The Changing Seasons ~ Peroulia Dreaming 10

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October comes and we fly out of Kalamata International – one of the smallest airports I  have passed through outside upcountry Zambia.  It has been too brief a trip, and every day for seven days I have spent much time watching the mountains of the Mani peninsula across the Gulf. They are the southern spine of the Taygetos Massif, a range some 100 kilometres long that runs the length of the third, and easterly finger of the Peloponnese.

With all the looking, I have tried to  penetrate this fortress-land of faulted scarps and scattered habitation – at least in some sense. And in hopes of admission to the interior, the provision of a path that I might follow, I’ve been reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1950s book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. It was written before the road was built down the peninsula, and much of the excursion involved hard hiking and catching boats from cape to cape.

But sad to say, despite high hopes, the book is not really helping. I am still ploughing through it a good three weeks later in windblown Shropshire, the leaves of ash trees dashing by the windows like fleets of unleashed arrows. Yet it is true the narrative sets off with an actual journey into the far-flung quarters of the Deep Mani. It is true, too, that  along the way Leigh Fermor conjures  scenes of ravishing detail. And conjures is the only word for it. But the problem is his accounts of meetings with the Maniates in remote  and rocky fastnesses – often preternatural in the beauty of their evocation – are too brief and too soon abandoned for lengthy meanders  into arcane matters relating to quite other parts of Greece and its history. There is too much mention of obscure tribes, too many catalogues of unfamiliar names detached from context in time or space.

The book, then, rather than admitting me, mostly keeps me at bay. I’m not in the mood for ponderings on how the pantheon of Greek deities, serially dealt with one by one, have been repackaged as Christian saints. This reconfiguration is not an especially Greek phenomenon anyway.  Tell me more of the journey through this iron-hard land, Leigh Fermor. Give me more of your magic.

To be fair, near the start of the book there is the extraordinary history of the Mani village blood feuds – a pathological phase wherein the breeding of sons, referred to as ‘guns’, to wield long-barrelled rifles against neighbour-enemies, was a community fixation; this along with the building of ever taller stone towers from which to lay siege across small village squares.  Settlements bristled with these structures many storeys high. Rocks and cannon balls were hurled from their parapets on to the roofs of opposing families’ homes, causing the usual activities of village life to be suspended during daylight hours for fear of being shot or flattened.

Sometimes the feuds went on for generations. Even the local priests were involved, and mid-worship kept their rifles to hand. Meanwhile the womenfolk, the breeders of guns, extemporized long poetic dirges for the dead.  And if this were not enough, in between the feuding there was piracy and slave trading, and  oh yes, some farming, fishing and salt panning.

Then it seems the Maniates got a grip, stopped stoking local enmities and became prime movers in the 1821 Revolution so ending 350 years of Turkish domination of Greece and thereby setting the scene for a unified nation state. But then, having done this, it appears they reverted to bloody-minded type and became a troublesome thorn in the side of the new political entity.

If ever a people were bred of their terrain, then it must surely be the Maniates – tough, unyielding, unforgiving and, in their own particular way, magnificent. They inhabit territory that Homer knew, a land where gods and heroes walked, a place of resort for besieged ancient Mycenaeans, a place of disposal for the classical Spartans who took wrong-doers there to throw them down chasms and left sickly babes to die on hillsides.

And then the Mani boasts not one, but two entrances to the Underworld: in the labyrinthine caves of Diros in the north-west and at the southernmost tip of its tailbone at Cape Matapan where, guided by Athena and Hermes, Heracles descended to capture Cerberus, the monstrous ‘hound of Hades’.

Now that I am on the last lap with Leigh Fermor, I know I should not be too cross with him. In his stride he is a wonderful writer, and I treasure those transient episodes that let me meet the girl Vasilio, dine and sleep atop an old Mani village tower, quaff ouzo all but frozen from a mountain stream, walk into a desolate village and encounter astonishing hospitality. Such moments are breath-taking. Dream-like. But as for the rest…I read recently that the writer admitted to a friend that he did not know much about the Mani, and used the trip and the book as a peg on which to hang several unrelated topics that had long interested him. There is no doubting his deep regard for Greece and its peoples.

But now I am left in rainy, autumnal Shropshire with my outsider views of the western Taygetos. I have learned from other reading that this side of the peninsula is known as the Shadowy or Dark Mani because it receives little of the morning sun.

My photo at the head of this post suggests  other singular effects of locality. I was standing in the sea when I took it. Later when I looked at the result on screen I found that the only way to reveal any detail of the mountains was to darken the foreground. The more I did that, the more they emerged. It is a very odd photograph: as if two separate views have been spliced together. It is also hard to fathom the perspective. The mountains are two-dimensional, near and distant views almost occupying a single plane. In the midday light the scene looks like a mirage. Or there again like the film in a soap bubble just before it bursts; a negative not quite developed.

At other times of the day – at dawn and dusk, the peninsula solidifies flatly; a woodcut; or a paper chain of tumbled rhomboids; cardboard cut-outs.  Often there is a train of frothy cloud overhead. It looks like whipped meringue.

Another thought then. In my larder cupboard I have a jar of capers bathed in Mani olive oil, yet bought in my sister’s shop in Shropshire. I also have a jar of Mani honey, said to be the best in the region, created by bees who have foraged among the mountain flowers, and bought by G. in a shop on Koroni’s opposing Peloponnesian peninsula. As yet  I have opened neither – because another thought is brewing: to go to the Mani. Perhaps in springtime. Find out for myself what lies within.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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The Changing Seasons ~ September ~ In The Garden Early This Morning

Bright and early do not figure in my repertoire these days, at least not if it means vacating the bed. This morning, though, if there had been larks, I would have been up with them. Just before 7 am the light was magical. It was a case of grabbing cardie and camera, and setting off in my nightie (black silk in case you wanted to know, and so chic with scarlet woolly, motley scarf and green rubber clogs). It had to be done though, and just as well there were no neighbours to see, or early morning walkers on the field path. So here are the pix, hot off the memory card.

Out in the garden Teasing Georgia was all dewy buds and drooping petals. She’s having a second flowering, although this time round the roses have a slumberous air even when freshly opened. As if to say, ‘Don’t like us too much. We’re not staying long’.

Over the fence in the field the light is golden. For the first time I notice the change in leaf colour in the wood on the hill. I also notice that the farmer looks to have sown the field with a green manure after harvesting the wheat. If so, heavens be praised. It’s about time the land had a real nutrient fix along with the chemical cocktails. The speed the seedlings are growing I’m guessing it’s a mix of rye grass and mustard. We’ll see.

Our garden is long and narrow, and several steps up from the house. At the top corner we have a gate onto the field path, and just over the fence we have our ‘guerrilla garden,’ planted with insect pleasing plants in mind and to make some reparation for all the pesticides used on the far side of the path. I’m making a similar unofficial planting along the outside of our neighbours’ fence. A floral gallery approach to gardening. We could also call it a flood alleviation measure, given the field’s tendency to create run-off. At the moment it is the season of Michaelmas daisies and tiny russet crab apples, along with the last of the sweet peas, sunflowers, helenium and rudbeckia. Most of the year I leave the border to its own devices, apart from some thistle, nettle and couch grass removal. It gives us a lot of pleasure through the changing seasons.

Another summer-long feature that has dominated the garden chez Farrell is Project Shed. He who has been building it, aka Graham, has finally finished the job apart from having the electrics expertly checked. He has built it from scratch from his own design, including re-purposing  next-doors’ cast-off windows and door glass from another chum.  The curved railway truck roof is both a nod to the fact that the Great Western Railway, before Mr. Beeching killed it, once ran across our road, and also to reduce the shed’s height so it doesn’t loom over our neighbours. Now that he has practised I think I must insist on one for me – a cosy hideaway in which to muse and snooze, and write word or two. Beside the gate would be nice…I could watch the field grow, the bees in the guerrilla garden and the comings and goings of rooks…

The Changing Seasons: September Please visit Max to see his fab September gallery, and to share your own changing seasons photos.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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Changing Seasons ~ Is It August Or Autumn In Much Wenlock?

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Much like this thistle down in the field behind the allotment gardens,  I’m feeling wind-blown; swept off course somehow; as if I’ve woken from a Rip Van Winkle deep-sleep and found myself in another time. I’m not the only one either. Others I’ve spoken to feel equally unsettled and disorientated.

One moment, around mid-June we were having sun-shiny suppers out in the garden, the evenings still warm after sunset; summer stretching  ahead and full of promise.

Next it was all change – to cool, wet and windy. It seems as if autumn  has been here for weeks. The fields above the town are harvested and already ploughed. The still-standing wheat has a grey look as if it has been  left in the field too long (or had too much Roundup). The apple trees are shedding apples, leaves are turning colour,  and the Linden Walk has browning drifts of fallen lime tree seeds.

The question is: has autumn come to stay, or will there be another shot of summer just when we least expect it. In November maybe?

 

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The Changing Seasons Please visit Max for his take on Norway’s changing season, and also to catch up with the challenge rules.

July’s Changing Seasons ~ To Shropshire’s Mysterious Stiperstones

It is a wild and brooding place, one of the strangest in South Shropshire’s hill country. For one thing the Devil has his chair there, and when the mist comes down, this is where he sits – brimming with pent-up malevolence but unseen by us mortals.

We did not encounter mist on Saturday when we ventured there so we assumed the Devil was out. But there were lowering skies, a near absence of light and the threat of rain. Oh yes, and wind, that somehow caused a discontinuity of function between brain and feet, so making the trek over moorland paths strewn with quartzite cobbles somewhat hazardous.

The Stiperstones ridge extends 5 miles (8 km), and at its highest point on Manstone Rock is 1700 feet (536 metres) above sea level.  Standing on the top you can look west across the great expanse of Wales, and on clear days see Snowdon and Cader Idris mountains. Turn east, and you can scan across the Long Mynd to north east Shropshire and far, far beyond.

The ridge has ancient origins and half the world away, some 60 degrees south of the equator. It probably began existence as a quartz sand beach laid down by a shallow sea during the Ordovician, some 495-443 million years ago. Thereafter the landmass moved one inch a year for the next 450 million years to reach its present location 50 degrees north of the equator. A slow, slow journey, then, of 7,500 miles.

You might think, as you look at succeeding images, that it doesn’t look much like a beach these days. In fact it has suffered much folding, sending the beach skywards, and tilting it at angles of 80 degrees in places. Along its length are a series of  quartzite tors described by the eminent Victorian geologist, Murchison, as ‘rugged Cyclopean ruins’ (The Silurian System 1854). Besides the Devil’s Chair and Manstone Rocks there are also Diamond Rock, Cranberry Rock, Nipstone Rock and several other eye-catching outcrops.

The place is also described as ‘relict landscape’, one that is undergoing continuous weathering. What we see today was mostly shaped during the last Ice Age when the quartzite was locked in permafrost. Moisture seeped into the cracks, and as it froze, expanded, causing the rock to fissure and fragment.

The moors below the ridge-top are rich in whinberries and cowberries, and so provided food and grazing for human populations from at least the Bronze Age. These people from prehistory left us their burial monuments – stone cairns along the hill’s spine. Then around 100 CE the Romans arrived, avidly searching of silver, but mostly mining lead, and smelting it in hillside boles to provide material to line their plunge pools, make water pipes, cover roofs, construct their coffins, and for the craftsmen of Wroxeter Roman City to use in the production of pewter.

Down succeeding centuries lead mining expanded dramatically. The flanks of the Stiperstones are littered with adits and the mine shafts that featured so dramatically in Mary Webb’s Gone To Earth.  One of the biggest concerns, Snailbeach Mine, started at the foot of the hill in 1783, employed 500 workers at its height. For a century and more, then, the wild countryside was also a filthy industrial zone of delving, massive spoil heaps, steam-pumping engines and hard-worked men and boys.

Yet somehow this phase too has somehow welded itself into the mythic fabric of the landscape, an impression heightened by the strange visual effect of Stiperstones quartzite – that it somehow looks black against the light, when in fact it is grey and speckled with ice white crystals.

And on that note I’ll leave you with the words of Much Wenlock’s Mary Webb, whose writerly landscape this very much was – and in all senses. This quote is from The Golden Arrow:

The whole countryside was acquiring in his eyes something portentous, apocalyptic. For the personality of a man reacting upon the spirit of a place produces something which is neither the man nor the  place, but fiercer or more beautiful than either. This third entity, born of the union,  becomes a  power and a haunting presence – non-human, non-material.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Changing Seasons – Please visit Max for this month’s jaw-dropping vistas from his trekking trip to the Romsdalseggen: not for the faint-hearted.

The Changing Seasons: And Most Of Them Happened In June

So much weather in June! The header photo rather sums up my feelings of rapid changeability – flowers in the garden one minute, then gone the next.

Here in the UK we’ve sweltered in temperatures above 34C. We’ve had prolonged drought. There have been cold winds. And now this week we’re having a ‘mini-monsoon’, the temperatures dropping so it feels and looks more like October. Yesterday along Wenlock Edge there was even fog, and this morning when I went outside to survey the plant life, it was to find autumnal spans of spiders’ webs glistening with raindrops, and the newly opened sunflower looking as if it wished to go back in its bud. It looked so forlorn staring at the place in the leaden sky where the sun should be.

On top of that, the last of the Teasing Georgia’s roses have been trashed and mashed, the foxgloves that were so stunning are all gone, and the allium seed heads (that look like floral fireworks ) are alive with the tiniest crab spiders, all busy being rather sinister despite being scarcely more than two millimetres across, and just out of their eggs. This first photo makes said arthropod look monster sized. For a better sense of scale look out for the spider on the second allium shot. It’s near the bottom edge, left of the flower stalk.

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But all is not lost in the garden. The late spring flowers may have been washed away, but the spires of verbascum are just opening, the yellow doronicum is doing its best to stand in for the sun, and geranium Rozanne is now on parade until the first frosts. Of course, as things are going, that could be next week. Who knows?

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The Changing Seasons: April And the Alien Invasion?

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All right I’m a gardener, and maybe a tad prone to persecution mania on the pest front, but this month it’s been wall to wall dandelions, and no sign of the invasion letting up. Not only are they EVERYWHERE, and especially out in force at the allotment, but they are also showing signs of mutating into mega-weeds, some as big as palm trees. OK. Perhaps not quite that big. But I can see what they’re plotting: world domination in Much Wenlock.

All means of defence seem puny before the onslaught. I’ve tried mowing, hoeing, beheading, excising. Even resorted to engaging in dialogue of the non-expletive variety. But it’s no go. So I thought I’d shoot the varmints instead – photo-wise naturally. And of course, they really are very beautiful – whether in flower or gone to seed – and also so very perfectly designed for maximum coverage of planet Earth.

The one thing I’ve forgotten to do this year is eat some of them – young leaves in salad and for a system-cleansing tea, roots dry-roasted  to make quite a passable coffee that also has health benefits, flowers deep fried as fritters (though I’ve not tried this). And now that I’m seeing them in a more kindly light, and established a little perspective, I’m ready to post a less fraught compilation of April shots taken on and around the allotment.

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The Changing Seasons: April 2017 Please visit Max at Cardinal Guzman to see Oslo in April and other bloggers’ offerings.

The Changing Seasons ~ March

This first photo sums up our best  March highlight so far – a trip to Ludlow a couple of weeks ago – a day of near summer weather where we sat out at a pavement cafe without coats, and had a delicious pasta and spicy clam lunch; followed a couple of hours later by afternoon tea and cake at the riverside Green Cafe, where we were still outside and coatless. Bliss. Ducks in companionable clumps were sunbathing on the river islands, the River Teme was teeming over the weir, the more active ducks were using it as a duck chute, and people and dogs were lazing about the place, soaking up the sun. The whole day seemed like a dream.

But now we are not dreaming, for if March came in like a lamb, then today it is definitely in lion mode – all biting, icy teeth, and I’m being a weak and feeble woman, and failing to gird myself for an allotment visit. It’s much more pleasant to assemble a gallery of warm-day-out photos. Welcome to Ludlow, South Shropshire’s loveliest market town:

 

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

To take part in The Changing Seasons challenge, please visit Max over at Cardinal Guzman. The rules are simple, and you get to see Max’s photo shoots around Oslo.

February’s Changing Seasons ~ Shots From The Plot

 

Way-hay – it’s spring, or so it seems, and now I feel I need to garden on the run in order to catch up. Much earth moving must be done at the allotment – all the jobs it was too wet to do in the autumn. All the jobs that it’s still to wet to do now. But at least the temperatures are kinder.

And the light is so promising. I’m celebrating that fact in the re-composed top shot of an allotment sunset, captured through the neighbouring hedgerow.

In fact every day now you can see the over-wintered plant life responding as light levels and temperatures rise: purple sprouting sprouting, cauliflowers hatching inside their leaf-folds, chives shooting, rhubarb unfurling, spinach expanding. Then there are carrots to pull from their bucket in the polytunnel, and Chinese mustard and Russian Kale; the autumn sown lettuce are starting to fill out.

Meanwhile inside the polytunnel a big makeover is also afoot. He-who-makes-raised-beds-out-of-old-pallets has been dragooned  into  commissioned to reorganise the planting zones. Instead of wide beds along each side and a path up the middle, the plan is to have one continuous narrow but deep bed on one side, a narrow raised bed down the centre for tomatoes, and three separate raised beds down the far side.

After two days slog establishing the first and second phases, HWMRBOOOP heroically informs me that the stage 3 separate beds are now ready, flat-pack style, for the final part of the installation. The only problem is that it is now windy and raining and we don’t feel like leaving the house. Also this last part of operations will require shifting tons of soil from the old side bed into the new beds, and there’s only so much heaving and hauling one can do in a week.

I’ve already shunted and prepared the soil in polytunnel beds 1 and 2, turned over three big squidgy compost heaps (my compost making technique leaves a lot to be desired), sifted out enough usable stuff to cover several outdoor beds, while starting a new heap with all the stuff that needs to go round again. I have another six heaps to deal with.

At the moment I have one and half allotment plots, but I’m aiming to dispense with the top half of my oldest plot this March when the rents are due. Ultimately, I’d like to retreat altogether to my polytunnel half plot, by which time I should have a fully functioning NO DIG raised bed/terrace system. The theory is that since this system will be more manageable and productive, a half plot should be more than sufficient for our needs. However, as I’ve mentioned several times in other posts, this approach does rely on making loads of compost every year, and that takes up space. Anyway, one step at a time.

And in between compost turning,  moving the gooseberry bush, and pruning the autumn raspberries, there is always time to take a few photos. So here follows a gallery of shots from the February allotment, one of which makes me realise that my polytunnel now also needs a good wash. Heavens to Betsy – is there no end to the gardener’s toil:

To take part in the monthly Changing Seasons challenge please visit Max aka Cardinal Guzman.

The Changing Seasons ~ Today Below Wenlock Edge, Rambling Through Westhope And Easthope

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Today was a golden day – not a breath of air and the landscape lit up by the oak trees that still have their leaves. Here are some glimpses, then, of my corner of Shropshire on a late November afternoon.

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Changing Seasons: September And The Rook Ballet

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No one quite knows why they do it. Or they didn’t the last time I pursued the matter. But as summer ends so the rooks begin their twilight dancing. There is a large rookery in the wood behind the house. Many scores of birds. Jackdaws live there too. Now each evening, as the sun slips behind Wenlock Edge we watch the rook and jackdaw ballet. Flock after flock flies in, flies out, sweeps up, round, back, spirals, dives in sequences so swift and coordinated that there must surely be some corvid dance-master somewhere orchestrating the moves. The show may last for many minutes, subside into the treetops, then burst out and start all over again. Finally, as the light goes, every bird finds its perch, and the wood subsides into companionable darkness and gentle rook chatter.

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To join in this challenge please visit Changing Seasons Monthly Challenge over at Cardinal Guzman’s

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