We are always talking about looking and seeing, here at Will Turnstone. When we took Abel out to the woods yesterday we found this invitation to look at Betula, the Lady of the Woods. Isn’t she lovely? Find one of her sisters near you and enjoy the sight.
Here is something I’ve been saving till the right picture turned up. This one is good enough to accompany this passage from Nan Shepherd’s ‘The Living Mountain’. A writer may reveal what the reader more than half knows, awakening joyful recognition in her audience. I was reading to learn about the Scottish Highlands, but I discovered something all-but known about the birch I see as I open the curtains or come home: the birch. Here is Shepherd on p53:
Birch … that grows on the lower mountain slopes, needs rain to release its odour. It is a scent with body to it, fruity like old brandy, and on a wet warm day, one can be as good as drunk with it. Acting through the sensory nerves, it confuses the higher centres; one is excited, with no cause that the wit can define.
It’s always good to return home even from a quick walk to the shops. There is magic in fingering the keys as I approach under the lime trees – trees that may not flourish on Cairngorm but here share their bee-sung, scented glory every summer. Birch is wind-pollinated, needing no nectar, but its fresh-air scent, which I barely register even in wet weather, is part of coming home. I never realised till Nan Shepherd told me! And the blackbirds sing louder in the rain.
We occasionally berate the birch for its scattered seedlings, which occupy any bare earth and even take root in garden walls. As Rome fell away from Britain no-one removed the young trees, and the towns crumbled.
Not far from here at the derelict mine, a birch forest has sprung up on the spoil. Silver birch, I called it as a child – but it is pure gold in Autumn.
Do seek out Nan Shepherd’s book and see, hear, smell, feel with her.
Six-thirty felt early to Will Turnstone. Not to Abel, whose sleepover had ended half an hour previously. He grabbed grandad by the finger and took him outside to look for frogs in the pond. But the water was a few degrees too cold for them. Instead the humans picked beans and a gherkin and went back indoors.
The gherkin was a present for Abel’s dad, who sang a thank you song – ‘Ogòrek, Ogòrek!’ It’s there on Youtube…
In the middle of the night, I met this spider in the kitchen. Whose home is this? I wondered. I brought my finger gently up beneath that outstretched foot; as soon as finger and foot met, the spider spun and bounced frenetically at the end of it’s thread, but then resumed station between fridge and breadbin.
How many flies has it eaten over its short life? Why does it have no more than six legs? Or am I missing something?
But Cerura vinula – it almost sounds like a scream! The first the adults knew about them was a screaming 5 year old, running to her mother, pointing to her chest, where 2 impressive caterpillars were firmly attached to her teeshirt.
Margaret had been hiding in the osier bed, and the caterpillars must have climbed on board from there. Perhaps they thought the pink shirt looked tasty.
Well, once the adults had established that the creatures were harmless to children the girls were able to enjoy them. Such a big caterpillar in a small palm, and such startling colour pattern. ideal camouflage among the leaves.
The adult is called a puss moth, but the caterpillar with its sinister forked tail and little hump is no sort of kitten at all.
The marsh walk was chosen not because it was flat but because there was a pub at either end. George was home for a few days gardening leave between jobs, his gardening consisting in sunbathing on the lawn that his mother tends with this activity in mind. Stodmarsh feels further from London than 70 miles.
Nonetheless, this is a post-industrial landscape: Chislet colliery lay under here and as land in the Stour valley subsided water and reeds took over. Paths allow dryshod walking from the Red Lion to the Grove Ferry Inn, especially after a dry winter and spring.
Mrs T is shorter than her husband and son, just below the tops of the reeds, so her view was restricted. But she enjoyed the birdsong – including two cuckoos and a booming bittern. The cuckoo is becoming rarer; there were many more when we came to Kent some forty years ago. Bitterns are a different case, no more than birds of passage back then.
Back then the old field fences could be seen from the train, gradually sinking into what was at first seasonal open water but has now become reed beds. Back then – even just a couple of years ago – we would have expected swallows and martins as well as swifts chasing flies. It cannot be just lack of mud for nest-building that kept them away this year.
Although young Abel will appreciate the birds he gets to know, he may never be familiar with swallows and martins, or even song thrushes. Thank God he has sparrows under his roof.
I don’t need Mr Trump’s climate change denial. I saw how entranced Abel was, aged 18 months, by the song of a robin in a nearby bush. I would like to think that, aged 18, he will enjoy the song of a nightingale from a Kentish bramble patch.
George’s picture of the swans and cygnets shows how well hidden the wildlife can be out on the marsh.
The old road passes along the top of Tankerton slope after running inland to skirt the Marshes. The sea wall with its promenade protects the slope from crumbling into the waters, and apart from rough grass there are green plants and bushes all the way. One rarity is hog’s fennel, which when we visited with Abel had filled a patch of land with mounds of lacy, dark green leaf. We got up close when chasing after an upwardly mobile toddler.
It is good to know that something so beautiful is being watched over, conserved.
Looking after one small corner of our shared home is a step towards saving the planet, so thanks are due to those looking after the slopes.
Even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these, (Matthew 6: 29) though I can imagine William Morris enjoying the challenge of translating this into a textile design!