Ghost Trees and Frozen Moments

(Saturday’s Walk)

The mists of autumn have given way to the fogs of winter. Even foggy days have their magic as S and I discovered when I took him for a turn around an Eaves Wood which was familiar but at the same time strangely exotic and unreal.

 

I was reminded of the early days of my blog in January when I walked on a similar cold and murky day. Now, as then, every leaf and twig was bejewelled with droplets. But frost had transformed these droplets into tiny frozen gems.

Denuded of colour, the wood became a world of pattern and form.

And the fog lent illusory depth to our views.

Of course, what colour there was seemed so much the brighter for its singularity.

And though most leaves are now brown and rustling leaf-litter, the brambles are still good value:

Even the meagre height gain on Castlebarrow led to a brightening of the sky, and we could see the sun trying to break through the clag.

I had the feeling that a little more climbing and we would emerge above the fog into glorious sunshine and a fabulous cloud inversion. I was hoping that a fellow blogger might be in the Lakes taking great photos. In fact a friend was in the Lakes and tells me that my guess was correct. Photos anyone?

I still don’t seem to find heart-shapes at every turn, but I realise that I have developed my own alphabet of signs and symbols – dew dripping berries, turning leaves, tangled beech roots, thrusting fungi; repeated images whose import is immanent but just beyond reach, like the phrase that refuses to be recalled but which if it would only come to mind would surely be the mot juste. A recent addition to the alpha and omega is a drop dappled oak leaf. How satisfying that this example of the genre was so neatly foregrounded against the dark grains of a tree stump:

A silvered spider’s web is common currency in the symbolism of damp winter days, but I’ve been after a good example since Ron posted a stunning photo over on Walking Fort Bragg. This may not be The One, but it’s a start:

 

Every child appreciates the totemic power of feathers. Ours collect them with relish. One section of this walk was waymarked with small feathers regularly placed on branches alongside the path….

…perhaps a new hieroglyph for my runic alphabet.

Update:

Lake District blogging from the Lakes this weekend at A little bit about not a lot, with the promise of more reports to come. Some great photos, but no cloud inversion. If you come across any reports of seas of cloud and brockenspectres please let me know.

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Ghost Trees and Frozen Moments

The New Nature Writing

I’ve long been aware of Granta and have filed it mentally as A Good Thing without ever feeling the need to actually buy or read  a copy. But when I read a recommendation of Granta 102 ‘The New Nature Writing’ over on Walking and Writing I was intrigued. I managed to swap a copy through Readitswapit. I also discovered that Granta 90 ‘Country Life’ was on a similar theme and acquired a copy of that the same way.

I’ve now read almost all of both issues and can strongly recommend either to anyone interested in good writing about the outdoors. I’m not sure that the nature writing featured is entirely ‘new’, Jonathon Raban, Richard Mabey, Mark Cocker, Roger Deakin, Kathleen Jamie and Robert Macfarlane are all pretty well established writers. But that’s a quibble.

I enjoyed Mark Cocker’s description of the artist Kurt Jackson at work painting on the Cornish Coast. (Mordros is apparently the Cornish word for the sound of the sea.) You can read part of the article and see some paintings here.

I’ve pasted in this thumbnail of The squirrels watch me. Hollands Wood oak. February sunlight and rain in the hope that it will wet your appetite. You can see a larger version and many more paintings at Kurt Jackson’s own website. Well worth a look in my opinion.

I also enjoyed, in Granta 90, Blight – photographs by Robert Gumpert of fallen leaves. Could he be a fellow obsessive? Unlike my photos his are taken back in his studio with the leaf sandwiched between two plates of glass and backlit.

See more examples here.

I’m already a fan of Mabey, Deakin and Macfarlane (my latest Readitswapit acquisition is Mountains of the Mind). Jonathon Raban’s essay Second Nature and Barry Lopez on Salmon also stood out as highlights. Kathleen Jamie had essays in both editions and having read them I’m now even more determined to pick up a cheap copy of her book Findings. (It’s part of a very long wish list.)

The New Nature Writing

Toads

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

 

Toads Philip Larkin

I like my job mostly. But sometimes there’s just too much of it. Which is why I’m behind with my blog reading and writing. It has its compensations though, I started my working week with a pleasant walk along the Thames from Vauxhall Bridge to Westminster on the way to a conference. Sadly I didn’t have a camera with me so I can’t share any images of the iconic buildings that line the route.

The weekend was a very busy one, but I did escape for a walk on Sunday morning before beginning a marathon journey down to London .(The west coast mainline was shut for engineering work it took 8 hours several changes, including a bus from Birmingham to Northampton. By contrast, the return journey on Monday evening took a little over 3 hours.)

On Sunday I began my walk by crossing the field toward Stankelt road. The view of the Howgills, with a light dusting of snow was excellent, although this photo makes them look much closer than they really are.

Having reached Sharpe’s lot I tried to recapture my ebullient mood from the previous weekend by taking lots of pictures, for instance of Ash keys:

It might not have worked, but two things happened. Firstly, I noticed the catkins on the Hazels in the hedge:

It’s faintly ridiculous to be cheered by this early sign of impending spring, but it always works for me. Considered rationally I suppose that it is akin to the most primitive superstition. After all I know that spring will arrive at pretty much the same time as it always does, if not a little earlier. I hardly need reassurance, but as I say, I always greet winter catkins as a first augury of new growth and life.

The second cheering thing that happened was that the sun came out to play and picked out the colours in the wet hedgerows.

Bryony berries with raindrops.

I dropped down through Fleagarth Wood to the edge of the salt marsh, by which time the weather was changing again. Looking back across Leighton Moss towards Farleton Fell it was still blue:

But out over the Bay it was looking forbiddingly dark and threatening:

This is the remnants of the old bridge, which when I first moved to the area still crossed Quicksand Pool giving access to the salt marsh.

In this light Jenny Brown’s Point can be pretty bleak, but the birds didn’t seem to mind – there were hundreds feeding on the mud, including some curlews and some large ducks that I wasn’t quite sure of, but looking at large versions of the photos back at home I could see that they were pintails.

When I photographed the Old Man’s Beard last weekend I could only remember seeing it before at Heathwiate on Arnside Knot, but I had forgotten that traveller’s joy grows rampantly on the old quarry by Jenny Brown’s Point.

This distinctive gate at Jack Scout…

…has apparently won an award:

From the clifftop at Jack Scout…

I did something which, for some reason, I haven’t done for years and scrambled down the rocks onto the mud:

..and squelched round into the Cow’s Mouth.

This little cove was once one of the embarkation points for the traffic which crossed the sands to reach the Lake District.

From here it is possible to thread together a route which sometimes sticks to a path which teeters along the cliff edge and sometimes drops down to shingle beaches…

The wind was blowing from the north and it was bitter, but the sky had brightened again and I was enjoying rediscovering the fines views of the bay and the distant Cumbrian mountains.

And, closer to hand, of Arnside Knot:

That seems an appropriate place to stop since the witching hour is upon me and I have work tomorrow…

Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on:

Toads

Final Round Up

As you may have gathered by now, I snapped away with abandon on Sunday, taking photos of just about anything that caught my attention, whether that be dried up thistle heads…

…or the patterns on a log…

…entwining yew roots forced above ground by thin soil over limestone…

…or one final set of leaves and berries:

There are a few small trees of this type at the eastern end of Eaves Wood. I don’t know what they are…any suggestions?

I also had another close encounter of the ornithological kind. This robin what not as bold as the Sandyhills tractor robin, but still pretty confident in my presence. Of course robins are emblematic of Christmas and the British winter, I think that we tend to think of them as friendly and curious, but I suspect that they are actually pugnacious, territorial and supremely self-confident.

Well, my photos from Sunday have eked out over the week as I had hoped. The weekend promises to be very cold and very busy, but hopefully I will find time for at least a short stroll as some point. The sunset tonight was spectacular, but unfortunately I watched it through a window at work and didn’t have my camera to hand.

Final Round Up

Crooked Tree Competition

Ron, of Walking Fort Bragg fame, and I have engaged in friendly rivalry in the search for a Very Crooked Tree. I see that he has upped the ante. Not to be outdone, I thought that I would post this photo, another one of the many from my excellent walks on Sunday.

This, the crookedest tree that I know, is beside a path in Eaves Wood close to the Pepper Pot. My photograph doesn’t really do justice to the crazy way it leans in all directions at once and twists and doubles back in slow spirals, but until blogging evolves to allow holograms or some other form of three dimensional image it will have to suffice.

Crooked Tree Competition

Baubles and Sundry Decoration

In Sharpe’s Lot the leaves on this tree seemed, even from a distance, to be oddly regular.

But looking closer…

…the leaves were gone, but the apples were clinging on. It was almost as if the tree was decorated for Christmas early with it’s own shiny spherical baubles. Of course by Christmas I suspect that the remaining apples will have followed their peers to the sward below:

Where thy seem to have been gratefully received.

In the hedgerow across the field Old Man’s Beard, or Traveller’s Joy or (according to W.H. Hudson) Angel’s Hair:

Almost a surfeit of evocative names for our native clematis, but it is wonderful stuff.

Close by the hedge was adorned by holly berries.

(For some reason in bright sunshine my camera seems to render scarlet as pink, I don’t know why, or what to do about it.)

There are lots of hollies here in the hedge and the woods behind, but very few berries. I assume that this is because holly is dioecious with different plants bearing the male and female flowers, presumably only the female flowers produce fruit.

As hollies grow taller from shrubs into trees the leaves above grazing height are not prickly.

Like the crab apple this rowan had lost all of its leaves but still held a few berries. (As usual the blackbirds have eaten all the berries from the rowan trees in our garden)

Baubles and Sundry Decoration

Ivy Bud Flower Seed-Head Sequence

Not many flowers about at this time of year, but the ivy is in full swing. There seem to be buds, flowers, seed-heads and various intermediate stages on the same plant. But which is which? Can you put the following images into the correct chronological order? (I can’t)

Surely an open flower.

But is the prior or post?

And what about these? I love their colour and shape.

And are these miniscule figs the fruits that they look to be?

Even the ubiquitous nondescript ivy is entertaining on closer inspection.

Ivy Bud Flower Seed-Head Sequence

Fernucopia

My paean to leaves was inevitably partial and incomplete. Some of our ferns caught my attention on Sunday too.

Hart’s tongue is fairly common in this area. The stripes on the leaves…

…are the spore producing bodies which are on the undersides of the leaves:

This last photo was taken in Eaves Wood, but the first two were from Pointer Wood where the Hart’s Tongue was growing next door to another fern:

Which I’m not familiar with. Any ideas?

Fernucopia

Photosynthesis

We’ve reached that time of year when I generally set off for work in the dark and arrive home again in the dark. Weekdays become artificial days enclosed in artificial light. I occasionally have some pretty hard things to say about November and December, but the truth is I think that I could learn to love this time of year – if I didn’t have to work and could get out in the daylight.

Fortunately, after quite a break from local ‘beating the bounds’ today was bright and clear and I was able to get out for a couple of longish strolls. There was some cloud about, some of this high fretted stuff that I think might be mackerel sky:

And some lower more substantial sausages of cloud, which were more curved on top than below and that for some reason put me in mind of manatees, but perhaps that’s simply because I’ve been remembering our honeymoon visits to Blue Springs State Park in Florida recently and manatees were lurking somewhere in the watery recesses of my mind.

In the morning we went down to the Cove,

then Crossed the Lots, walked up Stankelt Lane and took a turn around Pointer Wood and Sharp’s Lot before heading back across the field. This afternoon we took a convoluted route spiraling around Eaves Wood.

‘We’ was me and baby S in the back-pack

Although he showed his appreciation of the wonders of our surroundings by sleeping through most of both walks:

With my assistant spark out, I was snapping photos with abandon. When were walking in a wood in Galloway recently my Dad said that he had read somewhere that cloudy weather is best for woodland photography. We thought that might be because strong sunshine gives too high a contrast between open and shaded areas of the wood. I must admit that I was quite happy today to settle for ‘inferior’ bright sunshine.

Without that light these hazel leaves wouldn’t have been so beautifully backlit. I tried this same trick a few weeks ago in a downpour and was eventually quite pleased with the results – after fiddling with the exposure, saturation and contrast of the photos. The beech leaves have dried to a crisp brown since then, but with better light I’m content to leave today’s photos unadulterated.

This morning particularly I took lots of pictures of a wide variety of subjects, but it was pictures of leaves which provided the staple. Fallen rowan contrasting against the grass:

A single sycamore leaf stark against a bed of more sober oak leaves:

Or perhaps the oak leaves themselves quicksilvered with water droplets:

It took me a couple of attempts to realise that I had to take the shot from a low angle to achieve the alchemy; seen directly from above the water droplets lose their sheen and become windows onto the leave:

Whilst I was taking these, and many more, photos, it occurred to me that whilst I am fascinated by leaves and their diversity of shapes and colours, I very rarely think about the magic that they perform. Each tree festooned with thousands of solar panels transmuting light into chemical energy, taking carbon dioxide and water and producing sugars and oxygen, the fuels that keep this planet alive. Perhaps at a cellular level my DNA retains a memory of bacterial photosynthesis and this small vegetative element within is what demands a regular dose of proper daylight. I know that I feel restored by my walks today after a tiring week and that I shall spin out other photos and other stories over the course of the week in an attempt to make the feeling last.

Photosynthesis

Written on the Wind

Loren at In A Dark Time was tagged, and linked here in his responding post. I thought that I would follow his lead and use the opportunity to link to some blogs that I enjoy reading. The rules of the meme are as follows:

rule the one. link to the person who tagged you.
rule the second. post the rules on your blog.
rule the third. write six random things about yourself.
rule the four. tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
rule the fifth. let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
rule the sixth. let the tagger know when your entry is up

I intend to ignore ‘rule the fifth’ – if any of the recipients read this post and decide to join in then so be it – but that’s up to them. Hopefully, one or two people may follow a link and discover a blog that they enjoy and might not otherwise have come across. Loren’s post certainly served that purpose for me.

Six random things:

One: as a mathematician this incorrect and widely prevalent use of the word ‘random’ to mean arbitrary annoys me much more than it should.

Two: my brother and his family are over from Zurich, visiting my parents in Lincoln and we went to see them this weekend, for the first time since last Easter. I met my nephew for the first time and my youngest son met his uncle, aunt and cousins for the first time. I took one photograph and the batteries ran out on my camera:

We were visiting an open farm with a huge indoor play area. I suppose I at least took a family photo, even if it was the wrong family.

Three: I learned the word ‘Botanomancy’ today from Twisted Rib – one of the links from Loren’s post. I lifted a title from there that seemed appropriate for something as ephemeral and frivolous as an online game of tag.

Four: I am fanatical about music, although my blog rarely reflects that fact. I’ve been listening to Mark Lamarr’s marvelous God’s Jukebox show and the opening track, ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ by Slaid Cleaves was new to me and, I thought, pretty wonderful. Thanks to the wonders of Youtube, I can share a live version with you:

Five: I’m anaemic, and too tired to do six random things before bedtime. Now believe six impossible things before breakfast……

Oh OK, Six: I like Lewis Carroll.

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland.

So…to the links.

I would have chosen Solitary Walker, except Loren beat me to it. I’m way behind with Google Reader and in these circumstances there are certain blogs that I check for updates before any others. These are some of them:

Walking Home to 50

Walking Fort Bragg

Northern Pies

Must Be This Way

Postcard From Timperley

And because one man’s obsession with camping stoves has turned out to be strangely compelling:

whitespider1066

Written on the Wind