Monday 30 August 2010

Late Summer (3)

spider webs gleam in the low sunlight ~
the stark ochre architecture of dead umbellifer heads ~

Sunday 29 August 2010

bird haiku

House sparrows’ calls
echo round the courtyard –
a black cat stretches

Saturday 28 August 2010

Late Summer (2)

Crafty Green Boyfriend has been most impressed with all my stories of my lunchtime walks through the fields near my office so today I took him there so he could see for himself! He also took the photos that I've posted here.
I had hoped that we would see good numbers of house martins and swallows as there are good numbers of them round here but we only saw one swallow, flying low over the fields.
We were however delighted to see a bird that I've never seen around these fields before and which is struggling across the UK.

windhovering - a kestrel hangs above shimmering fields of wheat.

if anyone has any idea what type of butterfly or moth this caterpillar will grow up to be, please let me know!

Thursday 26 August 2010

Zero Waste Week - 6 - 12 September 2010

Zero Waste Week takes place every year beginning on 6 September.

This year's theme is Cooking for Victory and focusses on food and drink waste. WRAPS Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK report showed that we throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink every year. Most of this is avoidable if we were to manage and store things better. Additionally reducing waste saves money, it is estimated that waste food and drink costs the average UK household £50 per month.

You can find out more and sign up to take part (with the chance of winning prizes!) at the Zero Waste Week website.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Late Summer

I walked through the fields behind my office today as I do every lunchtime. The ripening wheat is ochre in colour, the rosebay willowherbs are turning to seed. The brown lambs are distinctly adolescents now, plump and fluffy. A red admiral butterfly flew low in front of me. Then a sudden chatter of a group of house martins above my head, joined by a couple of swallows. All excitement for their forthcoming journeys south. Summer is drawing to a close.

Monday 23 August 2010

The Raw Garden by Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore's 1988 collection The Raw Garden claims to "celebrate a familiar world of ladscape and human relationships, but at the same time it leads us to explore and question our own 'sense of the natural'. " (Quote from the back cover blurb).

The book in so far as it deals with issues of genetic manipulation in plant breeding, was ahead of its time. I felt that some poems, for example the poems about Methodist preachers, distracted from the overall flow of the book and there were two versions of one poem, neither of which added to the other. However overall it is an excellent collection. Dunmore clearly has an eye for observation and an awareness of how words work together. In her poem Seal Run for example:

The seals quiver, backstroking
for pure joy of it, down to the tidal
slim mouth of the loch,

they draw their lips back, their blunt whiskers
tingle at the inspout of salt water

then broaching the current they roll
off between islands and circles of seaweed.

Can't you just see those seals? It's a collection that effectively combines lyricism, awareness of nature and issue based commentary and so ticks all the boxes as far as I'm concerned!

Sunday 22 August 2010

Saturday 21 August 2010

in the shadow of Arthur's Seat

We took this photo almost exactly a year ago!

I recently posted a poem about shadows on my Over Forty Shades blog, you can read it here.

Thursday 19 August 2010

RIP Edwin Morgan

Edwin Morgan, the great Scottish poet died today aged 90. He was the most imaginative poet writing in English, and produced wonderful experimental science fiction poems alongside beautiful love poetry.

I was reading at Captain's Bar in Edinburgh this evening and the event started with a wonderful tribute to Edwin Morgan with us listening to recordings of him reading some of his poetry including the wonderful Song of the Loch Ness Monster.

You can read my short review of his collection Holding Hands Among the Atoms here.

He will be much missed.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Corstorphine Sycamore

The Lord of Corstorphine, a drunken philanderer
neglected the family estates,
flew into a rage and attacked his love
with a sword that she wrested from him.
She killed him and fled
but was caught and hung
dressed in a hood of white.

White Lady wailing, haunted Corstorphine’s sycamore,
blood on the blade of the sword
with which she had slain her lord.
She wailed with the wind on Boxing Day Night,
the night of the terrible storm.
Four hundred years of tree and ghost
brought to a splintering end.

There was no treasure at the roots of the tree
but the wood was dried and preserved.
In the hands of a craftsman, the legend restored
took the shape of a violin.
On moonlit nights, when the fiddler plays
the white lady wails once more
and the sycamore lives again.

Monday 16 August 2010

Sunday 15 August 2010

Being Dead - a novel by Jim Crace

This isn't a novel for the squeamish! It starts with a murder and then describes in great detail the decomposition of the murdered bodies as they lie in sand dunes. We are introduced to the insects and other creatures that start to feed on and colonise the bodies. This is a bit icky, but is also a wonderful illustration of the place death has in the processes of life and the place that humans have in the wider ecosystem.

The bodies are those of Joseph and Celice, who when they had been alive were academics and biologists. The novel also follows them in their student days when they meet on a biology field trip. This part of the novel is full of detailed observations of the natural world.

We later see the couple as they go back to the place of their field trip. Time has not been kind either to them or to the coastline - which is now under development as a luxury gated community.

Given that today we are all too likely to forget our place in the natural world, this is an important book that deserves to be widely read.

Being Dead by Jim Crace, 1999

Saturday 14 August 2010

summer haiku

thistledown floats
above a field of cabbage -
white butterflies

Friday 13 August 2010

Rabbits - Pets, Prey or Pests?

One of the things we discussed at my course on the Water of Leith earlier this week (see this post) was introduced species and the effect they can have on the ecology of an area.

We looked at some of the UK's invasive species. These include Giant Hogweed introduced as a garden ornamental but which since escaped and grows on rough ground and has a corrosive sap that can cause injury. American Mink has been a problem since it was released from fur farms by animal activists. It eats the chicks of water birds and competes with otters.

Not all introduced species are problematic. Trees such as the sycamore and horse chestnut were introduced into the UK a long time ago but have become naturalised and are part of our ecology.

So we come to rabbits. Many readers of this blog think of rabbits as the ideal pet and so they are! But they are also a wild animal. They were introduced into the UK by the Romans and again by the Normans as a food source. They then escaped and bred very successfully. They are a well known part of our countryside and an excellent food source for many predators.

Rabbits were introduced in 1859 to Australia where their only natural predators were being hunted to extinction, so there was no check on their numbers. In ten years the population increased to many millions. Myxomatosis was introduced in 1950 and numbers dropped from 600 million to 100 million in ten years but numbers increased again to around 250 million by 1991. Other methods of control are being used but rabbits are still a huge problem in Australia. I'm saying all this to outline the problem rather than to advocate culling animals.

So the status of an introduced species depends to a large extent on the ecology of the area it is introduced into.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Craigmillar Castle Park

Yesterday we had a lovely walk round Craigmillar Castle Park. This is an area of open grassland and woodland round Craigmillar Castle, a ruin which has a long and interesting history including a close association with Mary Queen of Scots.

Although the weather was very mixed there were a lot of butterflies around. We saw a lot of Meadow Browns, a few Peacocks (see photo) and a couple of Red Admirals.

Plenty of bees too, including several common carders.

We had an excellent view of a buzzard as it swept low over the fields, no doubt hunting one of the many rabbits that live in the area.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Introduction to the Water of Leith

I've spent the last two days teaching An Introduction to the Water of Leith for the University of Edinburgh Office of Lifelong Learning and based at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre (hence the lack of blog posts over the last couple of days!). The course was fully booked and all the students were very motivated and enthusiastic, several now want to take up voluntary conservation work or find out more about wildlife. The course covered the prehistory and history of the river, wildlife and environmental issues. The discussions were excellent! We spent an hour outside thinking about how best to observe nature - keeping our eyes and ears open and looking out for signs of animals (droppings, nibbled cones etc) which might indicate where animals had been even though we didn't see the animals themselves. We also had a two hour guided walk round the Colinton and Criaglockart Dells, looking at the wildlife and historical features. I hope to be able to do this course again in the future, possibly in spring when there would be more birds about!

I'm running a series of guided walks along the Water of Leith (for Edinburgh City Council) in the autumn, you can find out more here.

I'm also running a course on creative writing for the environment for the University of Edinburgh Office of Lifelong Learning, you can find out more here.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Easter Craiglockart Hill

We had a lovely walk today. We originally tried to get to Wester Craiglockart Hill, which is renowned for its unspoiled grassland meadows, but although we had once accidentally found ourselves on Wester Craiglockart Hill, today we couldn't find a proper path up from where we were, so we walked up the road to Craiglockart Pond. The pond is beautifully fringed with reeds and water plants that hide large numbers of young waterbirds. A pair of moorhens had raised 8 young and a pair of swans had raised that number too, the cygnets being adolecents now. One of the moorhen parents came out of the water and showed us its beautiful yellow legs with red knees and the odd looking greenish feet. We didn't take a photo as we were too engrossed in the bird's dance and didn't want to scare it by moving too much.
We then walked round Easter Craiglockart Nature Trail which passes through some lovely woodland and up on to some open land, some of which is scattered with gorse bushes, some of which has become gold courses. We saw several rabbits hiding in gorse tunnels. Then we noticed a tiny toad clambering through the rain drenched grass. Then another. And another! There were quiet a lot of tiny toads in that grass and no nearby water body to account for that number. We think they must have come from Craiglockart Pond and clambered up a steep wooded hill and through the gorse to get to where they were.
We walked home along the Union Canal, which is at the moment a wonderful riot of colour with meadowsweet, great hairy willowherb , tufted vetch and various other flowers all in bloom and full of bees. We counted at least three species of bumble bees plus a couple of honey bees. Hoverflies and a few moths too.

Friday 6 August 2010

Stars of the New Curfew by Ben Okri

I have always admired Ben Okri for the way he seamlessly combines political commentary with imaginative writing. His ability to write surreal dreamlike sequences is amazing and can be quite disturbing.

This collection of short stories takes us into the heart of Nigeria, people struggling to make a living in a land torn by war and the greed of oil prospectors. 'What the Tapster Saw' follows a palm tree tapster through his nightmare visions after a fall from a palm tree:

he saw the unsuccessful attempts to level the forest area and drill for oil. He saw the witch doctors that had been brought in to drive away the spirits from the forest. They also tried to prevent the torrential rains from falling and attempted to delay the setting of the sun. When all this failed the company hired an expatriate who flew in with explosives left over from the last war. The tapster saw the expatriate plant dynamite round the forest area. After the explosion the tapster saw a thick pall of green smoke. When the smoke cleared the tapster watched a weird spewing up of oil and animal limbs from the ground. The site was eventually abandoned. Agapanthus grew there like blood on a battlefield.

Stars of the New Curfew by Ben Okri, published by Penguin, 1988

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Internationally Recognised Blog

I recently received an email from an agency claiming to be an international blogging award. Apparently this award is a scam so I've removed all mention of the award from this blog. However, thanks everyone for your nice comments saying how much I deserve an award!

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Monday 2 August 2010

Glasgow Harvest

There's a huge resurgence of interest in gardening across Scotland at the moment. Tapping into that, public arts organisation NVA is hosting the first ever Glasgow Harvest – a celebration of all that is home-produced and edible - on Saturday 28th August at Tramway’s wonderful Hidden Gardens. There will be loads going on! Highlights of the day will include:

Live soup cooking from Glasgow’s allotment communities, using vegetables they’ve grown over the summer.

A mass open-air meal prepared using as many home-grown ingredients as possible.
Everyone attending is asked to bring a dish featuring some of their home-grown produce to contribute to the spread.

The Jam Wall - people are asked to bring a pot of their home-made preserve to add to the evolving installation of home-made jams, colour graded from black (currant) through to lemon (yellow). Preservers can match up with growers who have windfall harvests at a special Jam Dating Agency

Giant Vegetable Displays –a florist will make bouquets and displays of favourite vegetables.

85A’s Herbaceous Barbershop – this artist collective’s barbershop is full of 'punk herb caps' such as the ‘cress Chelsea-cut’ or the ‘chive Mohawk’ for you to pick up and continue growing.

Creative Container Challenge – Grow something in an unusual container or in a pot you’ve decorated yourself, bring the container along to Harvest and you could win a cash prize.

Glasgow Harvest is part of SAGE – Sow And Grow Everywhere – NVA’s long-term capital project to develop a legacy of increased urban farming in Glasgow.

More Information on the NVA website.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Rabbit, rabbit, white rabbit!

I recently discovered an ancient tradition that I'm sure Crafty Green Boyfriend and I will find very easy to adopt! This is the tradition of saying rabbit, rabbit, white rabbit! (or similar) on waking up on the first day of every month.

There are a bewildering number of varieties of this tradition, which are gathered together in entertaining manner over on Wikipedia here.