Wednesday, 4 March 2009
Five minute walk
After a night when gale force winds tore the catkins off the hazel bushed in the orchard and rain was lashed horizontal against the windows, we woke to a sky-rinsed morning with blue sky, white clouds and not a twig stirring. I was awake early, making the first mug of tea and then writing for an hour whilst still in bed. I can look out of the window and see the hills beyond and am watching for that tell-tale fuzz on the distant wood that is the first real sign of Spring. I wanted to take photos of the golden aconites up the road that are growing wild on the verge and set off, camera in hand and wrapped up against the cold; but it was too early - the sun was still too low in the sky and they their cheerful faces were closed and bedraggled.
Less than five minutes from our house, and in need of exercise (but that's another story), I was in no hurry for once and stopped to really LOOK at what is so close to home. The rural view across a cattle pond to my friend's beautiful stone house over the wall. The pond is filled by countless springs all winter and overflows regularly into the road, but dries up completely in a hot summer. I dawdled, bending down to pick up fir-cones in the road that had fallen from a tall pine tree by the pond. Most were squashed from passing traffic, but I held a couple just fallen in my hand, loving the roughness of them, thinking how I could 'scumble' them in crochet (scumble is a way of doing free-form crochet, very organic and textural). I stuffed them in my jacket pocket and scrubbed the mud off back in the kitchen; they are now drying by the fire, gradually opening. They make excellent firelighters, though I would rather see them heaped in a willow-wicker basket.
I took a good look at the two stone 'fountains' from which you can still obtain water, though they have not been used for real for over 50 years. They served those cottagers who did not have access to their own well, as we have; not that we use it for household purposes, but the water is invaluable during periods of draught for watering the vegetables. (In the year after we came here, 1970, I planted 20 or so apple trees in a really hot summer; we had no running water in the semi-derelict house, so I bucketed water from the well, two buckets per tree, morning and evening - that was when we decided we would not fill it in, as has happened to the line of other wells down this road. The next pic I took was of the group of trees which we overlook from our house and which cause us concern all summer for they obliterate the daylight from our main living room - you need electric light on, on a dull day. The worst culprit is however beautiful in winter, so I snapped the trunk and branches to add to my collection of tree shapes for collage work. It has become host to mistletoe, sufficiently low down that I could take a close-up.
From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac. It is rapidly expanding northwards in the UK and one tree in our village now has numerous large bunches dangling from its branches; we spotted the first signs only five years ago. As I looked upwards, above the mistletoe to the blue sky above I noticed that the tree - which is a type of ornamental maple - was covered in what I took to be bright crimson shoots; magical against the blue sky. I took one shot and looked more closely at the lower branches; they were not leaves but tiny flowers with minute twisted petals that reminded me of miniature sea-anemones, or witch-hazel (hammemelis). I know of no maple that flowers in this way and am wondering what the tree really is, come to think of it, it is too big for a maple. I am now thoroughly intrigued and will shortly be searching through my 'Royal Horticultural Society' plant bible. I tried to take a close-up of the flowers on the lower branches but as so often happens when I want to do macro work, a breeze sprang up and the flowering twigs are out of focus! I picked a couple of sprigs and will watch them opening on the window-cill.
It just goes to show what you can find when you stop for even five minutes and really look at your surroundings; all too easy in our hectic lives to pass these things by. (Click on any of the photos to view them at larger size.)