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NOVEMBER - "November is the pearl-grey month..."

November November is the pearl-grey month, the changeling between warm crimson October and cold white December, the month when the leaves fall in slow drifting whirls, and the shapes of the trees are revealed, when the earth imperceptibly wakes, and stretches her bare limbs and displays her stubborn unconquerable strength before she settles uneasily into winter. November is secret and silent. by Alison Uttley Frost on stones Starting with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, then moving through the commemoration of the Armistice, November is a time for remembering those gone before. How is this reflected in your experiences of November? As I begin to write, I'm listening to a piece of music called "Bells Across the Meadow" (Ketelbey). This is significant because it takes me back to a kinder England - not the England shouting for the exclusion of those in search of a safe place away from cruelty and injustice. I wonder what would be the view of those whose lives we remember par

JULY: "The tiny scrap grows well, The magic love grows too..."

The tiny scrap grows well,
The magic love grows too.
No need to slay dragons for them,
Now they slay them for you.
Rescuing each other -
The child and the mother.

                from "Motherhood"

Wild flowers

The schools are on holiday across Britain now. It seems so little time since I was taking my collection of school-made treasures home for my parents at the end of the school year. I remember my final day in primary school very well - and the mixed sadness at leaving combined with the excitement of beginning the next stage of my education. I spent all of my primary school days at Epworth County Primary School in Lincolnshire - the same school my maternal grandmother attended in the years after the Great War. It was a Victorian building with high windows and wooden floors. I liked school. The one thing I didn't like about it was having to go outside to the toilet block. It was quite detached from the school and a bit scary for a child alone. However, it did mean that I could see the lovely school garden. I really loved that garden. I can remember the layout quite well even now. There were fruit trees and roses - pink and prolific. Sometimes we'd have lessons out there in the summertime. I couldn't concentrate. There were birds, butterflies and bees. There was the sweet scent of summer. There were also lessons going on but I forgot!! I'm so happy in the gardens of my life - and they're all still here inside me.

We are struggling to keep on top of the garden this year. The plans we made for the school holidays are being carried out inside the house - but not in the garden. No prizes for working out why. After a good start, the weather has been against us - good for the weeds! The borders which Clemency made in front of the house are displaying weeds amongst the roses, the oxalis, the astilbe and others. Weeds, such as fumitory, can be so pretty though that I'm reluctant to pull them out. My argument is that, unless we see undesirables such as docks, we can leave them to nurse the new plants to strength. When we eventually take out the weeds, the new plantings will be well established. They can mature as they wait. Of course some things have to be removed quickly or they will choke the root systems and suffocate new plants. Know your enemy, get to know your visitors! Slow-but-sure gets there in the end!

Joie de vivre

What is it that can never be slow and sure? The tortoise was slow and sure to the point of winning the race. The hare rested on his laurels a little too long. The two things went together to produce a good result for the steady animal. 

If we'd known a little earlier that we were approaching climate excesses, we might have been able to plod along nicely, changing our destructive habits and reversing the situation without too much discomfort. Someone knew. Quite a number of scientists must have known that the figures they were seeing on their maps and charts were terrible portents. It's a dreadful thing, when someone is aware of a truth, that they are afraid to state it publicly. I wonder how many clever people have been silenced over climate changes. We've let things roll along recently, without too much effort to redeem ourselves, so that it now doesn't require genius to see what is happening around the world and put two and two together. We should have done more before. As it is, time is passing us by too quickly! We are now at the point where we must take drastic action to preserve our planet as we know it. I don't want to be a party to anymore extinctions, to anymore loss of habitat, anymore greedy leeching of the world's resources. Enough is enough. Fossil fuel companies are making massive profits while Greece and Canada burn. Support is growing for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. The people who live in the Pacific Islands are at serious and immediate risk from the effects of global warming and are trying, with every influence they have, to wake us all up. Their fears are very real. 
So many quick fixes have been attempted - with no proper thought - just gimmickry. Electric cars, for example, are not the only answer. Consider the amount of electricity required if an entire city goes over to electric vehicles. And the number of pedestrians injured because they don't hear the engines? Hospitals are already under great stress.

Recycling our rubbish makes us feel better - but have you ever enquired about the journey your recycled items make to get to their destination? Sometimes they don't even make it. Some are literally dumped into our oceans.

We have to make painful changes to our lives. Air miles need to be limited. There should be a super tax on private jets. Retired couples should consider the number of vehicles they have in the garage. Leisure can be managed with less fuel. Food companies should be obliged to include the origin of their products and details of how the food has travelled and how it is processed should be given on the environmentally safe wrapper. Britain can make a great deal of progress - but - and this is a big but - countries like China have far more impact on the environment than we do. We all need to make massive changes.

This won't make me popular. Popularity and power have got us into this mess. Politicians were afraid of losing votes, business people couldn't bear to be less powerful and wealthy. I can justify the points I make here. They shouldn't be necessary - but they are.

We've wasted valuable time.

What can never be slow and sure? 
A timepiece. 
And time isn't on our side anymore!

Sweet pea

Every so often I like to look back at things I've written in diaries and journals. I usually choose the month we're in and compare the past and the present. More accurate than trying to remember! I have a very pretty journal given to me by my daughter, Lydia, in 2003, when she was just 21. She inscribed it with a poem which she had written for me and reading it again fills me with humility. It confirms my passion for the natural world and the exchange of love between parent and child. Lydia now teaches her children about the world around them and one day they will teach her too. I've found I know so little and I'm constantly learning from my grown up children. There is never a point in life when we have finished our education.

Photographing sweet peas for you (Gee thanks, Clem!)

Looking through July 2004, I see that the weather was interesting then too, with storms and heat but fewer hours of sunshine than I would have liked. One storm split a willow tree we had growing by the garden pond. We cut off the damage and hoped for the best. By the side of it was a silver birch seedling. Nature has ways of giving hope.

Bringing the garden inside

I was reminded of a few old friends too. The pennyroyal which grew prolifically in North Lincolnshire hasn't followed us to Caithness - nor have I seen any locally. I wrote, 
"The pennyroyal is now at its most lovely. The violet flowerheads are so exciting - for bees too, as they seem to love them."

Rather less friendly but equally lovely was the bindweed. An acquaintance rather than a friend!! So beautiful to see, tumbling in and out of hedgerows, but such a bully! It choked everything in its garden path and, if I left the tiniest bit behind in the earth, it would surely grow.

"The bindweed was a problem - especially amongst the chicory and roses."

Here, at Stempster, we have no bindweed. Earlier this week, I was in Golspie and was reminded of its magnificence - that was fine because it was in someone else's garden!
Our equivalent problem is the ground elder. I pull most of it out and dig a trench to stop it in its tracks. The trench works. I've done it for two years now and the results are amazing. The wildflower patch has a trench between it and the spirea and, although I haven't been able to get it all out from amongst the spirea, there is none in with the wildflowers. I have to say though that, when the ground elder flowers, it is a very pretty plant. I had no idea, until my daughter told me, that the pretty lacey plant growing under the snowberry, is in fact the dreaded elder flower! Never stop learning!

Shirley's mum's rose - I call it Joyce

July 2023 came in wet and windy. The flowers took a battering. While we were at the mercy of the less-than-summery weather though, we were enjoying rose cordial and elder flower cordial - both from the garden - and delicious.

As the fireweed started to flower by the roadside, the birds were all here for a party. Our regular visitors were joined by those who had come just for the summer. The whinchat was one such -

 "The Whinchat spends the winter months in Africa and ringing data reveal several recoveries, with one bird travelling 5,465 km from its Scottish ringing site to Ghana."
(British Trust for Ornithology)

We positively identified a tree creeper in our little wood and, on the same day, heard a woodpecker drumming nearby.

The warblers have been in amongst the willows all July and I found an owl pellet on my outdoor potting table! But the birds can't have it all to themselves. The voles, mice and shrews are very much in evidence below the bird feeding station and are not a bit bothered by us coming and going.

July 10th was the perfect morning to be sitting in the garden for the first pot of tea. The wildflower border was waking up with intense orange poppies nodding gently by blue cornflowers, yellow corn marigolds and pink corn cockles.  Bees were up and about early, the wren was as musical as a tiny bird could ever be and the jackdaws were squabbling - as usual! There was plenty of weeding waiting for me but it could wait. I wasn't going to pass this by without gratitude.

Recycled leaky birdbath

On that day, a little later, while out with the dogs, we saw a small flock of meadow pipits, like a ballet troupe, along the flowering currant hedge on Stempster Hill.

The following day, Bob Robin called in and spent quite a while observing the potential of a planter containing nasturtiums and the wonderful yellow rose, "The Poet's Wife". On his next visit he hopped underneath the herb planter and came out with a worm.

It seems a mole is living in the undergrowth on our hill. It has been spotted twice in more or less the same place. Ginny got a clear view of it. I thought they travelled miles excavating as they go but this one has a homing instinct. They do make nests but these are normally about 12 inches underground so I think the entrance must be where we've spotted the mole. The mole family share the hill with brown hares - quite a few but all quite thin - this worries me a little. On our regular dog walks there we often notice flattened grass and wildflowers where we suppose the deer rest while foraging. On 13th July, we caught one on the wildlife camera set up in the wood.

Purple poppy

I've spent many happy minutes watching the baby birds this month. Baby Robin is out alone now and likes the simpler roses. He chooses yellow like his parent, but the exquisitely simple "Tottering-by-Gently" instead of the many-layered "Poet's Wife".

An adult male blackbird has been feeding a baby, which is bigger than himself, in the cottage garden. The baby looks so chubby and the daddy looks so scrawny. I spotted a teeny tiny siskin in the yard, pecking around below the feeding station. And a bird I used to see often in Orkney, the wheatear, sometimes stops off on the stone walls edging the fields around us. Another wall percher is our very own Stempster pheasant. One morning he was in his usual spot, on the wall separating Toad Hall from the drive, and he looked very sorry for himself - wet and bedraggled in the early morning rain. He got over it quite quickly and was soon back to his smooth and sleek plumage.

Bats are hunters here too - some nights more than others. They compete with the swallows and martins for flying insects. There are plenty of them - believe me!! Yesterday's walk was probably the worst so far this summer for bothersome insects.

Little haystacks over the wall

The farmer has cut and baled his hay. The bedroom was fragranced with it for several days. John Masefield's "holy white birds" were flying after the tractor and brown butterflies came out of the hay in considerable numbers. We also have lots of white ones at present - larger than the browns. I wish I could tell you what they're called but a combination of the requirement for new glasses and a lack of insect knowledge lets me down.

"With holy white birds flying after"

Driving over the moors this week I noticed the heather is out - classic! I've never tried very hard to grow heathers in the garden. They have done alright, sometimes, in the correct ericaceous compost but it isn't something I've taken too much trouble with. I have thought about this and I'm fairly sure it's because they look so right on the hillsides. There's something about heather that transcends the every-day. It blends together the earth and the sky. 

There was an incredible dawn which did that this week. It was very cold - as low as 6°C - but the sky was a mix of pastels - a little pink, a lot of mauve, bands of baby blue and the softest silver grey. The combined colours hovered over the horizon linking the earth and the sky in much the same magical way as the heather covered moorland does.

Two recent additions to my diary just bring home to me that this is still a wonderful world - 
Friday, 28th July 2023, Judith and I saw Henny (female hen harrier) on our hillside. So close too. No doubt about her - beautiful bird!

Our River Forss - Saturday, 29th July, Clemency saw a salmon jumping in our river (River Forss).

Don't listen to the gloomy pessimists. It's not all over yet. There's everything to play for. Lobby your MP. Nail your colours to the post. Use your vote. This world is worth standing up for.

More wild flowers 

O Christ who holds the open gate,
O Christ who drives the furrow straight,
O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter
Of holy white birds flying after,
Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn,
And Thou wilt bring the young green corn,
The young green corn divinely springing,
The young green corn forever singing;
And when the field is fresh and fair
Thy blessed feet shall glitter there,
And we will walk the weeded field,
And tell the golden harvest’s yield,
The corn that makes the holy bread
By which the soul of man is fed,
The holy bread, the food unpriced,
Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.

(from "The Everlasting Mercy" by John Masefield)

Crazy about wild flowers


  1. I always love reading your blog posts, as you know, but this is a particularly beautiful one. Thank you! Every time I see birds following a plough, I hear your voice in my head, reciting those two lines of Masefield's poem. And the "Motherhood" poem is just perfect - more, please! Lydia xxx

  2. Dear Susie, You capture each month and every season with such a delightful eye for detail and love of the natural world.. Thank you for sharing. xx

    1. Thank you. You are very welcome Dolly. It gives me so much pleasure to share with you xx


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