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JUNE - "The tiniest dewdrop hanging from a grass blade in the morning is big enough to reflect the sunshine and the blue of the sky." (from our perpetual calendar 25th June)

Engineering over the babbling brook As I start this blog, 22nd of June, I'm sitting in a world just awakening. Birds are active all around me, the siskins don't move, or even stop feeding, when I approach them. For a moment the birdsong stops and I wonder what is lurking nearby. Something has been in the garden according to Orlando's nose!! It's a poorly nose at the moment though. He was bitten or stung by something fierce and is now having medicine for it. When he was a puppy, he had a snake bite that was worse but this is not fun for him either! We believe the culprit may have been a Great Water Diving Beetle. Ginny photographed one in the pond the day after he was hurt. We didn't know it was there - or what it was until we researched it. Orlando and Jessie both drink from the pond but Orlando doesn't just stop there on the edge - he swims in it - it's not big - but he pretends!!! He hasn't been in the pond since his injury so it looks likely the beetl

AUGUST - "Broad sun-stoned beaches, White heat..."

There are still poppies amongst the corn marigolds

Midsummer, Tobago

Broad sun-stoned beaches,
White heat.
A green river.

A bridge,
scorched yellow palms

from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August.

Days I have held,
days I have lost,

days that outgrow, like daughters,
my harbouring arms. 

Derek Walcott

August is the month we associate with golden fields, equally golden sands, buckets, spades and sea - sea so blue that no cloud would dare to appear in the sky above.

Gardens run themselves in August. All the hard work that has gone before is now reaping its rewards and we can sit back with a cool drink and look around us, feeling delighted.
Really? I don't think so!
August isn't always like that. This year has been one of the other Augusts! Not so distinguished. Not so impressive. We all have our good and not-so-good memories of August.
A bit of a mixed bag really.

Sweet peas

 A walk at Duncansby might turn up fluffy fulmar chicks or puffins on a ledge before they leave us to bob up and down in the water throughout the autumn and winter months. I've seen them in groups alongside the ferries. Stormy weather doesn't seem to bother them.

A walk along the beach was an August experience but not without its sad moments. What should have been delight at finding one of my favourite seabirds turned into sadness on noting the manner of its death. When we engage with the natural world we know that there will be sickness and death - it's the way of things - but this poor creature was the victim of our polluted waters around Britain. Strangled by thin rope while diving for fish from 30 metres above the sea.
The mist has been plentiful this month, obscuring summer treasures for a time. The wildflowers which grow around Saint Mary's Chapel, at Crosskirk near Reay, are like jewels growing amongst the lovely grasses. The Scottish bluebells and the red clover are the first to peer at you through the mist on an August day. Scottish bluebells have no connection with English bluebells but each has equal charm. Scottish bluebells belong to the Campanula family and are often known as harebells, extremely delicate and able to tremble sweetly in the lightest breeze. English bluebells are more akin to hyacinths and will nod rather than tremble when you pass them by in May.
Another good place to spot wild flowers in Caithness is over on the other side of the county around Girnigoe Castle. If you're lucky you might see a short eared owl there too - not particularly concerned by the presence of human beings.

Telegraph post, cotton sheets, cement can only mean one thing - Clem made a Grecian column

Painted and ready for the sun dial. We'll need sun too!
Ten years ago this weekend, we had a family outing to Sannick Bay and Duncansby Lighthouse. My heavens, it was a good job we had the merciless Little Dark One with us! She stood on the hillside shouting orders like the domineering Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's "Matilda" - otherwise I'm not sure I would have made it! Well worth the effort though. At one point I was on all fours going up the steep incline. We saw the glupe and also a cliff falling away into the sea - with iris growing in the crevice. Lots of fungi around there too. The glupe is a blowhole and the arch is impressive. We were a field away from another glupe when we were living in Deerness, Orkney. Not a place one wanted the children to play without supervision! Thankfully, by the time we were living in Deerness, the older two were mature enough to take good care of their younger siblings when they went out for a walk. I trusted them and they proved I could.
Back from 20th century Orkney to 21st Century Caithness! A walk to Old Wick Castle on the east coast is beautiful on a late summer afternoon. Fishermen dot the landscape and cormorants dry out their bishop sleeves as they sit on the flat rocks of the coastal edge. We saw a wheatear - larger than the ones we see here at Stempster - and pipits and rock doves. If, like me, you find it difficult to identify cormorants and shags one from the other, try this : the plumage of the shag has a green cast over it and it has a smaller bill - in fact it is a smaller bird by about 6 inches.
Driving across Caithness at the beginning of the month, the fields are so busy with tractors. The hay needs processing and it is tense work getting it done between weathers. One hundred and thirty years ago, in Lincolnshire, my birth county, our old friend, George North, was "at Mr. Waterhouse's, Park Farm, leading hay, 3 late nights". Much of the work that August was harvesting - at Park Farm, in Top Close, Wharton Close and Sharpe's Close. There was hoeing and striking of turnips to be done too. And the exciting break from all this graft amongst cereals and roots was Blyton Feast on Sunday, 20th. Wheat, oats and barley were "safely gathered in"  - and then it was time to "clean ponds out" at the end of the month and into the next.

Rather fabulous Bug Hotel at the Open Garden, Spittal

My own farming memory calendar for August, living, as a child, in the Isle of Axholme, includes the day my dad took me up the Wroot road to see my Uncle Peter working a fabulous new machine called a combine harvester. I'd never seen one before. I was a bit afraid of it - it seemed so big to a little girl. Imagine then, how scary it was to be driven past the International Harvester factory on Wheatley Hall Road in Doncaster. International Harvester made farm machinery there for 77 years and it was quite something to see their products lined up in front. Doncaster was our main town for shopping in those days so I often sneaked a peek at the monsters in military formation.

America saw combines in use long before we did in Britain. Here, the first combine harvesters were pulled by tractors in the 1930s and it wasn't until the 1950s that the first self-propelled harvesters were readily available to farmers. By the 1960s my godfather, Uncle Peter, was ultra-trendy and using one to improve the harvest of cereal crops on the Epworth to Wroot road in the Isle of Axholme.

Another childhood memory of August, going way back, was the dismay felt in my community after fierce electrical storms and torrential rain had flattened the cereal crops. I didn't understand the implications until I was a little older - and, fortunately, that coincided with the increased availability of the combine harvester in Britain.
Throughout the harvest the swallows skim the fields and, watching them, I wish they would stay. I know they will not survive our climate and the resulting dearth of insects in the winter months so it's a vain wish. A few days ago, we noticed that the fields are changing now. On Tuesday there were two brown fields breaking up the golden sea of cereals across the valley. And we've heard the geese too! But I always say that summer isn't over until the ice plant turns properly pink. It hasn't yet. It's a great plant to have in the border because it has pleasing fleshy leaves well before the flowers bloom.

The Sedum (Ice Plant) isn't quite pink enough yet for a farewell to Summer
In the second week of August, Judith and Clemency watched a sizeable flock of long-tailed tits in the mixed trees dividing the kitchen garden from the orchard-to-be. So far we have two apples to show for our newly planted trees! There are far more apples on the trees we inherited in other parts of the garden.
Amongst the long-tailed tits was a single goldcrest. It's such a tiny bird - in fact the goldcrest and the firecrest are Europe's smallest. I saw a goldcrest when I was walking down to the glupe in Deerness one late summer's day. It was flitting about just above the grasses and sedges on the path side. I think there were brambles there too. I didn't expect to see a goldcrest there. Its yellow crest bordered on orange and the combination with the black border was striking.
While I was working at my desk recently I expected to see the goldcrest again as my window view filled with long-tailed tits, great tits, warblers, one blue tit (Little Blue) and one bird which I couldn't positively identify - may have been a brambling but I thought they were winter visitors. I looked them up in a book and found that some have bred in Sutherland which is only about ten miles away. So maybe my first thought was right! The goldcrest didn't join the party but it was delightful to watch them all tumbling in and out of the rowan and the willow so close to me.
We've had fog, mist, torrential rain, electrical storms, some sunshine and one day the wind whipped itself up into a sudden frenzy in the afternoon. By evening it was just a breeze again. There's a definite late-summerness to the outdoors here in Caithness. On our hillside we have a family of pheasants - the young just beginning to get colour to their plumage - and a flock of lapwings circling regularly over the cut fields. The hillside has its sad stories too. One day, along a short distance, we saw four toads - all dead. And one frog too. They don't move very fast and can't even avoid the farm vehicles coming and going. If it weren't for their vulnerability in that way toads can live for more than ten years.
This summer we have had some new visitors. A wide range of insects find us welcoming at Stempster. Ginny showed me a caterpillar with red and white - eating our roses! We do have rather a lot of roses now, so, unless he invites his caterpillar friends to the ugly bug ball, there is sufficient to share. Now I have Burl Ives singing "Ugly Bug Ball" over and over in my head!

Feasting on the roses!
The shrubbery had become a bit unruly since its beginning a couple of years ago so Judith took it in hand and now it's starting to look like a shrubbery again. The ground elder is a problem there and my trench idea won't work because the plants and shrubs are dotted around the plot - we'll just have to keep pulling it out when we see it. (The trench remains successful along the long border of wildflowers.)
At 2:15 am on Thursday, 24th, our friend the pine marten visited again. The dogs were very interested in the little wild wood when they were let out for their final exercise the night before. Not sure how much longer the gate will support their intense interest!!
Visiting the Open Garden at Spittal

Last Sunday, 20th, we all went over to Spittal to look round one of the Scottish Open Gardens at The Old Post Office there. We enjoyed it very much. The highlight for me was their display of old fashioned dahlias. I'd forgotten how stunning they can be. And who doesn't need stunning right now! I decided there and then that there is no better time to consider planting such cheerful flowers for next year's display. I also felt very at home with the sweet and simple little roses tumbling over fences and sheds. Little corners of happiness! Of course there were lots of older people like myself there, but there were younger ones too. That gives me hope.

Dahlias at the Open Garden, Spittal
I'm very lucky that my grown up children share my interest in and love of the natural world. Their little ones too are now delighting in their environment and the places they visit. A photograph of Ailsa's pockets, full of the stones she'd collected on a walk, took me back a long way to her daddy's childhood and to that of her aunties too. The Amateur Naturalist starts here. She'll be two in October!

Cows, sheep and people enjoy the fruits of the wind farm/ my wind turbine = your pot of tea!

 "How can we develop in learners an understanding of the interdependence between people, the environment, and the impacts of actions, both local and global?  How can we motivate learners to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of Scotland’s history, culture and heritage and engage with other cultures and traditions around the world?"

I was delighted to note that Ecuador will not allow drilling for oil in a protected area of the Amazon. To all those people who care, I would say "Look! Progress is being made for a cleaner, safer world!"

When I see headlines like these I look at the area with a view to further my own knowledge. Just imagine how we can turn around the planet's environmental problems if we educate our children and encourage them to have an all-world view of the situation - not just a Scottish view or a British view - but a view informed by interaction with children from right across the world.

The above quotation is from "Education Scotland. Weather and Climate Change" which opens up a theatre for respect and appreciation of other countries and cultures. This is how we will keep our planet in safe hands.

As the days shorten and the nights lengthen we will have fewer daylight hours in which to enjoy our gardens and countryside - so I mean to use the evenings to further my knowledge of different countries and their own environmental difficulties. Bravo Ecuador! We can do it!!
It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
  Of Nature have their image in the mind,
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer's close,
  Only the empty nests are left behind,
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.



  1. Lovely celebration of August. Your joy in, and knowledge of, the countryside and its inhabitants is a pleasure to read.

    1. Thank you Dolly. I love it - but I'm still learning!


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