Where The Wild Things Were.

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The clocks go forward the clocks go back: a flurry of posts and momentarily I’m almost up to date, but then, wham – all of a sudden I’m miles behind again. How did that happen? It’s not all bad – partly it’s because I’ve been managing to get out quite a bit, even if only for a few snatched moments here and there. So – lots of catching up to do and how am I going to begin? With a digression of course!

Libraries.

Library – a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution

(You knew that obviously, I seemed to have strayed into the beginning of a round from The Unbelievable Truth there.)

A while back, I took the kids to the village library – which is small but perfectly formed, as they say – so that they could return some books. Now I don’t often use the library these days, or the larger library in Lancaster either. I have a bit of a second-hand book buying habit, to the point where the house is slowly silting-up with the accumulated piles of as-yet-unread, but never-the-less highly desirable old books I’ve smuggled in. But whilst I was at the library I thought to check the non-fiction shelf for a recently published book about the history of Leighton Moss I’ve been wanting to read. Rather surprisingly, it wasn’t there. But what I did find….

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…encouraged me to rediscover the library habit.

Once upon a time, the local library was pretty much the centre of my universe. It wasn’t the same village library – this was on Paget Street in Kibworth, where I grew up. A slightly bigger library in a slightly bigger village. We visited often, and I can remember the layout well. One end of the building was dedicated to children’s books. I can even remember reading Where The Wild Things Are there, although it was the terrific pictures of the wild things which stuck with me rather than any details of the story. I also vividly recall getting my own library tickets and being trusted to walk the half-mile into the village on my own to choose books. And then greedily devouring those books and taking them back almost immediately after borrowing them. I often read surreptitiously into the night, long after I was supposed to be asleep. Later, I can remember deciding that I had outgrown the children’s section and making what felt like a huge journey across to the other side of the room to try the books for grown-ups.

Anyway, talking of books for grown-ups, here’s a recommendation: the first of the library books I read was ‘A Buzz in the Meadow’ by Dave Goulson. I’ve been on the look out for his ‘A Sting in the Tale’ since, Emily reviewed it on her Adventures in Beeland blog. If you believe the blurb on ‘A Buzz in the Meadow’, it’s about a meadow in France that Goulson owns and the insects which live there. But that’s very far from all of the story. The meadow and farm house which he bought form a convenient frame for a whole load of other stuff.

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Not unlike the way in which I’m going to attempt to string a series of digressions around these pictures from a post-work walk. It was a fairly digressive walk in itself: I was tempted away from the main path around Haweswater by primroses, up a narrow trod which climbs through what I think an Orienteer might class as a slight reentrant. Because the boys and I have previously found badger trails in this area, I’ve often assumed that this path is another of those, but the shotgun casings, oddly out-of-place in a National Nature Reserve, had me reconsidering. The woods are wonderfully unkempt hereabouts, with fallen branches and fungi-decked trunks on every side.

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And some curious odds and ends of human detritus lying about too..

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I followed a very faint path, losing it and then regaining it from time to time. This is it…

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…it wasn’t especially obvious. Not like these…

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…Scarlet Elf Cup.

Their parabolic surfaces, as vivid as a guardsman’s regimental tunic, focus the feeble heat of the winter sun on thousands of minute, flask-shaped sporangia embedded in their surface, which respond by discharging a silent fusillade of invisible spores.

from The Guardian Country Diary

‘A Buzz in the Meadow’ has a section about the way that some flowers can generate heat. Parts of cuckoo pint flowers can feel quite warm to the touch apparently, a fact that I look forward to checking soon. In fact the book is full of really surprising and fascinating facts about the kinds of flora and fauna you might easily overlook.

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Found sculpture: a tangle of twigs – some fallen, some live – suspended like a natural mobile.

In a second section, Goulson moves on to the web of interconnections, not all of them perfectly understood, between the many denizens of his land.

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A query: at the base of tree – some….foam? What could have caused it?

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I was still clinging to the notion that I might be following a badger highway. But there was a high deer fence around an area of coppicing to my left. And bird-boxes liberally distributed around this part of the wood…

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So I was probably deluding myself. But then we’re good at that aren’t we? The last section of Goulson’s book is about the alarming rate at which the world is losing entire species: how we’ve almost entirely eradicated megafauna, how new pesticides are are scandalously harming our bees…..

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According to last Friday’s paper 10 percent of European bee species are threatened, but it’s worse for bumble bees, with the figure rising to 25 percent. In China bees are already so scarce that children are employed in orchards to climb the trees and pollinate blossoms using brushes. We’re depressingly adept at thinking of ourselves as somehow apart from nature; that the natural world is either something to be exploited or something to be managed and preserved. But we are part of those webs of interconnectedness, whether we acknowledge that fact or not and it must be in our own self-interest to modify our behaviour before it’s too late.

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It was getting quite late on my walk and a bit gloomy in the woods. I’ve been enjoying the way the birdsong is gradually swelling, with more birds adding their voices each week. The song thrushes are very vocal in the evenings at present. I was impressed with the way the camera caught this one, despite the low light and the tangle of surrounding branches.

But then equally frustrated by my inability to get it to focus properly on the small nubs appearing at the base of this tree, as they do every year.

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They were the emerging spears of another spring curiosity – toothwort – a parasitic flower without leaves, which gathers nourishment from the roots of the tree below.

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I finished my wander with a view of Haweswater and back to the car.

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There used to be a path across this meadow….

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…but something has changed and now it doesn’t drain as it did, and even in wellies I found I had to go around.

I should at this point have gone home for my tea, since I was needed quite soon for a football-training-taxi-run. But I decided I just about had time to catch the sunset over The Bay…

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Meanwhile my Mum tells me that the library in her village is scheduled to shut soon. Not an uncommon occurrence I know, in these straitened times. But this is a particularly crazy plan, since this library has hardly been there for long, a brand-spanking new facility was only recently built. Now it will shut.

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I hope we won’t wait to find that miss what we had when it’s gone.

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Where The Wild Things Were.

A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

Or: Another Rant with Photographs. 

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Okay, back to the same October weekend which provided the photos for the last post. I do remember the weekend a little better then I’ve been letting on. The weather was very fine, so, around the usual commitment of ferrying our children to various sporting activities, I also dragged them out for a couple of strolls.

Why just me? Were TBH and I not on speaking terms? It wasn’t that: she was staggering under an impossible burden of marking. Hardly surprising: she always is. I mention this today, because it’s hard to bite your tongue when Sir Michael Wilshaw has hit the headlines once again:

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, will raise concerns over poor leadership, “indifferent” teaching and a culture in which “misbehaviour goes unchallenged”.

from the Torygraph website.

Headteachers are now so terrified of Ofsted that a culture exists in many schools in which anybody working less than a 168 hour week is seen to be slacking. Ho-hum. I heard our esteemed Chief Inspector interviewed on The Today programme this morning and he claimed that he wants to attract ‘better’ candidates into teaching. Clearly, one sure-fire way to do that is to continually denigrate the profession in the national media. Ho-hum again.

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Anyway. Back to more pleasant memories. It was a beautiful afternoon: warm, sunny, with plenty of autumn colour, and a plethora of nuts, berries and fungi to keep a curious eye occupied.

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Our route was one we don’t chose very frequently – off Moss Lane and into the open fields of Gait Barrows.

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I think I wanted to revisit this tall wilding-apple, which we’d called upon only the weekend before with our visiting friends.

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If anything, there were even more windfall apples this time.

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Although, they were generally looking a bit scabby now and had a very tart and bitter taste.

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From there we headed up onto the limestone pavement, which in autumn sunshine is a superb place to be.

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Guelder Rose

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I’m sure that photographs of this cairn have appeared on this blog before, along with lots of other wittering about Gait Barrows and what a wonderful place it is. I’m not sure that I’ve ever posted a link to this Natural England webpage though, where you can download a 21 page pdf which has maps and details about the reserve.

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I shan’t apologise for repeating myself however: it is a wonderful place. What’s more its ours – publically owned. Very precious that, at a time when politicians of every stripe seem to be neo-cons and are either dogmatically opposed to public ownership or, at best, too embarrassed to offer open support to the idea that some things might be done best collectively, by cooperation, rather than by the operation of a marketplace.

You’ll be aware that this government’s attempt to sell off our publicly owned forests in 2011 was scuppered by the strength of public feeling. But did you know that, as I understand it, the non-descript sounding ‘Infrastructure Bill’, currently getting its second reading in the Commons, contains clauses which will make it very easy for future governments to sell public land and assets unopposed.

The bill would permit land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). This would reduce bureaucracy, manage land more effectively, and get more homes built. 

from www.gov.uk

Does that sound like a chilling threat to you? It does to me.

You can find what George Monbiot had to say, writing in the Guardian, about the bill, during its first reading, here.

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Meanwhile, back at Gait Barrows, the light was low-angled and lovely, and I was taking photos like a man possessed.

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Now here, now there, some loosened element,
A fruit in vigor or a dying leaf,
Utters its private idiom for descent,
And late man, listening through his latter grief,
Hears, close or far, the oldest of his joys,
Exactly as it was, the water noise.

from Bucolics, II: Woods by W.H. Auden

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This post’s title too is harvested from Woods. It would make a great exam question wouldn’t it?

“A culture is no better than its woods.” Discuss.

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I’m not sure that bodes too well for English culture, since we’ve very successfully decimated our woods and have so very little natural woodland left. Perhaps that’s what Auden was driving at.

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Auden was one of the four poets I studied for my O-Level English exam, along with Betjeman, Owen and R.S.Thomas. I don’t remember reading this particular poem however – I was alerted to its existence thanks to Solitary Walker and his new poetry discussion blog, The Hidden Waterfall.

You can find the entire poem here.

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This couplet is also rather wonderful:

The trees encountered on a country stroll
Reveal a lot about a country’s soul.

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I have to confess that we didn’t realise that we were in the business of investigating the health of the nation’s soul. We just thought we were enjoying some fresh air, some sunshine, some good company and some fine views.

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A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

Robin in Eaves Wood

Singing robin in the sunshine

On the morning after my Swirl How and Grey Friar walk, I was out again, this time for another stroll around our local Haweswater circuit. On this occasion I was on my own and reverted to a clockwise lap.

Robin between riffs 

Just into Eaves Wood I was regaled by a fearless robin. I snapped away with the camera, adding, aimlessly, contentedly, to my huge collection of tame robin shots. Momentarily, the sun came out; in the two photos I took in that brief window of bright light the colours of feathers, branches, leaves etcetera were completely transformed, making the other photos look rather dull, grey and lifeless by comparison.

Seedhead 

The same fortuitous circumstances didn’t arise when I reached the snowdrop wood down by Haweswater.

Snowdrops in the woods 

Pig house 

Moss Lane pigs.

Sleeping it off 

It was only a short walk, but it didn’t half brighten my day. Days without a walk seem rather dull, grey and lifeless by comparison.

Could be worse though…..

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Robin in Eaves Wood

More Like Fun Than Boring

A Sunday morning, quite some time ago (it’s been a little busy around here). The boys were presented with a choice: Church with Mum or a walk with Dad, and on this occasion they chose the latter. We parked by Challan Hall and walked into the woods around Haweswater. Progress was slow, as the boys found several fallen tree trunks to balance along. Then S was away at speed, scrambling up the side of a small crag. B and I followed. At the top we found a small path – some sort of regular animal path: a shul. We assumed perhaps deer? But then found neat little pits which had been used as latrines, a clear indication that we were following in the footsteps of badgers. Indeed – we managed to find several quite clear footprints too. The boys were very excited. “This is quite good isn’t it B?”. S opined,”More like fun than boring. Better than a walk.”

Even when it started to rain their spirits weren’t dampened. We sheltered under a large yew and watched the shower turn to fierce hail. Between showers we followed the badger trail a little further until eventually we lost it, where it crossed a ‘hooman’ path.

It rained some more, but we sheltered a bit, walked a bit, clambered on rocks. Eventually it brightened up. The boys found a howff, wriggled inside and hid from me….

The howff

Which wasn’t hard, since I was distracted by perhaps my favourite spring thing:

New Birch Leaves 

…new beech leaves after rain.

More birch leaves 

We found the spot where S fell from some rocks and blacked his eye earlier in the year, though he fervently denied that this was the spot: “I fell much further than that!”

We also found a small hollow in a tree trunk crowded with garden snails. Nearby, a cluster of empty shells….

Snail shells

…suggested that we might not be the only ones to have noticed.

More Like Fun Than Boring

The Wise Thrush

Eaves Wood primroses

Spring has arrived, hand-in-hand with a heatwave and drought conditions in many parts of England (not here however). I woke up early on Saturday morning, and peering out of the bedroom window found a bleary-eyed sun rising behind trees and and a low layer of mist, but cloudless skies overhead. Too good to waste. I dressed, tiptoed downstairs, drank a glass of water and left the rest of the household asleep as I set-off for the Pepper Pot. On the ginnel path down to Cove Road I passed a blackbird making small, soft sounds somewhere between a pop and a caw. Each vocalisation was proceeded by a rising lump, like an Adam’s-apple, in his throat. Strangely, he seemed quite unfazed by my scrutiny. Sparrows in the same hedgerow were quite tolerant of my presence too, and once I was in the wood, the same could be said of the many chaffinches, great tits, robins, marsh tits, blue tits and coal tits which were singing and bouncing in the trees and clearings. The roe deer I startled was less sanguine and shot away before I even had my camera in my hand.

My original intention had been a quick, pre-breakfast blast to the Pepper Pot and then home again, but now that I was out I was in no hurry to return. I wandered along the broad back of the hill on which Eaves Wood stands, with no clear destination in mind, but with a plan coalescing: I would head to Haweswater. In Sixteen Buoys Field I encountered another roe deer. This one a buck. He was too quick for me and my camera, but I was so close when he bolted that I could see the fur on his antlers.

Violet 

Violet

Haweswater 

Haweswater

Song thrush 

I’d heard and seen a few song thrushes by the time I encountered this one down by Haweswater, but none of the others were as loud or as eloquent as this one.

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

There were chiff-chaffs singing here too – returning visitors whose distinctive song is a sure sign that spring has truly begun. I also watched a tiny bird hopping about shyly on a tree, always just out of sight, but eventually had a good enough view to see that it was a goldcrest, the first I’d seen for quite some time.

Toothwort 

Toothwort grows in two spots that I know of locally. I usually look to find it flowering in early April, but this year, like last, it’s been a little earlier.

Toothwort too 

It’s an entirely parasitical plant with no leaves and it’s hairy pale pinky-white flowers look….well, a bit creepy.

White violet 

White violet.

Wheelbarrow 

Whilst I was priding myself on having snuck in a good stroll before breakfast, other villagers were up and about and going about their business – feeding the ponies and such like.

Lambs 

This year’s lambs have been with us for a while now.

Sparrow 

Sparrow.

Cheeky blackbird

My walk ended, as it had begun – with a meeting with a blackbird. Like the first, and unlike the thrushes I had seen, it wasn’t singing, just muttering quietly to itself. Probably had garden furniture to paint…..

The Wise Thrush