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1 June: Richard Jefferies I: Apparent indifference

walk5I was looking for something else when I came across some of the extracts I made from Richard Jefferies’ “The Gamekeeper at Home”, first published in 1878. Ian, a lad I once taught, had an ambition to become a keeper, and enjoyed reading this book together, despite the sometimes old-fashioned language. He had the capacity to stand and stare that Jefferies describes here. The book is available at Project Gutenberg.

Often and often, when standing in a meadow gateway partly hidden by the bushes, watching the woodpecker on the ant-hills, of whose eggs, too, the partridges are so fond (so that a good ant year, in which their nests are prolific, is also a good partridge year) you may, if you are still, hear a slight faint rustle in the hedge, and by-and-by a weasel will steal out. Seeing you he instantly pauses, elevates his head, and steadily gazes: move but your eyes and he is back in the hedge; remain quiet, still looking straight before you as if you saw nothing, and he will presently recover confidence, and actually cross the gateway almost under you.

This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference.

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Not from the supermarket

You can’t make cole slaw without cabbage, so to the local supermarket or the local farmers’ market at the Goods Shed? Almost equidistant, and on this occasion I had to pass the shed first, and before it got too busy with out-of-towners.

This cabbage’s stalk had not dried out, it was not wrapped to death in plastic, and had most of its rosette of outer leaves. Beautiful. Worth buying, worth a snap, and worth sharing.

Dessert apple and grated ginger lift the cole slaw, but the best start is a good cabbage!

Spring and Fall.

 

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Spring and Fall

by Gerald Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

The mistletoe-laden trees above are in the meadows at Oxford, where Hopkins studied. His poem addresses the mysteries of life and death, both of which our hearts have heard of, our ghosts (our souls) have guessed at. We are born to die, and this world is very dear, too good we often feel, to leave. Let’s spare a sigh, but nonetheless be grateful for each day. 

October 13: Loss and Gain.

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Today in Rome Pope Francis will declare John Henry Cardinal Newman a saint of the Catholic Church, an English saint who was not a martyr but a hard-working priest and theologian. He tended the sick during epidemics in Birmingham as well as founding schools and Oratories and defending the faith through fearless enquiry.

All that and he found time to write novels, including Loss and Gain, The Story of a Convert. In the early pages he has these two contrasting passages about a familiar country walk. Draw your own conclusions! And enjoy your next walk, even if it’s the walk to work or to the bus stop.

“When we ourselves were young, we once on a time walked on a hot summer-day from Oxford to Newington—a dull road, as any one who has gone it knows; yet it was new to us; and we protest to you, reader, believe it or not, laugh or not, as you will, to us it seemed on that occasion quite touchingly beautiful; and a soft melancholy came over us, of which the shadows fall even now, when we look back on that dusty, weary journey. And why? because every object which met us was unknown and full of mystery. A tree or two in the distance seemed the beginning of a great wood, or park, stretching endlessly; a hill implied a vale beyond, with that vale’s history; the bye-lanes, with their green hedges, wound and vanished, yet were not lost to the imagination. Such was our first journey; but when we had gone it several times, the mind refused to act, the scene ceased to enchant, stern reality alone remained; and we thought it one of the most tiresome, odious roads we ever had occasion to traverse.”

“”People call this country ugly, and perhaps it is; but whether I am used to it or no, I always am pleased with it. The lights are always new; and thus the landscape, if it deserves the name, is always presented in a new dress. I have known Shotover there take the most opposite hues, sometimes purple, sometimes a bright saffron or tawny orange.” Here he stopped.

Loss and Gain is available on Kindle

Start reading it for free: http://amzn.eu/7WLLVaT  

Mind your feet!

With all that’s been going on, this story was forgotten till Mme Frog jogged my memory. One evening last week, my daughter went down to empty the kitchen bin onto the compost heap.

Something scurried across her feet. ‘Oh no! a rat!’ she thought, but it didn’t run across the garden like that. And it had spikes: a hedgehog! Our neighbour, who cut a hedgehog hole in his new fence, will be mighty pleased. So was Mrs T, who would like to see an end to slimy slugs in her garden.

Unfortunately Mrs Tiggywinkle did not stop around for a photo-call.

Sunflowers

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Last year, for reasons that now escape me, I took my beloved Brompton bike for a ride around Rye, across the border into Sussex, as a reflective part of my birthday celebration. I passed to the north of a field of sunflowers, which, being sun-worshippers, all had their backs to me.

This time, my seventieth year from heaven completed, we celebrated beneath these sunflowers at the L’Arche garden in Canterbury. This time, we were to the south of the blooms, and received the blessing of their faces, reflecting their master as they smiled upon us.

And a good time was had by all!

Hail and farewell

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When we moved to our home in Canterbury there were house martins nesting on neighbours’ houses; we did not get them because the chicks would have baked in the direct noonday sun. One house opposite had hung little balls from the eaves to warn the martins off. Super house proud, or possibly paranoid about droppings. Remember Tobit!

It’s been years since there was any excuse for excluding the birds. No martins have nested hereabouts for many years. Newcomers have never seen them nesting: what you don’t know, you don’t miss. The same goes for the martins: their memory of living on our street has gone; they will not return.

I’ve seen very few matins or swallows this year, but last week as I was walking across the field behind our house I saw two martins overhead. I guess a couple of this year’s brood, getting into fettle for the flight to Africa. God Speed them there and safely back!

 

The Noonday Croak

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An hour ago, Mrs T sent me on a message to Frog’s   next-door neighbour’s house. A glorious sunny September noontime, roses tumbling over the fence, bees buzzing, as well as motor mowers.

I turned to go, and distinctly heard a frog croaking from Mrs T’s friend’s bushes. Perhaps Frog’s resident frog has not wandered too far from her little pond.

Abel found two of this year’s froglets in our pond yesterday!

Will.