Spring is just around the corner. When it arrives the vegetation is likely to cover this little gem, found locally. So keep your eyes peeled for The Scarlet Elf Cap or Sarcoscypha Coccinea
If, like me, you are the ‘Compleat Bookworm’, interested in the natural world and a big fan of Robert Macfarlane’s books then you will have greeted his latest, ‘Landmarks’, with great pleasure. If you have read his other books you will also have appreciated his knowledgeable, elegant and precise use of language. His books are not a quick read, they need a meditative turn of mind.
‘Landmarks’ is a return to a lost vocabulary, the language of landscape, both formal and dialect. It is a defence of the spirit of language. For years he has collected words used by fishermen, scientists, climbers or walkers, words used in geology, archaeology, forestry and mountaineering, words connected with water, mountains, woods and edgelands. It is a word hoard from Gaelic, Welsh Irish, Scots and English counties.
Even flicking through this book one realises how impoverished our language is today with its thoughtless and empty clichés, ‘over the moon’, ‘keeping you in the loop’, ’it’s all gone pear shaped’ and ‘taking a rain check’.
Man has always named places and actions and this book reveals a vast and imaginative treasure trove of words, either lost or now only used by a few. He tells of other writers who he admires, who loved and knew well their particular landscape. Nan Shepherd, Roger Deacon, J. Baker and Richard Jefferies, he sees their particular places through their eyes and experiences.
An unusual book, thought provoking and a great call for reconnecting with the natural world. Hooray for Robert Macfarlane.
Ammil: the sparkle of morning sunlight through hoar-frost.(Devon).
Pirr: a light breath of wind such as will make a cat’s paw on the water. (Shetlands).
Blinter: an ice splinter catching a lowlight. (Scots).
Eit: placing quartz stones in moorland streams so they sparkle in moonlight and attract salmon in late summer. (Gaelic).
Zugs: soft, wet ground, a little bog island about the size of a bucket. (Exmoor).
Working from home…
is something I am lucky enough to be able to do, and so on Thursday morning I was sitting in front of a wood burning stove coding (programming). I had started at just after 5 am, and had opened up the stove in the chilly room. By eight o’clock it was toasty.
I’m alone in the house, apart from Brock, who is pining for a bitch in the village. He’s locked in the kitchen sounding like damp chamois leather on a window pane. “Weeek! weeak!”
Out of the corner of my I catch something move. A rat? A Mouse?… A spider!!? – er no!
A common lizard out of hibernation, probably coming in from the woodpile.
Today Barney contacted the British Herpatological Society to see what we should do. He received this response.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Trevor Rose <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 10:28 AM
Subject: Re: interupted hibernation
To: Barney Mewton <email@example.com>
You obviously know your stuff! I just wanted to be sure we weren’t dealing with an escaped captive, particularly as it is in your house, which is unusual as you say (but not unknown). I can only think it must have been hibernating in the foundations of your house; it would have to be very close by certainly.
It is a bit of a problem that it has awoken. Putting it outside now could be very detrimental unless you know where other lizards are hibernating, and it would have to be done when the temperature is just right (around 6-7 degrees C during the day)
If you wish, I could make some enquiries to find someone who could keep the lizard for a few weeks until the weather warms.
Otherwise, and if you feel able to keep her yourself, here’s what you need to do: you could keep her in a plastic, uncovered box (like the storage boxes you can buy in the high street for £5-8). As long as it is 8 ins or more deep, she won’t be able to jump out. Sand, gravel or even clean soil can be placed in the box as a substrate, a place to hide (a piece of flat stale would be best) and a small shallow water dish pushed in to the sand. Feel free to decorate the habitat anyway you wish, but these are the bare essentials. You won’t need any additional heat as your house will be warm enough, but she would appreciate being near good daylight. If you have a desk-top angle lamp, you could put that over the box for a few hours a day (especially when feeding) then she will be able to bask before hunting as she would in the wild.
Then it is just a question of feeding. You could try small earthworms, placed in a shallow dish (eg. coffee jar, jam jar or other lid). If she goes for these, you’re on a winner as they are very nutritious and easy to find. Any other insects you can find can be tried, spiders are actually their main food source in the wild. Food must be live though. If you are unable to find enough insects (difficult at this time of year), then maybe you have a pet shop nearby that sells crickets? They normally sell for around £4 per tub and should last for some time. The small sizes are best (up to 10mm long). These can be offered around ten or so per day. Feed her in the morning and she will forage for them during the day.
Once the frosts are away and there’s a reasonably warm spell (8-10 degrees C for a couple of days in a row) you will be able to release her somewhere that you have seen other lizards in the past.
Let me know how it goes, and if you’d rather someone else looked after her do let me know.
Good advice for the lizard in your life.
THE CORNER OF HIS EYE
A day cold as sea shells, his breath smokes and the silence sings in his ears. It is the Winter Solstice, one of the hinges of the year. It is foggy and frosty and the day, young as yet, seems to hold its breath. Winter is bolting and barring the door to the coming of the Oak King. The lane is flanked by high banks and the winter weary tussocks of grass lie long and lank. The hedgerow at the top of the bank is a huddle of black shadows. Late autumn had buttered the field maple leaves and, alone of all the trees in the hedge, it held stubbornly on to them. Now and then a stir of air brings two or three floating down and he catches them, a handful of fairy gold and, like those deceitful coins, they will soon shrivel and turn to dust. Rain runnels lace the high banks and knuckled roots have elbowed through. The little Holly King, the robin, perches among them singing his wistful ritual song to the Solstice. The banks and lane are like a suburb of the wood, they know different changes of light, lives briefly lived, seasons which keep the balance of the year, changes of weather, they are a constant in continual change. The wood keeps its secrets to itself, fox, deer and mouse know, sparrow hawk and pigeon know but they too stay mum. Scrambling to the top of the bank he looks out over the field. Rain has filled ruts and hollows, furrows and folds and it reflects the light, calligraphic swirls over the skin of the land telling of more secrets. Out of the corner of his eye he catches a movement in a big sprawl of brambles and there is a wren, quick and quiet as a thought it moves. Then, there is another, a pair of cutty* wrens. They search the thorned stems moving deeper inside, living up to their name ‘Troglodytidae’, a cave dweller. In a few days time he thinks it will be St. Stephen’s Day and for generations it was traditionally the day when a wren was hunted and killed. Its body was fixed to the top of a pole and a great wreath of holly and ivy surrounded it. The Wren Boys went from door to door singing their song:
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in a furse,
Although he is little, his family’s great
I pray you good lady, give us a treat.
The story tells that Stephen had been preaching and he was running for his life from those who would kill him because of this and he hid. A wren near where he was hiding from his pursuers began to sing very loudly and attracted their attention, Stephen was discovered and stoned to death. Hence the hunting of the Cutty Wren. In the song he is referred to as the king of the birds, another story in which the birds held a competition to see who could fly the highest and be given the title of King. Up they all flew and away the eagle soared, high as a giant can hurl and just as the birds were going to call him the winner, above him who should be flying but the wren! He had held onto the eagle’s back, not just cutty but canny as well! Hunting the Cutty Wren died out in the early 1900’s, other days, other ways. However at Middleton in Suffolk a similar tradition was born and the wren this time is a carved from wood and is honoured and celebrated by song, dance and story by a side of Molly Dancers, ‘The Old Glory’.
‘Cutty’ means small or short. You will doubtless have heard of the ‘Cutty Sark’, she is the last of the tea clippers and is preserved in dry dock in London. The name comes from a poem by Robert Burns which tells of a witch, Nannie, who wore a ‘cutty sark’, a short shirt. The clipper’s figurehead is the witch.
In the evening he sits by the fire, it is not really cold enough for one but he looks upon it as a friendly companion. In his mind’s eye he sees again the small wonders he has seen and heard as he walked the path through the Small Wood earlier in the day. He polishes each memory and salts them away.
In the early morning mist bloomed and shrouded sky and land, nothing was defined and it had left a feeling with him of a presence in the air, an inward looking, a formless anxiety. The sun, pale as a sixpence, had gleamed now and then as it gathered strength, it still spoke of late summer while the mist spoke of autumn.
A robin cocked an eye, dark as a bramble pip, then perched and swooped, perched and swooped, darning the air. It sang its Autumn anthem in a thread of bright notes, it was composed from leaves, the fallen and the falling, the mist which blurred and blended, thinning sunshine and sharp showers. For a minute or two man and bird were neighbours, a moment of sharing.
He had picked up a shell of a hazel nut, brown and shiny as Spanish leather-oh! It had been carved into a bowl and the teeth marks gave the clue that the little craftsman was a vole and not a wood mouse or squirrel. There were no marks on the surface of the shell but the edge was ridged by sharp teeth. He had put it in his pocket, it was a gift, a luck nut and he sat fingering its smoothness.
The wind had freshened as he walked and it stirred the air plucking leaves from the poplar and blowing them away leaving the tree fish-boned. As the leaves fell they twisted catching first sunlight then shadow flickering like a shoal of little fish.
He saw the banks on each side of the path had colonies of domes, towers and spires, some pleated or frilled, fairytale architecture. Some were pale as milk and others aged to russet and gingery tones and some peppered with holes till they had become ghostly ruins. These were fungi, they connect underground in tangled webs, and he remembered thinking that it just like the fibre optic cables which brought his broadband.
The sun shafted through branches and zebraed the path. Hogweed stems had dried to fluted columns the colour of old pound coins. The seed heads like spokes of an umbrella support spider webs, they hung like little hammocks gemmed with moisture from the mist which sparkled in the sun and attracted his attention. He thought that otherwise he might have missed seeing the webs, all these alternative lives lived parallel to ours and are so often missed.
He stands, not only looking but seeing, not only hearing but listening. In this sunken lane enclosed by high banks sound lingers. In Spring it is full of bird song and movement; in winter the winds pluck the trees and hedge and it thrums like a great harp. The tall grass stems, green in this early summer, lean over from each bank, seed-head meeting seed-head softly like hands closing in prayer. Oxeye daisies, Goldilocks, Lady’s Smock, Mouse-ear and Crane’s –bill string their bright bunting along the high banks luring hoverflies, bees and butterflies. He sees the tracks which thread through the grass, narrow pathways of those who live by the flanks of the wood. Fox, rabbit, hare and deer, creatures who have the impudence to survive snare and shot, hunting and harrying to steal a living. They and other subversives turn this sunken lane into a republic of outlaws. Feathers from a woodpigeon lie scattered like white petals, tufts of grey fur, randomly scattered hazel nut shells bearing teeth marks of squirrel or woodmouse are all the dark matter of a parallel world going about its own business.