Sunday, April 30, 2006

Goodbye April - a look at the changes

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm,

That is the start of the Waste Land by TS Eliot. It's the last day of April so I had to get it in now. Eliot is full of bits that resonate combined pointlessly arcane references. The Four Quartets is a bit easier to stomach than the Waste Land.

I don't know if April is kind or cruel or both but here are the changes it has made in the cut. The path has changed from almost bare brown, to gilded with yellow and onward to blue and white with green along the edges. (Sounds almost like a birthday cake!)

The twisting climbers like hops and briony have changed from tiny shoots to twisted plants four foot high or more. And the Briony here twisting with itself and reaching vainly for the sky. The ferns have changed from fluffy brown fiddle heads to tall green leaves (will they go I wonder now the light comes in more strongly.) I'm about to put the pictures in so let's hope they go where I want them - but if not you will have to work out what is what for yourselt. (I struggled for 3 hours yesterday and still failed, and I'm not going to do it again!)

To finish here are a couple of other little poems about April. I've been talking to a lot of people about the laying of the hedge and the species that are in it and a lot more besides so I hope to bring you that tomorrow. Meanwhile here are the poems - follow the link to Ogden Nash for a bit of fun. I love him.

Whatever Eliot says I can't see the growth of new life as "cruel". As the trees change every day through every shade of green it seems more like a group of teenage girls changing for a party so the end poems are light but jolly.

The wild sweet rain of April spills
On golden - throated daffodils,
On garden wall and new green bough,
On earth fresh - turned before the plough.
It scrubs the pansy's small shy face
And shines each blade of grass in place
To leave the springtime world aglow,
And lift my heart to walk tiptoe.

and Ogden Nash

Always Marry An April Girl

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true --
I love April, I love you.

Ogden Nash

Friday, April 28, 2006

How many kinds of sweet flowers grow?

How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
On an English country foo-ootpath
I'll tell you now, in case you don't know
It's enough to fill a foo - oot bath

Several footbaths in fact. Here are a few of them on the cut at the moment. And here's a link to a more or less definitive list of 135. Cow Parsley, or Queen Anne's Lace, or Wild Chervil. You can eat it the leaves and a chef who lived with us for a while used to pick it and take it to his restaurant. The only problem is that the flowers are rather the same as Hemlock - the poison they used to execute Socrates so take care.

Garlic mustard is down below - formatting has gone to hell on this post! You can eat this too and I might try because it sounds quite tasty. Boil it like greens. Greater Stitchwort (the little white flower below), cures the sort of stitch you get when you run and also good for bones. The "Doctrine of Signatures" (see an earlier post) suggests that you can see this by the fact that the stems are so delicate - like broken bones. This rather confirms the view that the doctrine of signatures was used as much for a mnemonic as a way of discovering what might do what. Here's a nice link about stitchwort.

Next it's a wild strawberry plant. I've never seen any strawberries in the cut and they won't ripen till June or so. Then there are primroses. The wood pigeons (or some bird) comes regularly and picks the flowers and strews them all around the plant. Maybe they eat the honey or something.

Bluebells are still there and here is a pink one that sprang up. I thought these were only cultivated ones. But maybe it sprung up as a sport. Or maybe there was a house nearby and this came from their garden. There's a plaintain flower because I used to enjoy these when I was a boy. You can bend the stalk over and fire off the plaintains at your friends.

Finally there;s Lady's Smock pinky rather than silver white when you see them one at a time but anyway here's Shakespeare's song about them.

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

"Paint the meadows with delight". That's worth repeating.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Of flowers and trees

Down the side of the cut - about 2 yards in, are two old apple trees, one on one side and one on the other. Both old and litchen covered. The picture shows one bare as it was a month ago, the other as it is now with leaves opening and buds coming. The third picture is a close up of the buds (just showing red) and the litchen.

These two trees were part of an orchard - an orchard that went around the edges of the two fields. Twenty years or so ago they used to produce a nice crop of apples - not any more. And why did the orchard go round the edge of the field? Well you see the land had been given to Syd as a gift for work well done on the big estate. They gave him quite a nice big piece of land but it was all round the edge of the fields so that Syd still had to keep up the hedges. The estate kept the middle of the field and used it for crops. Syd's land was too narrow for crops so he planted apples and kept up the hedges.

Such are the gifts of the rich to the poor.

On a more cheerful note, the Blackthorn is flowering at the top of the cut. Here is a picture of the blossom with the big oak tree in the background. It's called Blackthorn because it flowers on the bare wood - unlike Whitethorn, or Hawthorn or May (all the same thing) which does not flower until the leaves come out.

Blackthorn is a sort of wild plum and in the autumn you can pick the plums, called sloes. They are horribly sour but you can use them to make sloe gin. Basically what you do is wait till the frosts come which increases the sugar in the sloe, pick them, prick them (with a silver fork so they say and under a full moon if you find that makes it more fun), add sugar then pour gin on them and leave it till Christmas. Very nice stick and sweet. Here is a recipe:
It makes no mention of silver forks, or the moon, or even pricking so maybe you don't need to do it - it's a horrble fiddle but somehow seems to make it more fun.

Oh and to finish here's a poem for those who like their poetry rich and sticky like their slow gin. It's by Swinburne
and was on Poem of the day yesterday.

Marzo Pazzo - Mad March

Mad March, with the wind in his wings wide-spread,
Leaps from heaven, and the deep dawn's arch
Hails re-risen again from the dead
Mad March.

Soft small flames on rowan and larch
Break forth as laughter on lips that said
Nought till the pulse in them beat love's march.

But the heartbeat now in the lips rose-red
Speaks life to the world, and the winds that parch
Bring April forth as a bride to wed
Mad March.

Here's Swinburne's biography and here's "The hounds of spring". Wonderful stuff particularly for a love-sick adolescent.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hedge laying and, ash before oak

Actually had a comment yesterday asking me what has happened to the cut. For the last thirty years or so the cut has been surrounded by tall trees (mostly hawthorn) and as the spring has gone on the cut turned from a sunlit valley into a dark and mysterious tunnel But earlier this year it was laid. That means they cut down the tall trees and cut the branches half way through and bend them down and twist them into the hedge. That way the bottom stays thick and becomes a real barrier. Some people like it some don't.

I hope to find out more soon but as a blog is published backwards (latest posting first) you will have read anything already that I will ever write about it. So I don't know whether this should be an apology or an item of self congratulation. Anyway here is a picture of the laid hedge with the sun behind it. The top picture is the cut looking down. And you can see that the hedge of tall trees on either side has been cut down. Under that is a picture of the laid hedge. As you can see some of the branches they laid are pretty big because the cut had been left for so long.

Here is a link to a hedge laying site .

Oak before Ash

Oak before Ash/ In for a splash

Ash before Oak / In for a soak

This is an old weather rhyme that my mother used to quote.
She said that she had never seen the ash come into leaf before the oak and I don't think I have either and that is why we always had wet weather in England. This year however it almost looks as if it might. So it's bad news for our reservoirs and means hosepipe bans maybe, or maybe not. At the top of the cut there is a smallish ash tree and two huge oaks. Here's a picture looking up into them. Oak at the top, ash at the bottom. If you look closely you can see the buds on both of them.

Before I came to live here I never realised that most trees have flowers. But they do. And on the ash and the oak they are the first thing that appear. Here are some pics. Oak before ash in the order of the pictures.

When Ahok asked me a question I started wondering whether to ignore it or answer it and a quote came to mind from e.e. cummings "thou answerest them only with spring". The poem turned out to be very appropriate for a footpath in spring.

(But before we get there I wonder what ee cummings reason for using no capitals in his poem was Archie of Archie and Mehitabel fame had a good one. Archie was a cockroach who wrote by jumping on the keys of a typewriter from the roller and he could only jump on one key at a time. So he couldn't hold down the shift key. e e Cummins just thought there was a better way to use capitals than to mark the beginning of sentences and put them where he pleased. Also it got his poems noticed I guess.

Anyway here is the poem

O sweet spontaneous

earth how often have



fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched

,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

beauty .how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive

to the incomparable
couch of death thy

thou answerest

them only with


More soon Nick

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Comparisons, changes, celandines

The top picture was taken on March 5, the bottom one today April 22. That makes almost seven weeks and the changes are clear but they are not huge. The sides of the cut have greened up and now they are covered in beautiful feathery green Cow Parsley with leaves as beautifully patterned as snow flakes. The daffodils weren't there at all in March and the celandines were hardly showing. Now it's the last of the daffodils that you can see in the later picture and the celandines are nearly gone too. The trees don't look as if they have changed at all but in fact they have. The oak has buds on it now, and the flowers on the ash - right at the top of the cut are out with their filaments streaming from them.

Overall the cut which has been predominately a blaze of yellow celandines, primroses and daffodils for the last month is just on the cusp of change. Soon down below the sides will be green, and blue with bluebells and above them the delicate white of the cow parsley flowers.
Up above and along the sides the leaves will come, the ash leaves - I have forgotten the look of them, and the oak which start a khaki and on some trees almost a pink

But the celandines are still there for a few days yet and so it is time to write about them.

A project like this starts you wondering about a hundred new and different things. I want to know more about celandines so I Google for"celandine". (Does google as a verb deserve a capital G like God?) maybe not - I google for them, and what do I find - that this, the lesser celandine was Wordsworth's favourite flower but that they got confused when they carved his gravestone and put greater celandine on it. Well now I've bothered to try to find a picture for you I can't do it. All the pictures of his gravestone make it look absolutely plain. However strangely if you google for celandine the first reference is to A modern Herbal and they have got the wrong picture - a greater celandine with wriggly leaves and only a few petals.

Anyway the lesser celandine's Latin name is Ranunculus Ficaria. So it's a sort of buttercup. Ranunculus comes from the Latin for frog because butercups grow in damp places full of frogs. Ficus means figs because it's tubours suposedly resemble bunches of figs. It's also called the fig buttercup (same reason I suppose).

You can eat the celandine as a sort of spinach if you want - the Swedes did, and the Germans used it as a cure for scurvy. Most interestingly it was used as a cure for piles. This was because it's root is supposed to look like piles. One of its names is "Pilewort". For those who have seen here is a picture of the root for comparison. (It comes from - an excellent site.) It seems as if it works, mixed with lard it makes an excellent softening ointment.

Aparently all plants with the name "wort" (like Liverwort) were used as cures because they looked like the thing they were supposed to cure. This is known as the Doctrine of Signatures. The idea was that God had put his signature in everything and if you searched for it the signature would have a meaning. So red plants helped you with blood diseases, walnuts helped with the brain (well they do look just like brains) and celandines helped you with piles and lots more besides. It seems pretty strange to us and some argue that where things work the resemblances were discover after the fact and that the whole Doctrine of Signatures was used as a kind of nemonic. (I can't remember how to spell it - I obviusly need a nemonic for that purpose.) Anyway my sister Jacky who guides people round the herb garden at Kew introduced me to the idea and there is plenty about it on the web. Here is a link to a Doctrine of Signatures site
I wonder if scientific thinking will one day seem as quaint as the doctrine of signatures does to us. And I also wonder if they were in fact onto something. Aparently native American and Chinese people thought and still think the same.

Anway here is a picture of a violet. There are not many on the cut but it will give me a chance to end with a poem. The lovely one about the violet and the rose and the "curious chauntlers of the wood and Philomel the nightingale. I thought of waiting till the rose had blown but that won't be for a good few weeks yet and the appearance of the violet seemed a good enough excuse.

Elizabeth of Bohemia
by Sir H. Wotton

YOU meaner beauties of the night,
Which poorly satisfy our eyes
More by your number than your light,
You common people of the skies,—
What are you, when the Moon shall rise?

Ye violets that first appear
By your pure purple mantles known
The first proud virgins of the year
As if the spring were all your own,—
What are you, when the Rose is blown?

Ye curious chauntlers of the wood
That warble forth dame Nature's lays,
Thinking your passions understood
By your weak accents,—what's your praise
When Philomel her voice doth raise?

So when my Mistress shall be seen
In sweetness of her looks and mind,
By virtue first, then choice, a Queen,
Tell me, if she were not design'd
Th' eclipse and glory of her kind?

This poem is particularly appropriate for today because it is the birthday of well known house fixer and republican stalwart Citizen Michael of Pink. He shares his birthday with a number of lesser people including Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg (now more commonly known as Elizabeth Windor), and it is her 80th. Elizabeth Windsor is in some way descended from "Elizabeth of Bohemia" who was a daughter of James I and (I think) an ancestor of our royals via William and Mary. William and Mary were the closest related Protestants when James II got the push in 1688. Sir H Wooton was provost of Eton and had his biography written by Izak Walton who wrote "The Compleat Angler" - you can google for all and any of them if you so wish. So it's a good point to stop.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Getting left behind

The ivy sprouts - I've never noticed this before though it must happen every year.

The daffodils fade - sad really but their time has gone.

The cow parsley continues to sprout. And the blog continues - but is struggling along in the wake of spring.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The First White Blossom

There was a sign of a big change on the cut today. There is the first white blossom. Hawthorn blossom, or May blossom whatever you want to call it. I walked straight past it at first as it was down low on one of the branches that has been laid (?layed?). (Cut down and bent so the hedge thickens at the base - more about hedge laying soon.)

So this is transformation. Till now the flowers have been yellow - celandines, primroses, daffodils. Now they are turning to white, May blossom, Blackthorn blossom soon, Cow Parsley flowers which will be up around our faces. And the bare twigs will start to become green. There was the first sign of that too.

But yesterday I said it would be Celandines and so here are some photos of them. The lovely delicate celandines that formed the carpet of the cut for the last month and will last a week or so yet. They open like a kid's drawing of the sun when the sun shines on them and close when the sun goes. Just photos today and maybe something of the odd facts I picked out about them on the net in the next few days.

Sop here they are, budding, dying, full face to the sun, forming the carpet to the cut.

These are lesser celandine. They were Wordsworth favourite flower (not daffodils like we all thought) here's a link to his poem about them. "And oft as on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood I will l turn off the telly (during the commercials normally) and rush off and photograph the things I find in the cut. I'm having wonderful fun with this project. If there's anyone else out there I hope you are enjoying it too. More tomorrow. Nick

Monday, April 17, 2006

Back on the track - what a difference a month makes

Well yesterday I meant to write about the path and start with a picture of it 5 weeks ago and a picture of it now and you could see how much it had changed. But as you see the answer is - really not much when you look in the distance. It's only when you get down and peer at the vegetation that you notice the difference. The yellow carpet of celandines has grown and flowered. The daffodils have come and almost gone. They're cultivated daffodils not like the Lent Lillies that you find in the woods around here. They were planted by Maurice who really loved the cut and cared for it for many years.

I'm no purist about these things and I love the huge blooms and strange double petals. Mostly I love them because of Maurice. Sadly gone now. But he lived all his life within a quarter of a mile of this cut and was a lovely man. He gave us a fig tree which might bear a lot of figs this year. (Two links come to my mind as I write one the quote "Each mark of things a-gone from view/ To eyesight's one to soulsight's two" it's by William Barnes who wrote Lynden Lea.
The other is about the fertilization of figs. It all depends on a special type of wasp a few milimetres long. The male is laid in the fig and lives there till it pupates at which point it must find a female (in the same fig). If there is one it then fertilizes the female (before she pupates) and dies. The female pupates (already mated) chews its way out of the fig picking up loads of polen en-route and flies to other figs to lay the eggs and polinate them and that's really only half the story - read more at:
Another even more peculiar life cycle is that of the liver fluke from sheep liver to sheep shit to waiting around in the water for years for a particular type of snail, back to hang around in the grass for a few more years and then be eaten by a sheep again. It makes our lives seem really mundane:

The rites of passage of the liver flukes
Don't feature in the list of World's Great Books.

Where human rites of passage - had you wondered -

Dominate ninety of the first one hundred.
And that is really odd - because you see
The flukes have eight or nine - where we have three.

Actually this is not strictly true, in "Pilgrim at Tinkers Creek" Annie Dillard has written one of the great books on just this sort of subject. Annie Dillard is one of my favourites but like many an author her best book is about her childhood. They say authors never have a life after about 15, they just spend their time writing books and not meeting anyone. For a few Dillard snippets try

Anyway tomorrow celandines, and here is a picture of some in the cut.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Feast Day

Easter Day – Kissing gates (and keeping up with yesterday)

Most days I don’t see anyone on the cut. But today is Easter Sunday and the sun was shining and there were visitors strolling along the path at the same time as me.
So, because it was spring and a time for eggs, and rebirth and all the other Easter things, I persuaded two of couples to kiss at the kissing gate. (How you use the kissing gate is that the most eager one rushes ahead and holds the gate shut so the other cannot get through without paying with a kiss.) Today the couples weren’t hard to persuade. So here’s two photos. Two couples, two kissing gates one at each end of the cut.

let us rejoice and from us tear
in glee, our winter underwear
and let us dance and let us sing
and let us pluck the harps of sprin

That’s what this morning made you think

“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday”. So said Don Marquis who wrote most of the poem above (I’ve ended it for him because I can’t find the real end on the net). “Keeping up with yesterday” is going to be a real problem on this blog. Down the cut in the last couple of days I saw the first bluebell, and the first dandelion, and the first violet, and meanwhile the cow parsley grows about two inches a day and the hawthorn first leaves are suddenly fully out.

At the moment the cut has a yellow carpet of celandines and some daffodils. The twigs are mostly bare. In a week it will be the white of the cow parsley and the blue of the bluebells and the leaves will start to show on the hedges.

And meanwhile I have got a month of catching up because I started photographing the cut four weeks ago. So tomorrow perhaps I will do better and start to catch up with yesterday.

Meanwhile here are some links. First to Don Marquis: The creator of Archie and Mehitabel
And seeing I was coming back from Church on Easter Sunday, a couple of other poems. First Manley Hopkins lovely "Spring" so complex and passionate.

Then Herbert’s Easter Wings. Wonderful language clear as water in a crazy typographical conceit that really comes off . (By the way “imp” here means join.)

And so it’s cheerio my deario’s till tomorrow with a picture of the yellow celandine carpet that adorns our glorious cut.