Saturday, June 27, 2009

The River Bank

Mallows and Meadowsweet

Hawker dragonfly


Mill Garden

The yellow water lilies


Dabchick walking on water

The Chelmer in a sleepy mood on a hot sunny afternoon, insect life quietly vibrating in the still air. Butterflies feed on the thistle flowers, iridiscent demoiselles jet round the water in pairs, their furry wings reminding you of thick eyelashes. Clear blue damselflies are also to be seen, slender as matchsticks but just as beautiful.
Green lily pads lie on the surface of the water, some still submerged below in the clear water, the small yellow flower stands proudly above the water, this is not the slightly exotic nymphae white water lily but a lesser cousin, shoals of little fish, minnows or sticklebacks? swim in co-ordinated balletic movement breaking the surface of the water as they flash to and fro. A large perch skulks under the trailing tresses of the willow, slowly he emerges tail powering him through the rushes then back again to the shelter of the bank.
A froth of meadowsweet, faintly scented, hugs the water edge and the pink mallow with its darker veins intermingles with the meadowsweet and tangle of grasses.
All around the sap of life is strong, two dabchicks sit on a green crust of algae, whilst their mother swims round protectively. One performs the miracle of walking on water, his solemn stance caught on camera.
Down the path to the water meadow, the gypsy horses have been fenced away from the leat that runs to the mill. Mostly they are piebald, or 'painted' horses, the foals lie in the long grass and their mothers stand protectively over them. There is nothing quite like horses in summer to express the bounty of nature, their bellies are rounded and sleek from the rich grasses they munch on so reflectively, they exude a feeling of wellbeing and tranquillity, their coats softly shining in the sun.
Later on in the afternoon thunderstorms break up the heat of the day, louring dark skies, the crack and rumble of the thunder and quick sparks of the lightening, nature has decided to put on another show; the river must be exploding in showers of raindrops sparkling and dancing on the water but we are not there to see it....
Buddha fields; A term found in Gary Snyder's 'The Practice of the Wild' and a concept that has been going round in my mind for a couple of days, but the above walk can be viewed through this fine lense; so what is he talking, lets quote to start with;
"To show how totally and uniquely at home each life form must be in its own unique 'buddha-field. " Snyder takes his writing from an early 13th century sutra written by Dorgen Kigen, simply Mountains and Waters Sutra. So we can view through this same prism the insects and plant life by this quiet Essex river, its there but first you must understand and remove from your mind the western rational thought that forms and creates eco-systems of the world around you. True everything in life depends on something else for its food and existence but at the same time it is entire unto itself. Each creature lives in its own perfect circular world, the little circles of other lives overlap, the cycles of food and warmth brought on by a revolving world also plays a part. We see things as species, related to each other forming families of evolutionary criteria, and this may be so, but each life cycle knows nothing of this, only its own particular niche.
Here Synder describes a buddha field in a poem about Dall sheep.. tatters, lavender artic light
on sedate wild sheep grazing
tundra greens, held in the web of clan,
and kin by bleats and smells to te slow
rotation of their Order living
half in the sky- damp wind up from the
whole North Slope and a taste of the icepack,
the primus roaring now,
here, have some tea....
These sheeps "playing, napping, eating, butting, circling, sitting, dozing in their high smoothed out beds on ledges at the cliff edge of life and death". Are our horses in the field completely at home in the sun with their young there is no past and present just the now of being.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mangoes and Elephants

The last few days we have been enjoying a box of deliciously sweet mangoes, but humans are'nt the only ones to enjoy mangoes, this link arrived in my email yesterday from friends in America..

Monday, June 22, 2009


Well the Solstice weekend has passed, and as I take it on myself to do the job of news watching, what comes out of the events both at Stonehenge and Avebury, is that they were peaceful affairs, 35,000 at Stonehenge and approximately 1000 at Avebury, though the rubbish left behind at Stonehenge was appalling. In both events Druids welcomed in the rising sun, and there was a festival spirit... tents tightly packed at Avebury, but everyone seems to have got in, a man was found dead in the graveyard causes unknown, but if it had been drugs there was a corresponding news item in one of the northern towns that three people had died from drugs that had other things added. The swifts nesting in West Kennet longbarrow were unpertubed by the arrival of so many and presumably went on looking after their young, a nice balance betwixt nature and humanity.
We had gone up to London on Sunday to have a sushi, for me a first time experience, a small Japanese restaurant with a tall round faced chef behind the counter at which we sat. In front, was the raw ingredients he would craft together to make the individual portions he would reach over and place on our wooden platters.. In front of us was squid, octopus, mackerel, salmon, bass and tuna, and probably a few more. It was a fascinating experience, a ginger pickle to clean the mouth and a white net of finely grated mouli.
London by night was also a new experience, the restaurant was under one of these expensive hotels, and when we had sat in the foyer waiting for our friends, people-watching (a favourite game of mine) was engrossing. A Jewish wedding party was taking place and the girls arrived in beautiful evening wear, but when we went through the courtyard, where many of the guests had been smoking and then throwing their stubs to the floor, I was rather horrified to see a maid sweeping the butts up with pan and brush. The rich can pay to have their rubbish cleared away pronto, but at Stonehenge something else was happening with the rubbish - laziness, an inability to clear up by the young and probably older people, it does somewhat prove that a discipline is lacking in peoples lives when they can't be bothered to clean up after themselves.
What else, a marvellous drive through London to our station, London on a Sunday night is fairly peaceful, the older buildings look imposing and very grand, opulence reeks on the street with sleek cars parked discreetly. Old pubs with people sitting outside, skyscraper office blocks, tall, tall buildings that make a statement, though what sort of statement, given Charles intervention with the Chelsea Barracks and the architects in a furore, heaven knows! Something that Bath is going through, with the proposed new development on the river, not to mention the equally large development at Southgate that has been going on the last few months.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Alder tree

Alnus Glutinosa

The fruit of the alder tree is used for dyeing, and watching the dye being applied to silk to create a soft brown or antique effect, sent me to my books to learn how it had been used in the past. I had tried it on wool, but with not much success, though with different mordants you can get yellow or green.

Grigson says "Catkins, twigs and bark give a black dye" which was a poor man's dye according to Gerard. As a wood it was used for clogs and sabots, because of its qualities of keeping warm because it is a poor conductor of heat.
Grigson first paragraph describes a tree that puts you in mind of mangroves in a jungle, apparently it has little folklore or myth.....

"Not much emotion has gathered around the Alder, perhaps because it was a tree of swamp and marsh and impenetratable valley moors, which needed the exorcism of natural history. Yet once enjoyed, an alder swamp along a Cornish stream for example, remains perennially and primevally enchanting - the trees alive and dead, moss bearded and lichen bearded, the soil and the water like coal slack and blacksmith's water, in between the tussocks of sedge"

You can almost hear the water gurgling round your wellingtons in that beautifully described paragraph, as you stumble over old roots and tussocks of grass. It probably would have grown in the valley where Bath is situated, a swampy marsh, with steam rising from the hot springs as their flowing waters disappeared into the marshy land around.
I could turn to Culpeper and give its virtues as a herbal remedy, but the best advice is don't,
"for the fresh green bark taken inwardly provides strong vomiting, pains in the stomach and gripings in the belly" but a decoction was taken in spring as a purge, to consume the phlegmatic quality the winter had left!

The common word alder is supposed to come from the Anglo-Saxon word alor or aler, which derives from an old German word elo or elawer (reddish brown), and according to Grigson the Irish used to have a superstitious fear of this wood that turned from white when felled to an orange/red. It is was also used as the base of Venice, in the sense that the wood piles that Venice rests on were made of alder, similarly water pipes and wooden pumps were made of this wood.
Its colouring reminds me of the old yew at Alton Barnes, which has the most beautiful pink/cream centre and must have been a marvellous wood to make things from.

The beautiful heartwood of the Yew at Alton Barnes

Sunday, June 14, 2009


A beautiful June morning and a last walk to a favourite spot, though to be honest it was also to check on whether the orchids had appeared in their usual places. The start of the walk is by Sir Bevill's monument and here there is a patch of rough ground that hosts orchids and a variety of wildflowers, one of which I had'nt seen before a yellow bladder like flower, similar to white campion, but that shall be named another day.
Over the great stone stiles that mark this part of the Cotswold Way and down the stone path, probably used since prehistoric times as it leads from the Langridge/Lansdown to Charmy Down and Solsbury Hill. The grasses are in full flower, and this is the one time of the year when I suffer hayfever, as they puff their tiny powdered seeds into the air.
A three quarter moon, softly white in the bluest of skies battles against the sun, day of course wins as we approach the longest day of the year. Brown hedge butterflies dance around and moths also, there is an insect, black with red spots, a bit like a moth but is'nt. The birds in the hedges are muted in their talk, creamy heads of elderflower, dog roses are going over and being swamped by the long tendrils of old mans beard - the hedge is a thick mat of hawthorn with the occasional tree and at the moment goosegrass clings tenaciously as well.
Buttercups everywhere, pink campion, cow and field parsley are coming to an end, and the thuggish hogweed thrusts its white head above the grasses. What else, the pea vetch tendrils can just be seen, and silver weed, already losing its silvered edge of spring.
Down into the fields where the orchids are, white and red clover, the white clover flower is beautiful, more cream with a dark purple centre. The gate leads to a field that is not touched by fertilisers, it overlooks St.Catherine's valley with Freezing Hill opposite. Earlier there would have been ladies smock scattered through here, but today the flowering grasses, delicate shades of grey,brown and fawn, shot through with the darker brown/red hues of the flowers of plantains and dock.
The orchids are almost finished, but a few remain to be photographed, the grass is too long to go the badger's lair and the Langridge Barrows but they are both safe in this field, and not in need of human intrusion
Sight and sound, the naming of flower, birdsong and smell of course, elderflower, and the echoes of the strong scent of ransoms in the woods.....

Trefoil with my mysterious insect

Orchids in the Langridge field

St.Catherine's Valley

Looking down towards the A4 with Solsbury Hill/ Charmy down in the distance , this is where the Cotswolds come to a halt.

Mossy tumbled down walling

Orchid in the rough ground

Traces of old quarrying, could be from any time, including the Roman

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Packing and sorting

My blog has been neglected but for a good reason, packing books, albums, loom with wools, my old windsor chair that accompanies me through life, my favourite desk, old bear this morning stuffed into the box with pictures. Photographs have been sorted and reduced, seem to have done a lot over the years, correspondence to be sorted, never did get round to filing. My radio and computer the last to be packed, favorite creuset pan plus others...
Letters have dropped out of cookery books from language students I used to host, and 'granny' type letters from my long dead ex-mother-in-law, Lotta, in Switzerland to my daughter, her elegant crest of L bringing a sharp pang of memory of the marvellous scenery and trips we took, Sunday lunches out in the garden with friends.
A friend to visit yesterday, and to sit in their pretty garden on the bench I bought them years ago because their lightweight seats always used to tumble people out. I shall be back of course for there is much else to do, but there is also a new life awaiting with someone who has become the other half of myself, and who is such an extraordinary person..
So I have been unable to write anything, because all my books are packed, though occasionally my fingers itch to write and explore an idea. The season is advancing, dawn chorus in the morning still, but the birds have had their young, plenty of bumble bees around and insects galore, bats have made an appearance here, and the fox suns himself in the afternoon down in the field. But my beans and courgettes are growing in another place now and I grow homesick for the 'golden fields' of Essex.
Gordon Brown is still with us as I write, but the disarray of the labour government was both disastrous and eye-opening at the same time. We came face to face with the reality that some of our politicians are greedy and corrupt, and it will never be the same again. They'll cobble something together of course because the politicians reflect our own society.
But perhaps there is a small ray of hope elsewhere with the new president of America....

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight