Saturday, 31 January 2009

A combe wood

A chalk water stream running off the downs through this magical little wood
(photo taken looking down from a small bridge)

Bracket fungi growing off the side of an old tree
Today, the last day of January, I went out for a ramble with a small group of fellow walkers. Our walk started by Morgan's Hill and took us downhill to the peaceful hamlet of Calstone Wellington - clusters of snowdrops out along the sloping path from the old church. We headed towards the stunning Calstone Coombes taking in, on our way, a magical little wood tucked away in one of the deep combes. A chalk water stream flowed along the combe bottom, the water running straight off the Downs. Moss covered branches and fallen trees, fungi growing in profusion and last year's leaves still soft underfoot, gave the wood an enchanted air. I wonder if Edward Thomas was walking here when he was inspired to write his poem, The Combe.
The Combe was ever dark, ancient and dark,
Its mouth stopped with bramble, thorn, and briar;
And no one scrambles over the sliding chalk
By beech and yew and perishing juniper
Down the half precipices of its sides, with roots
And rabbit holes for steps. The sun of Winter,
The moon of Summer, and all the singing birds
Except the missel-thrush that loves juniper,
Are quite shut out. But far more ancient and dark
The Combe looks since they killed a badger there,
Dug him out and gave him to the hounds,
That most ancient Briton of English beasts.
Edward Thomas (1878-1917)
Edward Thomas had a great love of nature and the countryside, especially around Wiltshire. He wrote the biography of Richard Jefferies plus other successful books and poetry before enlisting to fight in WWI. He was killed in action at the age of 39.
Note: Combe is also spelt Coomb. The National Trust have spelt it as Coombes. With reference to the stream, a friend who knows Calstone very well has told me that I may have found the Calstone Springs ..... I must go back for a more thorough forage.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The river of life

Fast flowing - the upper river Thames, near Kelmscott

The Thames near Inglesham - the last navigable point for boats
Today I went walking along the upper Thames near the lovely Cotswold town of Lechlade. A beautiful January day that started out cold and then became almost spring-like, lots of snowdrops out under trees. Later, in the afternoon sunshine, I spotted the first crocus.

The two photos above show the same river on the same day. In one it is tranquil, safe and calm, in the other it surges forward becoming a larger river, gathering tributaries along the way until it eventually becomes the mighty ocean. In so many ways life mirrors nature - going with the flow is usually so much easier than swimming against the tide, though there are times during the course of our lives when that is just what we have to do. And sometimes events flood over us and it becomes a case of sink or swim.
I like to think that, as with my walk today, eventually the river of life becomes calm and gently flowing. A place where the sound of birdsong can be heard, a smell of woodsmoke, and the first flowers of spring can be seen.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The first snowdrops

The Snow-Drop
Fear no more, thou timid Flower!
Fear thou no more the winter's might,
The whelming thaw, the ponderous shower,
The silence of the freezing night!
Since Laura murmur'd o'er thy leaves
The potent sorceries of song,
To thee, meek Flowret! gentler gales
And cloudless skies belong.
Her eye with tearful meanings fraught,
She gaz'd till all the body mov'd
Interpreting the Spirit's thought-
The Spirit's eager sympathy
Now trembled with thy trembling stem,
And while thy droopedst o'er thy bed,
With sweet unconscious sympathy
Inclin'd the drooping head.
The first two verses from Samuel Taylor Coleridge peom The Snowdrop
My favourite flower, the snowdrop - the flower of Imbolc. So fragile yet, in the language of metaphors, so brave. To Francis of Assisi, known for his love of the natural world, they were considered an emblem of hope ...... and so they still are. At the start of 2009 with so much to concern us in the world, this little flower remains just that, a symbol of hope as a new cycle of growth starts to unfurl.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Swans in flight - nature's ballet

Swans in Flight
Image courtesy of 'Waterfowl Wallpaper'

A local swan - seconds after landing on the thawing ice

I don't know how serious writers manage but it seems to me that I sometimes spend quite a while with the seed of what I want to say lying dormant. Earlier today I had been walking back along the canal path looking out for the lone swan, spotted about half an hour earlier - it had been sitting on the ice, looking for all intents and purposes, stuck. It was nowhere to be seen so I assumed it managed to make its way up onto the bank on the far side of the canal ..... then I saw it. A swan in flight, it circled round and was flying back towards the canal. As it came into land, its great wings silently beating the air, it flew past me at head level. I fumbled in my pocket for my little digital camera but too late, the swan landed on the ice with balletic grace. The three youths I had just passed (with their scary looking dog) turned to watch with me - I was pleased to see the awe on their faces. We all smiled at each other, we were after all just people.

The first time I saw wild swans in flight was in Lincolnshire against a blue sky, the sight thrilled me and the image never left. More recently (a couple of autumns ago) at a local beauty spot I observed the magic of parent swans teach their grown cygnets to fly the length of the lake. Again I was unable to capture the moment on camera. A few mornings later I looked up to see five young swans flying west across the town - they turned out to be the same cygnets I had watched learn to fly.

Later this month I am going to see the loveliest of all ballets at our small local theatre, the Wyvern - Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky - here is the music, which will no doubt bring to mind one of nature's most wonderful sights. Swans in flight.

Friday, 2 January 2009

The return of vibrancy - bullfinches

image courtesy of Gerd Rosen

Illustration by Alan Harris from the Kingfisher Field Guide to Birds - Britain and Ireland
Bother Bulleys, let us sing
From the dawn till evening! -
For we know not that we go not
When the day's pale pinions fold
Unto those who sang of old.
from Thomas Hardy's poem, 'Bullfinches'

Today I was conscious that my last two posts were somewhat monochrome. As it approached lunchtime at work today (hard going) I noticed that the freezing cloud cover had lifted giving way to bright, though very cold, blue sky. As I looked out towards the the bird feeders on next door's apple tree and the ivy covered poplar I was treated to an arial display of two male bullfinches and a female - quite rare I believe. They generally move around in pairs (male and female) so it was unusual to see two males together. The male has a vibrant bright pink breast whilst the female is more of a dusky pink - to see them together is a joy, bringing much needed colour into my day.

The bullfinch is on red alert by the RSPB see:

Thursday, 1 January 2009

New Year's Day

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
William Blake from Auguries of Innocence

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
Emily Dickinson