And watching the sun go down over mainland Tanzania.
Explore the use of anonymity to express both that which is common to all of us and the uniqueness that stands out even when the most obvious parts of us are hidden.
This view of the town is the one I see as I head to the allotment. I have captured it in many seasons. Today I’m posting it because it features one of the town’s oldest and most notable landmarks at the heart of our town – Holy Trinity Church which dates from the early Middle Ages and was once part of an impressive priory complex. And the reason for doing that is because its current vicar, Matthew Stafford, also known as ‘the mad vicar’ is featured in a 4-part BBC series A Vicar’s Life. The programmes follow the parish duties of three vicars in the rural Hereford diocese (of which Much Wenlock is a part although in Shropshire) over a one year period.
I adhere to no church or dogma, but I do have a lot of time for Matthew Stafford and the work he does in the community. If you watch only the first four minutes of this first episode you will perhaps see why. You will also be treated to bird’s eye views of Wenlock and see Matthew out and about in the town, as well as arranging a marriage at my local hairdressers.
The fervour of elephant love should never be underestimated. Look like a threat to an elephant child and death will surely follow. But in peaceful surroundings, and from safe quarters, the way a matriarchal group shepherds and protects their young is marvellous to behold. The header photo was taken in the Maasai Mara in 1999 from a safari truck, but the account below is of a scene witnessed in 1992, one night at Kilaguni Lodge in Tsavo West national park. Some of you will have read this piece before, but then I think it’s worth retelling. You can’t say too much about elephants, can you:
Night comes swiftly in the African bush but never quietly. As the sun drops behind the Chyulu Hills, so the pipe and whirr of frog and bug ratchet up a few decibels. It is like a million high tension wires being pinged and twanged. If you listen with both ears it can drive you mad. Likewise, if you allow yourself to succumb to the night’s sticky heat and the hypnotic scents of thorn flowers, then do not be surprised when the sudden scream of a tree hyrax stops your heart.
But we are not going mad. And our hearts are just fine. We think we have cracked this Africa lark. Well sprayed with insect-repellent, all accessible parts covered as can be, anti-malarials ingested, it seems safe to sit out on our veranda at Kilaguni Lodge and do some night-time big game watching.
Below our room is a barren stretch of red volcanic earth, and a water-hole lit up by two search lights. The illuminated circle that the lights create is like a stage set. It seems we are seated in a mysterious wildlife theatre waiting for the cast to appear.
The contrast is disturbing. By day, this self-same set is furnace red, littered with volcanic spoil; it is the haunt of the cadaverous-looking marabou storks and the occasional zebra. By night, all is softer, surreal. You feel you might dissolve through the light into perpetual darkness; for out there the night goes on forever, doesn’t it?
And so we go on gazing at the scene. It takes some time to realize that small groups of impala are emerging from the gloom. Their stillness is mesmerizing. Perhaps they are not there at all.
The impala are wary. You can almost see the charge of anxiety ripple through the herd. We hold our breath and stare into the dark behind the lights.
And then we see them – black hulks gliding through the thorn trees. Elephants. They have come so silently, walking always on tiptoes, their heels cushions of fat to muffle their footfalls. Slowly they move in from the bush. Even in the dimness beyond the pool, their hides glow red, irradiated by the igneous dirt they have blown over themselves.
In the wings the elephants pause. It is hard to say how many are there. After a few moments two peel away and the rest of the group retreats again into darkness. Two large matriarchs now head for the pool. At the water’s edge they part, and in matched strides stake out the water-hole from opposite directions. There’s an angry trumpeting when an impala fails to withdraw fast enough, and only when the entire bank is clear do the elephants go down and drink. Yet they have hardly taken a couple of gulps when they move back and take up guard duty, one at each end of the mud bank.
We are transfixed. We cannot fathom the plot, but note that, despite the elephants’ aggressive stance, there has been a concerted gracefulness to their routine. It crosses my mind that the great choreographer, Balanchine, once made a ballet for elephants. Now we see they have dances of their own.
And so we wait.
Slowly the rest of the group reappears, moving as one in the tightest huddle. As they enter the spotlight we understand. Tucked safely between the legs of four large cows are three infants. Like precious celebrities surrounded by an escort of heavies, the youngsters are guided to the water. There, with tiny trunks they cannot quite control, they drink their fill. The whole thing takes only a few minutes. Then, with this life-and-death task accomplished, the sentinels re-join the group, and the small herd leaves as silently as it came, melting into the backdrop.
For the rest of this piece see earlier post The Tsavo Big Game Show – It’s A Dangerous Pursuit
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
During our late summer stay in the hills near Harakopio in the Messinian Peloponnese, I was impressed by the dogs we passed on the lanes. Most were loose, yet they were clearly on duty. No malice was involved, but they barked to let us know that the olive grove we were passing through was under their jurisdiction. As soon as we reached the boundary, the barking ceased only to be taken up by the next property’s guardian.
Back at home some weeks later, I caught the ‘tail end’ of a programme on the BBC World Service, whose content I meant to follow up, but forgot to. Somewhere in the world where the exact location of rural land boundaries had been forgotten by humans, researchers found that they could pretty much identify them from monitoring their dogs’ barking zones.
The thing that struck me about all the dogs in the photos was, while they might be faithful comrades to humans, they still retained a sense of their own canine dignity. They were what I call good dogs.
The weather in Shropshire has taken a frigid turn – flurries of sleet and bone-chilling winds, the need to wear too many vests and socks and feeling that I’m far too nesh to venture out in it. For any reason whatsoever. (Allotment? What allotment?) Which also has me thinking of a warm sea and Peroulia Beach and the rosy displays laid on there each dawn and dusk, and walking through silent olive groves that come down to the shore, the days’ warmth stored in the many seasons’ leaf layers beneath our feet. At sunset we find we have the beach to ourselves. The sea barely lapping the sand, and somewhere across the Gulf, above the Mani’s fortress scarps, a raptor mews. There are no other sounds.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell