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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

SEPTEMBER - "O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being..."

Late flowering hollyhock


 "O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!"

from "Ode to the West Wind" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The moon rose red on the first day of the month. Ginny's photograph is better than mine so I'll share that one with you. The full moon was the day before but didn't lend itself to photography by any of us really. That's the thing about the naturally occurring things in our lives - they're spontaneous - outwith our expectations. Some of them we've disregarded in the clamour for progress. The ball-like nest of the harvest mouse, attached to the stalks in a cornfield,  for example - a rare sight since we have harvested with combine harvesters. The pretty little mouse used to be quite a common inhabitant of our fields but sadly, it no longer is. The moon still shines for us though and, one might imagine, benevolently too!

Red moon rising

September! One of the highlights, when we were kids, was the annual visit to Finningley Airshow. Dad would take us most years. He loved his Jaguars but the smell of the leather upholstery made me feel queasy and one September, he took Mike and me in a little yellow jeep. Best visit ever! Until I was grown up and we took our own children. That was equal best!! The trouble with being grown up though is that one can be in danger of losing one's sense of wonder. As a little girl, I distinctly remember being transfixed by the noisy machines which managed to stay in the sky. How did it happen? Birds flapped their wings to do it but these monsters had rigid wings. There were lots of things to learn. I learned some of them later - through the senses of my own children. They were curious about everything and I researched and learned with them. I have never lost that wonder and I hope I never do.

When Finningley was decommissioned in 1996 the September airshows came to an end but, just as Finningley had a previous existence as a bomber base during World War Two, so it had another life as a commercial airport beginning in 2005 and ending in November 2022. 

Finningley is a fenland village - as the name would suggest. The fenlands creep into South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire at that point. Auckley is one of the cluster of villages making up the Finningley part of Doncaster and it was from Auckley that my fourth great grandmother, Mary Gleading, came to marry Thomas Emerson in April, 1813. They were married in Finningley, the marriage lasting for forty years, all spent in Epworth, until the death of Thomas in 1853. They had eleven children together and Mary lived for almost twenty years as a widow. When she died, it would be only 30 years until the first powered aeroplane amazed people from North Carolina. So Finningley's projected future was about to change from a quiet fenland backwater. How odd it is to think of history in this way now we know what happened! Years seem like days.

Driving back between stubble fields and smoke, it felt like summertime was folding. The noise of the engines was echoing in my head when we arrived home and the peace of home took some getting used to for a while. Those visits to Finningley affected my brother and me in different ways. He went on to immerse himself in it and became a paratrooper. I left it far behind to live on a Scottish hillside.

Soon the Scottish hills will be draped in glorious shades of autumn - not so much the high mountains as they're constant. Travelling through Scotland in any month of the year, there is a certainty looking up to the high tops. They have been as they are for a very long time - reliability in an otherwise unsure world.
There are powerful moves afoot to ridicule those who speak out for the future of this planet. As a species we have become technologically savvy but, at the same time, we've lost our sense of connection with the natural world. We've taken so much with little regard for the bigger picture. I know how that makes me feel.

I've been looking at countries which are already feeling the effects of climate change in a way that concerns the entire population. Here, we just know that the powerful and wealthy will be able to run for the hills! Have a care though - there'll be no shelter on the mountain summit! 

In other countries there are few hills to run to. Four of the nine islands making up Samoa are inhabited. They are under threat due to rising sea levels and the increasing frequency of cyclones, tsunamis and floods. Samoans don't want to leave their homelands but it is more than a vague possibility that they must.

The Maldives have become a popular destination for holiday makers but there is a severe threat to its very existence - and the threat is imminent. The islanders have no hills to run to. It is the most low-lying country in the world and, as such, it will very soon be swallowed up if the sea levels continue to rise.

The low island of Sanday, a part of the Orkney Islands, is also under threat. People seem to be concerned for the ancient historical sites - rightly so - but how concerned are they for the people and their quiet lives? Concerned enough?

This won't go away.

Meanwhile, we celebrate our harvest and are thankful that the blossom on the apple trees in May grew up to become a tray of stored apples for the wintertime. Every little thing is worth a second glance - from a strikingly orange rosehip in the hedgerow to the metallic green armour of a tiny bug in the lane. Few things go unnoticed here!

Late summer flowers are an absolute joy at Stempster. The delicate pinks of hollyhocks, sweet peas and mallow, the orange nasturtiums, magenta roses, red poppies nodding amongst the wildflowers, white daisies, struggling now, and, ever so shy and tucked under a splendid yellow rose, the mustard goldenrod. The lilac-pink night scented stocks still fragrance the conservatory when the doors are open in the early evenings. I miss the Michaelmas daisies and we have no chrysanthemums here. Every autumn I wish we did! My organisational skills are famous for their absence. So I mean to plant them but I forget until I miss their cheerfulness in the autumn months. They were very popular in gardens when I was growing up and some people were quite competitive with their chysanths. The lovely pink ones can last almost until the end of autumn. The tiny yellow pompoms soon fill the top of a vase for indoors and the bronze ones are such a gorgeous colour in the autumn border, wrapping up leaf shades in one little bloom. You would never say their perfume was beautiful but it seems unique amongst flowers and one sniff whirls you round the autumn stage, filling the dying year with memories.
The sedum is now quite pink and would suggest that summer is over. Today is 23rd September and the day of the equinox. It's the start of the astronomical autumn. It's not the end - it's the beginning! Time to plant prepared hyacinths for flowering indoors at Christmas. The variety of hyacinth will determine how long you need to give them but mainly they need ten weeks in a dark place which is unheated. When you can see the tiny bud peeping through and when the plants are just a few centimetres above the compost, bring them out of the cubby hole and into the light. Be gentle with them - don't shock them - they'll try to run away if you do. Seriously they will - they will grow too fast and leggy for their own good! If we're clever and have the time we can plant bulbs every two or three weeks and ensure a supply of fresh indoor flowers through to Easter.

Nasturtiums from very old seed - it was worth a go!
September has many benefits. It's a month of change - no doubt about that - but it eases us into the back end of the year without too much discomfort. William Cowper writes of its calmness:

My greenhouse is never so pleasant as when we are just upon the point of being turned out of it. The gentleness of the autumnal suns, and the calmness of this latter season, make it a much more agreeable retreat than we ever find it in summer; when, the winds being generally brisk, we cannot cool it by admitting a sufficient quantity of air, without being at the same time incommoded by it. But now I sit with all the windows and the door wide open, and am regaled with the scent of every flower in a garden as full of flowers as I have known how to make it.

It's now the 25th of the month and a pleasant, sunny day - mostly - with a significant breeze. 47 years ago today, Summer 76 came to an abrupt end! It had been a magnificent summer - perfect weather for children and school staff all through the holiday. Then, on the night of the 24th/25th, the heavens opened. A deluge! It meant that there was flooding on the farms of North Lincolnshire, which in turn meant that some of the guests invited to our wedding on the 25th, were unable to attend. An omen? It was certainly a suggestion!! The next morning, my new husband's family were out picking mushrooms. They would have found them here! We have so many varieties of fungi and haven't a clue which are safe and which aren't. It seems a shame we're unable to use these gifts around us but I'm not taking any chances - life is good!

The herbs are past their best for culinary use but they still look cheerful.

The animals and birds know that there is significant change afoot! Our older dog, now ten, is, and always has been, affected by the September equinox. Strange but true! I find it a bit creepy to be honest - the way he barks and growls at nothing. The birds, on the other hand, have been really tanking up on anything we put out for them - kitchen scraps, niger seeds, nuts and mixed seeds. Even the tree creeper came up from the wood to the feeding station.  Clemency and I had such a clear view of it from the sitting room window - but no time to fetch a camera. The bats too are feeding like vacuum cleaners just above us in the evenings - and something has been rummaging deep down in my little compost heap in the corner of the cottage garden. Large things like rotten potatoes and corn cobs have been strewn across the grass nearby. Sadly, I have had to put beautiful little bird corpses onto the compost heap recently. They fly into the windows. Sometimes, they are just stunned and, unless Little Jess finds them and gulps them down, they will fly off after a minute or so. When they are definitely dead, I put them onto the compost heap expecting them to become a part of new life from there. Jess is a cocker spaniel but behaves more like a cat. I like to think she just means to play, in a nice friendly way, with the birds she catches, and kills them accidentally. She's a sweet natured dog really. I think.

The last time I saw swallows was on the 19th but Ginny thought she saw some yesterday and is certain she saw them on Saturday. We still have them with us - so good to know. Although there are some which will leave as late as November, most fly to South Africa in September and October from the shores of the British Isles. European swallows go to other parts of Africa and some go from Europe to India.

With the cooler nights have come huge treats for us in Caithness. We had a temperature of 4°C on the 17th. Ginny and I were up with Orlando and we saw the most beautiful spotted sky with stars and planets so clear and twinkling in the cold air. It was one of those breathtaking nights that stay with you for a very long time. The next night was 8°C at bedtime and, after a wet day, the sky lit up from the north with the Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights. Ginny managed to capture them with her camera.

Northern lights over Stempster
Another amazing thing about the night time just now is the birdsong. In the early evening the birds all around us strike up and sing. I remember a part of a poem by Thomas Hardy - The Darkling Thrush 
in a full throated evensong
It's like that - a full throated evensong - but with multiple singers.

They take their nourishment, not just from the feeding station ably managed by Keith, but also from the things which grow here undamaged by chemical intervention. No chemicals here in our Stempster garden! The results are stunning. We are visited by the wildlife which surrounds us in West Caithness. They come and they go - and, so long as they find us welcoming and a safe place to be, then we are happy.

We're as green as we can be and we're constantly searching for new ways to improve ourselves in the environmental sense.

The green thing goes back a long way in my family. It's now an amusing memory but, back in the mid-sixties, there was a good deal of consternation about the roof tiles for the bungalow Mum and Dad were building on Belshaw Lane (Carrhouse), Belton in North Lincolnshire. Mum wanted green tiles. She'd seen them on properties in Devon where we took our annual holiday, and thought they appeared to be an extension of the gardens there. The planning department didn't like the idea - said it wouldn't blend with the countryside. Dad wanted Mum to have her green tiles so he soldiered on until she got them. We were even in the national press!

Nearly sixty years later and five hundred miles away, we are trying to work out where we can have our own 'green roof". This would not be tiled but a covering of growing things to encourage bees and other pollinators. This type of green roof is not simple either! The questions we need to address include the durability of the roofing material and what we would like to grow on top of it. My feeling is that the roof of the log store would be a good base and that a sedum covering would make a suitable crown. It needs thoughtful planning. The wood will soon rot if we don't treat it/cover it carefully. A project still in its early stages!

This morning's walk (26th) was a noisy one for Stempster Hill - combine harvesters to the left of us, combine harvesters to the right! The dogs were over-excited by the scents they picked up and it took a good deal of unravelling to put them right. By the time we were back home we felt like a remnant of the Light Brigade - not quite the Valley of Death though!! We spotted mole runs in the grass and Ginny tells me there is also a good deal of mole activity in our orchard. I must look.

Cluster of Swedish Whitebeam berries

One exciting sighting this morning was the solitary swallow over the front lawn. There are lots of insects for the stragglers - as my face will testify - bumps everywhere from staying too late in the garden! And another exciting sighting? I saw the bullfinch - bold as brass - in the Swedish Whitebeam. Ginny, Judith and Clemency all saw one on Saturday and I felt sad that I'd missed it as I was gardening at the front of the house. Today must be my lucky day!

Ball Bullfinch

One rather sad observation on Stempster Hill this morning was a deceased newt - made all the more poignant because it may well have been making its way to our now established garden pond. Sexually mature newts are heading towards ponds in September for their winter sleep. Next Spring and Summer they will breed there.

Looking outside at around 3:30 this morning, I watched Venus rise in the east. It was so bright - brilliant in fact - it took my breath away momentarily. It's now the morning star and those of us who don't sleep right through the night can look out for it rising earlier in the coming weeks. It lifted my spirits. Hope yours are lifted by it too. While I'm wishing we'd had more dragonflies, I'm thankful for the butterflies which came in their droves this year. Though I regret the clouds covering the sun, I'm grateful for the shade of the trees when they don't.  It's the positives I'm looking for!

When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And everything else is still.

      from "Nurses Song" by William Blake