The Evening Light

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In the evenings, I’ve been weeding and clearing the flower and vegetable beds, trying to bring a little order to the wildness and make space for springtime seeds and bulbs. The rain has softened the hard summer soil and the spade slides in with ease.

The air is still. Although I can hear the distant cars, there are fewer now, as most people are home from work and settling in for the night. I hear the slam of a car door and listen to the song of the blackbirds. A robin hops from fence-post to compost bin trying to attract my attention, chirping and flashing his berry breast.

The fruiting cherry tree was pot bound in its container so I’ve planted it out into the garden now and there are daffodils and other bulbs that need bedding before the ground gets too hard and cold. I’m sorry to say I’ve neglected the garden a bit this year – not cared for it quite as much as I should.

Once I get started though, I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing I barely notice the fading light – until I can’t see whether what I’m holding is sage or brambles – then I know it’s time to go inside.

30 Days Wild: Ant Colony

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I lifted my garden parasol the other day to find this intricate ant kingdom beneath it. It’s quite a work of art with its labyrinthine passageways don’t you think?

I did feel guilty for upsetting the hundreds of ants who went a little crazy on finding themselves exposed to the daylight. However, they have since taken up residence on the lawn and seem to have settled into making their new home.

These were black ants or Lasius Niger. If you look closely you can see the larvae. It won’t be long before some of them grow wings and take flight to make new nests elsewhere.

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Vincients Wood

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We recently took a wander through a small ancient wood in the nearby town of Chippenham. It is our nearest wildlife trust site, and I was amazed to have never been there before as it was only about a mile from where I grew up.

Hidden and completely enclosed by dual carriageway and housing estates, it is surprising this little gem of woodland survives at all.

The trees, oak, ash and maple form a canopy, muffling some of the outside sounds. A robin hopped from tree stump to hawthorn as we wandered down the overgrown paths.

Despite the noise of the nearby road, it is still a pleasant place to spend a couple of hours. The air was cool and clean and otherworldly, the wood anemones were in flower and the ground was wet through with the smell of damp wood and crumbling leaves.

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30 Days Wild

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The Wildlife Trust are running the 30 Days of Wild Challenge again this year. Through the month of June we are encouraged to do something wild every day. This is a great way to draw our attention to reconnecting with wild nature and feel happier, healthier and enlivened as a result.

We are, in essence, wild creatures, and we ignore this part of ourselves at our peril. Just taking a little time out of each day to sit, walk, observe, touch, taste this amazing wild world of ours is just the antidote for the stresses of modern living.

Some ideas listed on the website to commit random acts of wildness:

  • Feel the wild landscapes through the soles of your feet – sand, grass, pebbles, water
  • Wear daisies & dandelions to jazz up any outfit – in your hair or round your wrist
  • Switch off all gadgets for a day: no phones, tablets or computers. Tune in to nature
  • Taste sweet wild elderflowers in cordial, soda water or sparkling wine
  • Encourage wild at work with bird feeders, a herb box or outdoor meetings

Many of us already have a close relationship with the natural world, I know there’s rarely a day I don’t go for a walk or spend a few minutes in the garden, but this is a wonderful way to make a more focused effort and join in with a community of nature lovers.

I hope to post some of my experiences on this blog over the next month, if you’d like to join in just tag your posts #30DaysWild and enjoy making room for nature a regular part of your life.

Avebury

Avebury Stone Circle

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These are some photos I took in early Autumn last year, when Emily, my mum, and I visited the prehistoric stone circles at Avebury. We are lucky living so close to many wonderful places like this; Avebury is only 13 miles away so was perfect for a wander on a dry cloudy morning.

There are three stone circles here; the monument is about 5000 years old. Two thousand years before that, this area of Britain was dense oak forest with little human occupation. As society began to change from hunter-gatherers to settling down and producing their own food, the domestication of animals and plants led to the area being cleared for grassland. Instead of building tombs the neolithic people began to build large circles of wood and stone of which there are hundreds of examples all over the British Isles. The purpose of these sites is not clear, but they’re thought possibly to have been erected for ritual or religious purposes.

The outer circle or ‘henge’ at Avebury originally contained 98 sarsen standing stones, some over 40 tons in weight. Within this outer ring are two smaller circles. It takes a couple of hours to walk the full perimeter of chalky grassland which is abundant with  wildflowers.

In the early medieval period Anglo-Saxon tribes following the Pagan religion later claimed the monument for their own, and there are still ritual Pagan celebrations held here.

Later, as most of England converted to Christianity, the Christians feared the monument was associated with the devil and proceeded to destroy the circles by pulling them down and burying them. During the toppling, a man became trapped and crushed. Unable to be removed because of the weight of the stones, his body remained trapped for hundreds of years.

The Black Death pandemic in 1349 would have taken the Christians minds off the demolition and so most of the stones we see today were left standing.

Archaeologists re-erected many of the fallen stones in 1938 and discovered and excavated the trapped skeleton. Along with his body, a pouch was found containing silver coins, iron scissors and a lancet – evidence that he had been a barber-surgeon.

As a world heritage site Avebury is carefully looked after, and the tiny village that nestles among the stones is a picture postcard of thatched cottages and climbing roses. It is a shame that the national trust feel it necessary to charge astronomical car parking prices for local people, even when we just want to go for a couple of hours walk around the stones!

Coming here with my mother and daughter makes the history of this place even more poignant because I remember visiting Avebury as a child. The photograph below was taken about 30 years ago – it is my late brother and I standing against one of the stones. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Though I cannot comprehend the age of the stones – it is too much time to imagine – I wonder how long they will remain here, and how many more generations of my family will come to visit this sacred place.

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The Ichneumon Wasp

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I spotted this eye-catching creature sat on a munched-up rose-leaf in the garden. Dark black with white spots and bands. It looks like someone has gone a little mad with a bottle of Tippex.

I thought it was an unusual variety of fly munching on my roses, but the truth, which I found after some research, was much more grizzly and horrifying. This is one of the species of Ichneumon wasps, a parasitic wasp that injects its eggs into the larvae and pupae of beetles, butterflies and moths. Once hatched, they devour the insides of these poor creatures, eating them alive. The host eventually dies, allowing the larva to emerge and pupate into the wasp you see here.

In a letter to naturalist Asa Gray, Charles Darwin wrestled with the truth of nature’s cruelty:

“I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”

… a gruesome but fascinating insect… though I do hope I haven’t spoiled your dinner. 😉

Sycamore ~ Wendell Berry

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In my search for an apt quote for my post about the sycamore last week, I came across this beautiful poem by Wendell Berry. There are very few words written in homage to this often maligned tree, but here is a fitting ode to a lost sycamore

The Sycamore

In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.

~ Wendell Berry

A Sunday Morning

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Sunlight struggles through grey skies. It is eleven o’clock in the morning and I’ve already cooked dinner – pasta and meatballs in a roasted tomato and onion sauce – so I have a whole day ahead of me without schedule, without a to do list.

I am sorting through my sentimental things. The last category of my life-changing tidying mission. It will take a while. Sorting through photographs, culling and reminiscing is not without pain. On my living room floor are little piles, one for each child of paintings, cards, school crafts, memories of their childhood, which I will box and pass on to them when they are older. Another pile will go in a box labelled ‘Kim – to keep’ and includes photographs, baby memory books, a tiny set of knitted booties, mittens and a bonnet, a faded pair of satin ballet shoes, and handmade gifts from the children. My aim is to winnow this pile down to just one box. Hmmm…

Outside, the garden is verging on out of control. Box hedges overflow pathways and lawns. A mess of Buddleia bush long past flowering harbours a hundred webs, and mottled brown spiders lurk waiting to catch on your hair as you walk past unaware. The courgettes were disappointing and not a single squash or pumpkin grew this year. The Tumbling Tom cherry-tomato plants recommended by my mum however, are my prize plants. We can’t walk past without picking one and popping it into our mouths. An explosion of sunshine that pales the taste of any shop-bought fare.

Yesterday, I cut back one of the hedges that creeps into my neighbour’s garden. Hours of hacking with the shears at a mere foot off the ground, then the collecting, and the sweeping of trimmings, has left aching bones. And, on top of that, I have an ear infection that affects my balance. I think I will focus on the quiet and the slow today.

I like quiet and slow Sundays don’t you? A day of rest is good for us, no matter what our beliefs. A day to breathe. Thank goodness for that.

Days of Summer

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The summer break passed so quickly for us; I am a little sad it’s over. My children are older now so there is a whole lot less of the bickering that can happen for extended periods of unplanned time with siblings. This is a great relief to me, as I used to find the six-week break very stressful… and of course, the more stressed out I got, the worse the bickering!

Though our budget does not stretch to holidays away, we enjoyed several day trips, which is actually enough for me, right now anyway. I like my time at home – home is where the peace (most of the time), the garden, and the books are after all.

Emily went on a trip to Thorpe Park theme park – roller coasters and me do not mix – oh no, not at all. Whereas she loves them. So instead I took a lone trip to the coast, walked along the beach, dug my toes into wet sand, and whiled away several happy hours perched on a blanket on the sand dunes.

We also went to Bath and visited the fashion museum and enjoyed a picnic sitting in the middle of the Circus.

A train ride to London one day was not ruined by the downpours, we wandered around the Victoria and Albert and British museums and around Covent Garden. At one point we got lost and discovered a tiny patisserie called Pierre Hermé – Emily dragged me inside of course – and we tasted our very first macaron. She chose the passion fruit and I the salted caramel. Oh dear… that may be the first macaron, but I fear it will not be the last.

There was a trip to Avebury sacred stones, and to Salisbury, as well as walks around the village, gardening, reading and baking.

And now here we are with Autumn on its way and with it today Emily has returned to school, I have work to do, and my university course starts next week. In home schooling, Jay and I are focusing on maths so he can make it through the army application process he hopes to take next year. So plenty to keep us going and hopefully some time to slow down in between it all.

I wish you all a wonderful weekend x

Wilts and Berks Canal

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One of our favourite walks is along a section of the Wilts and Berks canal (pronounced ‘barks’ from the counties ‘Wiltshire’ and ‘Berkshire’ ) that begins on the outskirts of the nearby town of Chippenham.

This canal has been disused for the last 100 years and is part of an ambitious plan to restore it by volunteers and the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust. Built in the early nineteenth century, it was used to transport coal from the mines of Somerset up to the midlands, but was abandoned in 1910 largely due to the collapse of an aqueduct and competition from the railway. The entire length of the canal is 52 miles long, about 8 miles of this has been re-watered. Though several locks and bridges have been restored.

The small branch that led off the main canal to Chippenham once terminated at the wharf, which is now Chippenham bus station. Where once the water would have flowed, there are few signs of its existence. The canal was destroyed in many places by army explosive exercises during the Second World War, and the dumping of rubbish… according to wikipedia it was even used as a dumping ground for pig offal!

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The eighteenth century brickwork is visible in many places. This part of the lock is waiting to be restored:

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The completed parts of the canal make a beautiful walk, many wildflowers and native species have taken up residence along its banks. In March the paths were lined with thick rows of white flowering garlic, and when we last went in July we saw peppermint, crab apples and lots of butterflies, damselflies, and  dragonflies.

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If you look up, you can see bat boxes attached to the trees, placed there to enhance the local population of bats.

The restoration began in 1977, so this is a long process. It is quite fascinating to visit from time to time and see the progress that’s been made; the creation of a lovely new/old habitat for wildlife, and an enjoyable recreation area for us 🙂