AUGUST - "Bog Beans, Butterflies, and Silver Filigree / In the Gutter Looking at the Stars"

August was often dusty, sometimes muggy and always wonderfully free. We followed the farm vehicles up the lane, skipped off into the ripening hedgerows and down the grassy banks - sneezing and laughing and daring and scaring each other. Cycling like a mad thing along the quiet Lincolnshire roads between the villages took my breath away. I sometimes packed a snack into my saddlebag but rarely stopped for long enough to eat it. Happiness, exhilaration and joy! Was it really like that? That's how I remember it and that's good enough to see me well into old age - AND to understand the high spirits of the kids who forget there is anyone on our Caithness roads - other than themselves!

Towards the end of the month, the misty early mornings grew into steamy hot noons and, by evening, it was sufficiently cool to dress modestly again. The children in England right now continue their summer holidays with little thought for numeracy, literacy and the like. Their teachers would normally be working on their long-term and medium-term plans - but, this year, it is difficult to plan. The headache which is normally in the planning has become the headache of uncertainty!

In Caithness, this year, school started on 11th August. The start of term has been brought forward and administration staff, pupils, technicians, teachers, librarians, PSAs, management, cleaners, cooks and janitors are all very gingerly trying to make this crazy year work. Not one of them can be sure how things will pan out. They are collectively taking a slide forward into an unknown realm.

We were unable to take our Easter holiday due to Covid19. We had to cancel our two weeks in Summer. We still have self-catering accommodation booked nearer to home for later in 2020. Frankly though, I'm glad to be alive. If we have to cancel that one too in order to stay safe, then so be it. For the duration of the Summer holiday period - when we would normally be away - we took days and half-days out. We walked on the beach. There are many good beaches nearby. When I was a kid, I thought that beaches were about donkeys, deckchairs and digging. Moving to Orkney on 25th March, 1986,  changed all that. We took the children down to the beach at Skara Brae almost as soon as we arrived - and I was smitten. We were the only family there.  It seemed to me that there was a spirit in the waves which welcomed us,
 "Look at my power, watch and listen!"

FREEDOM

We did just that and now, in Caithness, we still love to walk the dog on the beach - still watch and listen and sense the power. When those of our family who live away come to stay they want to visit the beach. We have marvellous beaches in Caithness - little coves and abandoned fisherfolks' cottages nearby, long stretches of clean sand where the only litter is that which has been deposited by the sea. 

We fill poo bags (new and unused!) with empty shells, sea glass and sea-smoothed brick. When you visit 53, should you open a cupboard door or peep into the drawer of a dresser, you may find containers with cleaned-up previously inhabited homes for sea creatures, shiny coloured jewel-like sea glass - and bits of red brick - with the odd peculiar stone thrown in. They're all waiting to be made into something beautiful - but they already are - beautiful. What's not beautiful is all the unidentifiable plastic rubbish which is thrown overboard and allowed to drift on the tide until it finds a heavenly cove where it rests amongst the stones and pebbles - if it hasn't made its way into the stomach of some unsuspecting sea creature.

Sometimes local groups in Caithness meet up in their spare time to collect the trash from our seaside. Credit to them.

I just wonder why this waste ends up on our beaches - or on anyone else's beaches for that matter.  Is it because those who toss it over believe that, if they can't see the rubbish, it's not there? Duh!!

Are the same people ashamed when they see the contents of sea mammals' stomachs displayed on television? Do they weep tears of repentance when they find the corpses of seabirds tangled in ribbons of plastic?

Okay! I'm having a bit of a rant! But I think we have to rant sometimes. My view that education is key to understanding our environmental problems and to solving them, still stands. The problem with it is though, that while adults contaminate, it follows that those in their care will act on that example no matter how much no-nonsense environmental education they are getting. 

Gerbera
1012

This morning I was explaining, with lots of repetition, that I had been soaking the garden near the new pond - where the marsh plants are, that I'd been picking up the doggy-doings from the lawn and that there was potential for cutting the grass. The cutting of the grass required a great deal of repetition. We spoke about the weather - again with repetition - would it hold? - what's it like in Lincolnshire? - did I know there are thunderstorms predicted for the weekend in England? what is the pressure? I go to the clever little machine. It reads 1012. I speak the numbers. He repeats some weird statistic which might work on the planet Jupiter. No, I say, 1012. What? ONE ZERO ONE TWO!

It's not the first time I've raised my voice in the last few weeks. I'm not even going to try to work out why. The same thing is happening to many people I know - to young and old, to men and women, to the physically healthy and to the sick - to everyone. I'm just going to have to work on this - like so many more. We're not alone. Those of us who take an intelligent interest in the state of our nation  - and indeed the world right now - just have to work on holding fast and tolerating the shade for the present - and on maintaining that level of hope which should elevate those around us - ourselves too. Instead of being rattled by this near-dystopian nightmare I am obliged to inhabit, I'm going to power through and paddle the same canoe I paddled before. I'm the same person I was last Christmas - I just have to keep reminding myself who that was exactly!

August has been a mixed bag so far. 

A visit to Golspie, where we walked around the waterfall and sensed the magic, was a part of our two weeks of local trips designed to replace our summer fortnight away. The Big Burn at Golspie is a favourite place for family walks. (The message of the waterfall is in print as "Caledon", an historical fantasy written by Virginia Crow.) On that day out, we also saw otters in the water at Littleferry. Our Scottish Highlands and our Lowlands Beyond are full of secrets - some sad - like the deserted clearance village at Badbea - some heavenly in their ability to make connections.

Waterfall Telling Tales


Connecting is so difficult right now. But step away from the things which block us. See, hear, smell, touch and talk about meadows, mountains, woods and forests, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, seas and oceans, moorland and marsh. Don't forget your garden or the local park. Every little thing seems to be rallying in support of the human race. Will we recognise it? Appreciate it?

You don't need to travel to Sabah for the sunrise. It costs nothing to quietly and carefully watch the butterfly which settles on your window sill.

Spend your wages to experience "the smoke that thunders" from Livingstone Island in the Zambezi River - or stay at home and wonder at the silver filigree stretched across the blackberry bushes early in the morning as Summer reaches maturity. Brambles! Almost ready!

We've had lots of produce from the allotment this month. When we arrived home from Golspie there was a collection of jars sitting on the worktop - full of delicious blackcurrant jam from allotment fruit. Shallots have been pickled for Christmas. We've enjoyed carrots, beetroot, lettuce and other salad leaves, strawberries, onions. A vase of sweet peas is fragrancing the sitting room as I type. When I came downstairs and opened this door, I was met with a wave of the delicate scent of summer. I look forward to the sweet pea harvest every August - the ongoing incoming uplifting posies are absolute joy. They were ready for picking earlier in England but, here in Caithness, they are well worth waiting for - especially as they go on for a number of weeks.

Little Walled Flower Garden at Newtonhill Croft

I'm going to be freezing herbs soon. They are ready now and I shall put them in little plastic containers in the freezer so that, in the winter months , I can add them to soups and stews, bread and savoury muffins.

It's time to start thinking about the winter months. Sometimes I've made the Christmas cake in August. - gives me plenty of time to "feed" it! One slice of a well-fed cake and you get a warm feeling inside! I'll soon be emptying the "Christmas freezer" so that we can put in summer produce and autumn creations ready for the winter months. I have to smile at people who say "I can't be thinking about Christmas yet!" They're the ones who are in a panic in the days before 25th December - and what did they do with their summer glut?

We started summer-squirreling for Christmas when I was pregnant with our third child. It was, by necessity,  a well-monitored pregnancy and the summer fun we had with the children was limited to "safe" activities like raspberry picking. Baby Number Three was due in November so would be with us for Christmas. We all talked about what life would be like as a family of five. We decided we would have raspberries and ice cream on Christmas Day so that our summer-picking would be carried through to December. Baby would have Mummy's milk so he/she would share in the raspberries too!

After that, each year, we followed a similar pattern - taking delight in the gathering, preserving, making and setting aside.

Now though, we are still in Summer. Our schools have returned but the children in England continue to benefit from the glorious weather.

Two Sundays back, the November baby and her own family, who were up for the first time since pre-lockdown, walked along the beach with us. Their dog and our dog took good care of the little human who is fearless! Orlando thinks he is a herding animal and runs in circles, rounding her up, and she turns as though she knows that, at that point in time, she has gone far enough and should come back to us. She gives me little fists full of damp sand, one after the other until I can't hold any more. She sees a stone or a shell and wants it - so she bends over like a croquet hoop, picks it up and takes it to her auntie. She runs and runs and runs and feels the wind on her face, tastes the salt in the air and hears the gulls calling overhead. Her own time.

Even now, after years (and years!) of child rearing and school teaching, I am amazed at how much young children can learn in a summer. When our granddaughter is a little older, she will ask questions about the things she sees and the experiences she has. I'll be able to answer some of her questions - but not all. While she was with us last weekend, she was fit to explode with the pleasure of swinging from the sycamore at the bottom of the garden. Her auntie and her grandfather put up the swing the day before her arrival and it was a big success! The curious little lady had the biggest smile as she was pushed gently backwards and forwards. That smile was a day-long thing. She was still smiling as she shared out small twigs and stones which she'd collected on a walk we took with friends later that day.

Summer's moving on.

We've said our goodbyes to the grasshopper warblers. No, really, the elusive skulking little teases actually sought us out and chirruped their farewells. Their song, through Spring and well into Summer - with a break for a little while - was exactly what you would expect - very much like the noise the grasshoppers make. Last week they made marvellous speeches with gusto - and we felt that we'd had the conversation - that one you have when the young people head off for long stretches of time to "find themselves". You pray they will come home safe and happy to be here again - even if only for a while.

The cuckoo came, upset the smaller birds while delighting us with its welcome call, and went. The swallows and martins still swoop low in search of insects - and they're very welcome to some of the little biters! I suspect the swifts have left. Haven't spotted one in a couple of weeks - might be longer. They have so far to go and many will perish. We will look out for them though - next Spring. On a recent day trip, five bearded ravens were spotted on the road between Ullapool and Lairg - all together, sharing a rat - as you do! I wasn't on that particular trip. I would have loved to see the five together - really something.

The flowers are graduating too. The oranges and reds are bold in the garden. I've never known a better year for nasturtiums. My favourite is "Empress of India". I'm not an empire person - shudder to think of it - but Victoria gave her title to the most stunning mix of deep orange/red flowers and red/green leaves. Here, in the garden at 53, they rub shoulders with stripy orange climbers and stunning golden blooms which seem irresistible to the bees. Some of the nasturtiums have green leaves striped and mottled with shades of cream. Such a glorious blend.

Nasturtiums Rule

I can't possibly leave out the purples. The various plants loosely referred to as thistles, the scabious, purple vetch and the heather all edge our daily walks. There are still a few buttercups hanging on amongst them and the hawkbit shines like the sun. It seems to last for ages. The yellow vetch grows low but will also grow tall if the vegetation around it lures it skyward. The yellows, and I shouldn't leave out the pesky ragwort here, weaving their sunshine through the purples, presents the insignia of late summer. 

So here we all are, waiting, wondering where we go from lockdown, unsure what is certain now.  Times are difficult. For me, though, they are made kinder by the fabulous tableau around me. The night sky is as it always was, the creatures which share my world buoy me up and the trees and plants are a genuine joy when I stop and consider them. I love this good earth and everything it gives me. I can manage well without manmade luxuries but I hope I'll always be able to repeat our day trip to Forsinard, spot the basking lizards and ask myself - as I always do - why is it I find bog beans so fascinating? Everyone else waxes lyrical over the sundews. I can't get enough of the bog beans!

Comments