When T attacks his overgrown garden – neglected for years before he and K moved in this month – he’s a human bulldozer, while his father-in-law looks, identifies, wonders what to do with this or that. Hence I came home with two Kentish cob or hazel seedlings. The parent bush is many-stemmed and stands on the North side of the garden, a good six metres high. It also stands on the South side of next-door neighbour Ivy’s garden, blocking her share of sunshine.
A Winter’s job, coppicing the tree; today’s task was to rescue a couple of squirrel or woodmouse-planted seedlings and bring them back to be nurtured. And then rehomed. Nowhere around here is free of squirrels though, so the prospect of ever tasting a nut is infinitesimal. I’m sure I’ll think of somewhere. Perhaps one of them will serve as a singing post for blackbird generations yet to come, as the parent tree was doing this afternoon.
It was a beautiful afternoon, unexpectedly given to me when two appointments were cancelled. Off to Mrs O’s garden!
The first of the grass seed was an inch high, so time to remove the plastic and let it breathe. Meanwhile the ground was ready for planting out a few perennials. Some had been standing out in pots all winter, so they too were ready.
As I tipped one pot over I was surprised to see a swollen root – but no, it was a peanut in its shell! This pot had been raised off the ground to get a little more winter sun; clearly a favoured cache. Sorry, squirrel, you’ve lost that nut!
Last summer the squirrel living in next door’s roof was often seen with peanuts in her mouth, shimmying up the drainpipe to feed the family. Mrs Turnstone had hung them on the washing line for the blue tits, but all disappeared overnight, string and all. But where had Mrs Squirrel hidden them? When I cut the ivy down on the wall and trellis after nesting time I found the remains of her store, dry and safe from magpies.
The new owner has sealed next door’s loft, so let’s hope we are squirrel-free for the coming summer. I also found a blackbird’s next with the eggs eaten …
If you want to catch a playful dog, like our new friend Melba, it’s as well to pretend you are not interested in doing any such thing. The rabbits on Abbot’s Hill can tell when Melba is up for the chase and soon make themselves scarce. Wild birds will disappear if they feel something is watching them, hence the joy of a cold hide on the edge of a winter’s lake.
In the Nineteenth Century Richard Jefferies put it this way:
This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference. In some instinctive way these wild creatures learn to distinguish when one is or is not intent upon them in a spirit of enmity; and if very near, it is always the eye they watch. So long as you observe them, as it were, from the corner of the eyeball, sideways, or look over their heads at something beyond, it is well.
(from The Gamekeeper at Home, available at Project Gutenberg)
This evening’s encounter was fleeting. I was walking past the hazel bush on our street (yes, the squirrels did get all the nuts) when I heard a quiet, musical squeaking. Not from my boots, but at ear level; something on the railway? No, a young cock blackbird, his feathers very dark but not quite black, his beak still a muddy chocolate brown. I don’t suppose he was trying his sub-song out on me, but I felt privileged to hear it for a few seconds as I continued walking so as not to disturb him.
Let’s hope he finds a mate to appreciate his full-throated song, come the Spring.
‘Everything has its moment’, said Mrs T.
We had just noticed the long orange stems of the willow by the duck pond, glowing through the morning mist. There are also still plenty of golden leaves on the trees, even some green on the birch, but it’s the gold of autumn that draws the eye to a seedling chestnut. Neither the god-daughters nor the squirrels spotted that nut last autumn – or maybe one of the squirrels buried it and forgot about it.
Everything has its moment. May we be ready for ours!
G. K. Chesterton
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.