March in Flower: Lesser Celandine

And some bonus mammals. But to start, here is today’s flower: lesser celandine, the hopeful splash of sunshine on our puddle-strewn roads. Or, as William Wordsworth put it: telling tales about the sun, when we’ve little warmth, or none.

Lesser celandine March 20

This has been a long, wet winter. But as Facebook readers will know, things have become rather exciting in the garden. The foxes have a neighbour!

Badger garden 26 Feb 20

A badger – the first one documented in the garden in forty years! While badgers do not disperse from their families as readily as foxes, they will do so under some circumstances. He has a healing bite scar on his rump, evidence of a family squabble no doubt.

As for the foxes, their breeding season has ended and cubs will be born very soon. Here’s one expectant mother whom I did not expect to see again: ‘Pretty Face’, the grand old lady of the garden. Not only did she stun me with a sudden reappearance after a six month absence, but she is heavily pregnant.

Pretty Face 26 Feb 20

She is very small, but she is a survivor, and she is strong. The younger foxes who have moved into the garden in her absence are rapidly learning that she expects to be in charge.

I hope that her cubs inherit her irrepressible spirit.

 

Life as Art

A mountain hare’s footprints patterned it.

Mountain hare footprints CH Jun 19

Flowers weave a carpet over it.

Wild pansy

 

Wild pansy3 Jun 19

St Bruno’s lily

St Bruno's lily CH Jun 19

Poet’s narcissus

Poet's narcissus CH Jun 19

The Findelbach washes it – watercolour most literal.

Findelbach Jun 19

And the mountain stirs storms above it.

Matterhorn in thunderstorm Jun 19

Hard to believe, all this in three nights. I didn’t even know that I was going to Switzerland until less than 24 hours before I boarded the flight. But life does that sometimes.

This land is art. And it has made an impression on me.

That is what great art is supposed to do.

Taschhorn meadows

Down the Trail

Poppy unopened CH Jun 19

The poppies still in bud will have a surprise: they won’t flower alone. Every plant here has its attendants – winged, busy and bold.

Swiss butterflies1 Jun 19

Butterflies are abundant, and so are smaller creatures.

Bug on herb-robert Jun 19

The red and black stripes of the minstrel bug warn predators that they taste foul.

Bug on flowers CH Jun 19

And of course, the colouration of bees signals their ability to defend themselves.

Bee on round-headed rampion Jun 19

But despite subtle warnings, the path is peaceful, winding over gentle slopes of meadow and coniferous forest, the shockingly tranquil toes of the Alps’ mightiest giants. Not that the mountains let you forget them; there is still a snowpack flanking some streams, and all the water ferries glacial dust into the Vispa.

Vispa River Jun 19

That milky hue – the colour of a snow leopard’s eyes – is mountain blood and bone. Glaciers scratch the peaks as they move, scouring rock to powder and sending it to the river via by their outflow streams. It is a familiar story from mountain ranges everywhere, but I’ve not seen many that do it with such haste. Water here is hasty; it has to be, with valley rims on both sides soaring over three kilometres above the river. Streams leap from the glaciers in waterfalls so numerous, I suppose that no one has ever thought to give them a name.

Yet this is a valley of humanity, as well as wildlife. The village of Täsch is at least seven hundred years old. Today it largely survives on tourism rather than agriculture, but relics of former times are in the streets – a drinking trough for livestock lives on.

Tasch water trough Jun 19

Flowers, insects, water, people – none are alone. They are all part of the fabric of the Mattertal.

The Second Frost

With the springtime wild world and a backdrop of Easter bells ringing. Not real frost, of course, although the Surrey Hills had a few flakes of snow a fortnight back – hard to remember in today’s sun.

It’s blackthorn, spring’s showy pioneer.

Spring blossom 19 Apr 19

The ground, too, is waking, and dewdrops brighten the flowers.

Bluebell dew drops 19 Apr 19

Bluebells are now at their peak, carpeting our oldest woods in shimmering sapphire.

Khamsin in bluebells 21 Apr 19

I must have seen a thousand cowslips on Saturday’s walk.

Cowslip dew drops2 19 Apr 19

Meanwhile, the mysterious toothwort sprouts flowers without leaves. Unlike almost all other flowers, it doesn’t photosynthesize, instead getting its nutrition from its host. That is usually hazel or alder.

Toothwort and little slug 19 Apr 19

Spring is beautiful, but there is an intrigue and depth to that beauty, and a lesson in how different strands of life support each other. I am grateful that there is always so much more to see and learn.

Small Details

I’ve been reflecting on the nature of memory lately. The basic themes may set the tone but the small details are what bring thoughts alive. That holds true with the outside world, too.

Take Dorset, for example. I barely knew the county before last month, but it is easy to describe in broad brushstrokes: an erratic quilt of heath, farmland and trees, heaped up high into grassy hills, threaded with tiny lanes and dotted with quaint villages. To the south it is underscored by vivid white: mighty chalk cliffs guarding the channel, crumbling cradle of a thousand dinosaur bones.

Old Harry Rocks May 18

The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site, of course. Even away from it, the countryside is refreshingly free from motorway noise.

Dorset countryside2

Zoom in a little, and exploring is flavoured by small details. Sundews are not unique to the south-west, but are intriguing little things. They are carnivorous plants that eat insects.

Sundew Dorset 17 May 2018.jpg

Another heathland predator is very seldom glimpsed. This is the shed skin of a smooth snake Coronella austriaca, Britain’s rarest reptile.

Smooth snake skin 17 May 2018

I have only ever seen one, and that was in western Surrey last year.

Smooth snake 09 May 17

Back in Dorset, the flowers are shining.

Centuary 17 May 2018

…or not. The twayblade is one of the green orchids and easily overlooked.

Twayblade orchid 17 May 2018

Quiet and reclusive perhaps, but it is just as important ecologically as any of its brighter peers.

Keep looking. Keep remembering.

Waymarker

The mapmakers built it, long ago. Lichens write the years upon it, and autumnal mist steals its vista from human eyes, but it remains our grey witness to the hills.

Waymarker 27 Sept 2017

The Ordnance Survey’s trigonometry points crown hilltops throughout Britain. Surveyors used them to triangulate distance and draw this island upon maps for countless purposes. They are a monument to scientific brilliance, but only in chorus. One trig point makes no more sense than one limb of a tree.

But its sister hill with its own trig point is still there, 11 miles away, wreathed in cloud. Trig points may have concrete hearts but they share wild nature’s habit of hinting at greater tapestries beyond our sight.

Shaggy scalycap1 27 Sept 2017

Fungi like these shaggy scalycaps are only the fruiting bodies of the mycelium, the thread-like organism that lives unseen within soil or tree.

Slime mould 27 Sept 2017

A slime mould is only one life stage of the wood’s strangest lifeform: it existed as single cells before aggregating and becoming sessile.

Goat's rue 27 Sept 2017

Goat’s rue is a quiet monument to human hope. It is not a native species in the UK but has been here since at least the 17th century, given passage as a forage crop for livestock. Perhaps these dew-spotted petals are descended from plants tended by farmers who walked these hills in centuries past.

Crystalline clear skies seldom provoke questions about what lies just beyond our view. Mist is the master of those.

Tree in the mist 27 Sept 2017