Thursday, 25 June 2009

Birthplace

A few days ago I found myself driving along a Worcestershire hilltop and then turning into a small country lane that would take me down a steep road towards the farm where I was born.

I hadn't been back for a few years and it was a hugely emotional moment as memories of my childhood came flooding back. I had my daughter with me and it was the first time I had taken her there. After a good descent the road levels out at the farm to give superb views over towards Clee Hill that rises majestically from the distant Teme Valley and Tenbury Wells. The valley bottom is still much further on but here is a tiny hamlet here of one working farm, a chapel, a few houses and our 'farm'. The surrounding fields, mostly taken over by surrounding farms, now probably have little memory of the acres of apple trees that once stood on this quiet hillside. Although the house has been altered and the surrounding buildings are used for domestic/office uses or to stable horses, the essence of the place is still there. The first nine or so years of my life where spent in the great farmhouse and in the surrounding fields. Such freedom I then had to play and explore and to be part of the local farming community.

It is a life that seems so distant now. We all have to move on. Time does not hold us captive to anything but our thoughts and memories. We are transient in so many ways. I cannot relive my past. I can only experience the present in the context of past experiences. The farm was my birthplace, literally, and my formative childhood. It held me through those early experiences that made me who I am today. My journeying this year seems to be taking me to places that are emotionally thoughtful, longing for change/development and, hopefully, taking me to a more mature awareness of my path. Going back to my 'home' area is always a struggle emotionally as I seem to have a deep attachment to that part of the world. I probably have my father to blame for that! I feel as though I want to draw upon the energy it gives me, but I am not sure how to do that, or if it is right. It is a creative energy of poetry, art, growing/farming, landscape, growth, nature, and belonging. It can be easy to wish that some parts of life had been different and that we could choose an 'alternative universe', but we know we can't. I am here today, where I am, because that is how things are. How I face the future, that I can change or influence.

Visiting the farm was hard - perhaps I feel a deep sense of grief - but it was enlightening in a positive way. It gave me a sense of energy that if I want to change, I have to initiate it. I can't hang on to the past but I have to ensure that when all my 'presents' fade into the past, they enhance my memories and soul in a way that will make me feel that I have achieved something.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Hovering Kestrel

I watched a Kestrel this morning. It was a warm and sunny morning and I had just entered a smallish field of rough meadow - full of tall grasses and flowers/plants. A kestrel hovered not far away. High above the field, at about tree top level, it was facing the oncoming warm breeze and making continual fine adjustments with the delicate fluttering of its wings. It would glide to a new location, hover, survey the ground below then move on a little. Then it would sweep back over the field to begin a new transect and begin its search from a new location. I watched it for around ten minutes before it moved away to perch in the nearby trees.

Is there a lesson an patience and perseverance here I wonder?

On reading a little on the web I discover that although hovering requires more energy than, say, gliding it can be more productive food wise. Apparently they can see into the ultra-violet which makes tracking the urine trails of their favourite food, the field vole, easier.

Song of a Robin

A robin sang beside me one recent evening, its song filling the cool, still and darkening air. Why, my friend, do you sing so close to me? Surely you can see me just a few feet away writing in my sketchbook, whilst you sing your presence from atop the trampoline safety net? You have chosen that spot from which to give the garden your song this evening. Your tuneful phrases weave through the other sounds that I notice: the sound of traffic, the rumble of aeroplanes at the airport, dogs barking, the songs of other birds in the neighbourhood, the subdued deep thump, thump of next door's party music and the chattering conversation of friends among friends.

I hardly noticed you at first, but now I am aware of you. Your song was almost too loud and sharp for me to focus upon, but now I welcome you as your presence seems almost incompatible with the man-made sounds of man in the landscape. But then you choose to depart, to leave your perch and head for the top of a nearby tree; and then you are gone. You gave me a moment of peace and otherness that only nature can bring. You leave me a memory that lingers on amongst the other discordent sounds of the evening.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Bracken

The woodland floor is damp from the morning rain. The soft mass of leaf litter and other decaying organic matter forms a cool carpet beneath the tall oaks. I sit facing a small clearing and look out over the tall bracken that arises from the earth and uncurls towards the sky. Its dark green stems rise straight up with large fronds branching out horizantally. The apex is formed by a tight mass of intricately curled up new growth that will rapidly unwrap into the woodland space. Now, at around 4ft tall, this mass of strong verticals contrasts with the diagonals and horizantals of nearby bramble plants which tangle through the field layer. These are perennial whereas the bracken will entirely die down to soil level at the end of each year.

I look more closely at the bracken stems. I did down into the deep leaf litter, and see where it arises from an bulbous part of the rhizome that reaches throughout, and deep into, the woodland floor. There can be a sizeable amount of the plant buried beneath the surface and we see only a superficial part of it. I break open one of the main stems. It is tough and can easily cut the skin. There It is made up of many large strong fibers which separate to reveal a thick syrupy sap that covers my fingers. There must be a large amount of moisture held within these young plants. Some of last years decaying stems are still standing and these are now dry and brittle and can easily be crushed in my fingers.

The large flat and spreading fronds begin to shade all the woodland floor - taking advantage of the available light before the leaf canopy fully forms above them. The fronds have a strong mid stem and then the soft and delicate parts of the leaf reach outwards. They are beautiful to touch. The outer edges of the fronds are a more yellowy green than the main parts of the frond. They are almost like huge feathers.

Bracken always feels cool and has a wonderful fragrance. I wonder what ecological value they have. I do some research on the internet at home and find out more details that I'm not going to repeat here.

They are plants of strength and beauty but, like the bramble, they persevere, they compete, they dominate and form an important part of the ecology where they are present by changing both micro and macro habitats in may ways. Here they will significantly add to the biomass of the woodland and through their decay will add to the organic matter in the ground layer. It has no predators and so is a great coloniser where conditions are right.