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JANUARY: “Ecology is bigger than one field and one farm. We need to work across many farms and many valleys." English Pastoral, An Inheritance by James Rebanks

Spot the pond! “Brought a load of coals from Blyton 9th January" "Tom started school 26th January" Catching rabbits 26th, 27th, 28th January Took a load of tates to station for Roberts 29th January" This was the life of a Lincolnshire farm labourer in 1886. On New Year's Day 2023,  we were playing games and eating rather too much. George North, the 1886 farm labourer, was "leading manure" - and he noted in his "Bad Boy's Diary" that the weather was "fine and mild". Games and food. Leading manure. I know which I'd rather be doing!  Where does the time go? In the Industrial Revolution from the mid 18th century through to the mid 19th century, many felt that their lives were changing too fast - and they had little or no control over their destinies. Few with power were listening to their pain. Today we are losing control yet again. Those of us who want to help improve our planet for future generations are powerless. Thi

SEPTEMBER - "It's the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!" (Winnie the Pooh)

September 19th - sunrise from outside the kitchen door

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden

Something whispered,—‘Snow.’
Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned,—‘Frost.’
All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.
Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,—
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.
(by Rachel Field)

I started writing this blog as the autumnal equinox dawned. Here in the far north - we live in the parish of Reay not far from where West Caithness becomes Sutherland - we wait  for the equinoctial gales, knowing that things which are left around will move. At the same time the fallen leaves will swirl around and fill up corners like fluffy orange cushions from the sixties. Last year we had windy weather on the 23rd September. Leaves whirled and settled in arcs everywhere they made landfall. Some years the winds come when we don't expect them - sometimes they come on the day and sometimes we think we have got away with it and then - wham! - wet and windy weather sees September out and batters October before it 's barely begun.

River Forss looking towards the ocean

River Forss looking inland to its source


Since the 25th we've had our typical weather for the equinox. On our return journey from near Inverness at the weekend the Dornoch Bridge was closed to high-sided vehicles - didn't stop some of them though!

This year I've felt September more keenly than I have for a long time. We moved here, from the east of the county, last year and, although last September we were thrilling at the new animals and birds we saw around us, I didn't fully appreciate the intensity of the first month of autumn here. There are things going on here now which are too powerful to put into words. Such a lot of change! On the surface of it, there seems to be a great deal of death - including the passing of the late queen - but it isn't that straightforward.  

A bug. You tell me!

If there were life and there were death then our understanding would be absolute - limited to what we have experienced and the knowledge that one day we would experience no further. No questions. No wondering. There is life and there is death. End of!

It isn't that simple though. As the flowers die and the trees lose their spent leaves there are other things going on. The soil becomes richer because of them and it hosts the tiny seeds which, during summer and autumn, have settled there, sleeping. A September blog isn't the place you expect to read about the wonders of springtime but it's worth noting here that the withering of autumn and the slumber of wintertime have a chemistry between them which produces another hopeful and fruitful year.

Update on the Swedish whitebeam

Globally we're in the doldrums when it comes to tackling climate change - world leaders are simply not doing enough to address the cataclysmic problems we have with our planet. If we take care of this stellar world of ours, we can go on asking questions, observing life around us and trying to make sense of what it is we have been gifted with here.

At Stempster House we are making some changes so that it will develop as we get along with our lives. A while ago someone had a great vision for the old place but, after standing empty for a bit, the house and garden needed cajoling back to life. As we are doing that - albeit fairly slowly - its character is embellished with our own intentions for it. We want to preserve it and to fill it with a positivity which it lost during its lonely years. It was loved, then wasn't, now it is again.

One very important move forward for Stempster is the installation of a pond to encourage all manner of creatures to share our garden.

How the pond is going

At the beginning of this month Clemency finished filling it up and introduced pond plants and water margin plants. They all seem to have settled in nicely. There is a simple but effective stone bridge over the narrow middle of the pond and stones have been placed around it. We're hoping our existing wildlife will enjoy it and that we will play host to some newbies too. Spring will be an interesting test.

I loved my little pond in Wick. It was my birthday present from my daughters in 2020. You remember 2020? Me too! Clem filled it up on my birthday morning in honour of the day. We put in marsh marigolds and iris and my friend gave me a little bird feeder which I placed by the pond at first - then realised that the food was not doing the water any good when it fell in! The bird feeder was dispatched to the seating area in the yard - I have an unreasonable dislike of the word "patio"! I filled it with water and the birds were very happy with it there. It's here at Stempster now and the Stempster birds love it. Now I have it in the part of the garden which is by the kitchen door. There is great continuity for those of us who count the observation of the natural world as an enhancing force in our daily lives.

Already I've noticed a variety of birds taking a drink from the new pond here and I'm expecting the swallows will swoop over it again when they return from Africa in the springtime.

No one can live without water. Safe drinking water should be available to everyone - back in 2010 the UN said as much. Animals and birds need water too and even a bowl of water, perhaps sunk into the lawn, can offer them a drink and a bath. If you have a system whereby you can easily lift your bowl out for cleaning so much the better - and a rock in the middle will be useful as well.

Our plan is to have another pond in the area we are developing as an orchard and a raised pond in a part of the plot where we would like a water garden. It will be quite small - that area itself isn't big - but we think it will be an interesting addition to Stempster. At present it is completely surrounded by trees. We were all set to thin out the trees to let in light but the chain saw broke after the first tree. Actually, on reflection, we're taking all of these set-backs in our stride and learning quite a lot about the fallibility of equipment - no matter how sophisticated it is or how experienced is the operator.

Rose hips

These things are off-set by exciting surprises like the little sea-holly I found between the flagstones by the larder. I carefully removed it and planted it in the flower bed where the bird bath stands. It may seem a small thing but it lifts my heart.

In September 1892 - 130 years ago - George North was harvesting oats and barley, digging potatoes, cutting wheat, hoeing turnips, turning fodder, setting cabbage plants and earthing celery. George is the Lincolnshire lad we have been following through some of the months of the year. Here I've précised his diary entries for September 1892 -

1st digging potatoes at Mr. Waterhouse's
2nd digging potatoes in warps
3rd  paid 18 shillings and 9 pence for digging potatoes (94 pence in modern money) 
4th Sunday
5th started to harvest oats in Wharton Close
6th harvesting oats
7th a half day at Mr. Waterhouse's
8th finished harvesting at Wharton Close
9th cutting wheat in Top Close
10th cutting barley in Top Close
11th Sunday
12th harvesting warp barley
13th harvesting warp barley for half a day and working with celery for the other half
14th earthing celery
15th cutting wheat in Top Close
16th hoeing turnips in warps
17th leading oats in Wharton Close 
18th Sunday
19th leading wheat and barley in Top Close
20th turning fodder
21st set cabbage plants at home
22nd earthing celery and harvesting oats in warps
23rd the same as yesterday
24th finished harvesting oats in warps
25th Sunday
26th cutting wheat at Stockwith
27th getting fodder
28th finished cutting warp wheat
29th half a day at Mr. Waterhouse's 
30th earthing celery

Celery is an important crop in Lincolnshire and I don't believe there can be better celery grown anywhere than in the Isle of Axholme. There certainly didn't used to be! I remember my Uncle Peter Temperton calling in at Studcross Cottage where we lived until I was ten, and putting down a parcel wrapped in newspaper on our kitchen table. Inside were a couple of heads of celery with the lovely black earth still on them. I've never since tasted celery like that! Uncle Peter farmed at Wroot Grange where the soil was perfect for growing celery.

Lincolnshire produces a large percentage of the UK's food. True - it covers a big area but, in addition to this, the quality of its soil is perfect for arable farming - with high yields being a regular reward for the work done. As a child I took it for granted that everywhere was the same as Lincolnshire but later realised those struggling with, for example, heavy clay soil, were not getting the same results as those I knew in my native Isle of Axholme.

Early morning full moon over Baillie Wind Farm

The night of the full moon brought with it indications that our fox was back and at the same time the road to the house and the farm beyond was littered with deer droppings. Hares are again more apparent and the pheasants seem to have had an excellent year. All of our animals and birds appear to be marking the changing of the year.

Same morning sunrise over the back garden

On the day of the equinox, seven pheasants walked across the road as I was driving home near Halkirk. I spotted one, then another followed it and so on until seven of the silly little things filled up the road in front of me!

Worth a mention here is the golden eagle spotted by Ginny and Judith on their Highland road trip earlier this month. If you haven't spent time in the Highlands you can't imagine how easy eagles are to spot there. They are huge and there is no mistaking them for other large birds such as buzzards.

Natasha Sinton

My "Natasha Sinton" fuchsia has been a spectacle to behold throughout this month. Its flowers remind me of a crinolined lady with lots of dainty petticoats. The plant is now going to retire for the winter and I'm hoping I can keep it alive until next spring. We still have lots of flowers in bloom though and I'm not inclined to pull them up or cut them off until I'm certain they're fed up with us! For example, I'm watching the poppy heads wave in the breeze scattering their seeds of promise for next summer.

I was obliged to cut three beautiful soft pink gladioli this week because the wind had felled them. They are now sitting in a vase looking down on the rest of us! They are a very formal flower but, individually, the petals are so pretty and quite delicate.

Rescued gladioli

The toads are a bit dopey now but then they never seem too clued up about things. I suppose that's why we find so many flat ones on our road. It's a great pity. They always make me smile. There is something so deliciously equable about them.

The nights will be quite cool until next late-spring and letting the dogs out for their final comfort break is one of the times I play the "poor old mummy feels the cold" card! Shocking! But a few nights ago I was called out to identify a sound. It turned out to be a female tawny owl and there was no male response. It sounded so lonely. It moved about and we thought it must have been in the small wood at the start of the walk up towards Baillie Wind Farm. There are lots of things going on in there - so many signs of wildlife - and it's certainly not surprising that an owl would hang out where the action is.

View with the wind farm behind me - you can just make out Hoy, Orkney

I saw my last swallow of the year on Sunday, 25th. I haven't seen one since. We were out for much of that day and came home late at night. As we were about to turn the sharp bend at the top of the hill and drive the few yards to our house, I saw the field in front shine up with twinkle lights. So many little white lights, tinted blue/green, glinted in our direction. They shimmered in the night sky and, behind them were pale fleecy cushions on the ground. So many sheep were sitting there and making sure we'd arrived home safely! The dog walk often takes us past that field and I've noticed small wonders there before but I've never seen it look more striking than it did on that night. Yesterday that stretch of road had a backdrop of rainbow colours with an outer bow too and I thought of Wordsworth's poem, "The Rainbow" -

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
            Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I hope I never stop thrilling at the wonders of the natural world - and never stop believing that we can give optimism to this planet and all peoples inhabiting it. They have a right to hope just as they have a right to water.

Comments

  1. You have captured the time of year perfectly. Wonderful observations and minute attention to detail make the countryside availble to everyone. Thank you x

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