After a big Christmas meal among a crowd of adults, some of them unknown to him, 18 month-old Abel was getting restless so he went to the back door and found his wellington boots. It was time for some fresh air.
By the corner of the park he stopped. He pointed at the lilac tree and shook his finger – a gesture he uses if he hears a loud noise like a siren – or grandad sneezing. Grandad’s sinuses were not challenged on this occasion; the noise was coming from the tree: Robin playing his part in the dusk chorus.
Abel watched and listened till Robin changed his perch, then said, bye bye. Off he went into the park and straight up onto the old abandoned railway line. At the top he paused again, listening. Singing close by were a thrush and blackbird as well as another robin. After listening for a while, it was bye-bye to these birds too. We were unable to see them.
We did see the gulls flying below the clouds on their way to the coast: bye-bye to them too.
It was dark when we said bye-bye to Abel, but he pointed from his car-seat to our own robin, still singing, still patrolling his boundaries by street-light. Bye-bye Abel, thank you for listening with me!
Our local Saint Mildred, a Saxon princess who had a continental education and rejected the idea of a political marriage to become a nun, had her feast this week. She reminds me to harvest the walnuts.
It’s harvest time because right now they have not yet grown their woody shells inside those green carapaces. Off the tree they come to get pricked all over with a fork, then left to steep in brine for a few days before drying off for a few days more.
The juice has stained my fingers to the complexion of a chain-smoker, if only for a few days. But when the nuts are fully dry for pickling they will be as black as the habits of the Benedictine Sisters who live in Saint Mildred’s Abbey at Minster-in-Thanet. By Christmas the nuts will be sweet-and-sour and spicy.
Only the first and third of those adjectives apply to the sisters at Minster!
Saint Mildred from a window at Preston-next-Wingham, Kent. John Salmon
There are floods in my mother’s village in Yorkshire, so far well below her front door; down here in Kent, the storm has been less fierce, the temperature unusually mild. In flower today were: daffodils, violets, mimosa, roses, including our dear Mermaid and Thomas Becket; cyclamen, daisies and gorse of course; low-growing campanula, viburnum, prunus praecox, the watchful tree beloved of Jeremiah; camellia about to burst; ceanothus, winter jasmine. Someone at church reported a hawthorn in bloom; Glastonbury comes to Canterbury! Pussy Willow is not far behind.
It is worrying that the season is so topsy-turvy; of course the slugs are loving it, and loving the Jerusalem artichokes, but we had more than enough to make soup with leeks for yesterday’s feast. Rowan and apple jelly gave an edge to the goose, made earlier after a forage with Mrs Turnstone. It kept that lovely colour!
The forager shared the fruits of his (and Mrs Turnstone’s) labours over the Festive Time:
Apples from ‘Your Company was Much Appreciated’, newly washed.
The Chestnuts appeared as a stuffing which pleased our almost vegetarian guest; see post “Cornish and Kentish foraging”. And Thanks to Patrick and Rose Marie.
the sloes harvested in Cornwall anointed the goose, helping to flavour the bird; see post “Of Flowers, Foragers, and Fiona”. And thanks to Fiona in the Van.
scrumped apples were an important ingredient in the mince pies; see “Your Company Was Much Appreciated” – and Thanks to Mrs T for her company on this and many another walk.
loganberry and orange jam was enjoyed by those in the know! See “Foraging again!” And thanks to my long arms that let me reach the topmost fruit!
The little white rescue dog mentioned in ‘Delights Unearthed’ has attached himself to the Magi on their way to the stable of Bethlehem in our living room. The little black cat has taken up residence there already, making friends with the gentle cow.
Mrs Turnstone came in from the railway bank where once I met the little girl with a ragdoll. Mrs T had been up there looking for greenery to renew the Advent wreath and decorate the house.
‘Here’s a story for your blog’, she said, as she unloaded branch after branch of holly, each one bearing berries as red as any blood. ‘I began harvesting at eye level’, she said, ‘then looked up and there were all these berries. I’ve never seen the like in all the years we’ve lived here.’ She suggested it was due to the mild winter we have had so far, but why then have the blackbirds stripped the pyracantha outside our window, which usually does not get harvested until into the new year? Are the two harvests, the unusually late and the unusually early, connected, or are there two separate populations of berry-eating birds just a couple of hundred metres apart, each going its own way?
One thing is sure: if the waxwings come looking for pyracantha berries chez Turnstone this winter, they will be disappointed!