Saturday 31 August 2013

Berry picking

We had a lovely time today picking blackberries and raspberries on Wester Craiglockart Hill. On our visit there last week we had notice the cast number of bramble bushes and today we decided to go back with our bags and tubs and do some collecting! We collected a lot of blackberries and quite a few raspberries, most of which Crafty Green Boyfriend's Mum will make into jam.

Here are some of my thoughts about foraging berries:

a) leave enough for other foragers and the wildlife too
b) be careful of the brambles and the other plants, often raspberries and blackberries grow near stinging nettles and gorse (which can scratch quiet badly just as brambles themselves can). Good idea to wear long sleeves and hardwearing fabrics
c) don't pick by the side of roads because of the fumes and particulates from car exhausts
d) don't pick from plants right next to the pathway if they're under the height of a dog
e) while foraging take time to enjoy the nature all around you.

Today it was quite breezy and at times the air was full of thistledown and the seeds of willowherbs. The gorse pods were audibly popping as they split to release their seeds. Robins were singing their wistful autumnal song all around us.

Plus, I saw my first small copper butterfly of the year! This is such a lovely butterfly, tiny and beautifully patterned with a gorgeous rich orange colour. They're quite common on the hills of Edinburgh, so I'm surprised this was my first of the year. This photo is a close up that I then severly cropped so you can see the detail, which may make the butterfly seem much bigger than it is.

Friday 30 August 2013

Late Summer

Even though there are fungi growing all through the year, they somehow always feel autumnal. Here's some fungi that we saw on Corstorphine Hill this lunchtime.

And below, this rowan tree is already fully berried red.


Yesterday I went to Musselburgh, birdwatching. It's the time of year when lots of passage migrant birds turn up on our coasts so the bird hides by the Lagoons were full of very keen birdwatchers. There were huge numbers of birds on all the lagoons, including lots of ringed plovers and dunlin and several lapwings and oystercatchers. There was a group of black tailed godwits also three ruffs, which arrived a couple of weeks ago and seem to want to stay a while - all in winter plumage but still very pretty. There were a few little stints, just passing through, I got a close view of one of them, such a pretty little bird. Also a curlew sandpiper, a lifer for me, another very pretty bird, though if it and the dunlin had been in winter plumage they would have been very difficult to tell apart.

I still find wader identification challenging! Every time I go to Musselburgh, I check beforehand on the Lothian Birds website what unusual birds have been seen recently at Musselburgh. If then there are any I'm not familiar with then I look in my bird books and stare at the pictures until the bird's image is burned into my memory. This is a surprisingly good tactic.  

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Shark fin soup

I was very happy to see a new Chinese restaurant open in our neighbourhood.

However I was less than happy when I looked at their menu and saw that they are selling shark fin soup.

Shark finning is a cruel practice. Sharks have their fins removed and are then tossed back into the ocean where they die a slow and painful death.

A shocking ten million sharks a year are killed to satisfy global demand for shark fins. Twenty species of sharks are listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). In a few years many species of shark could become extinct if shark finning is not stopped.

India recently banned the practice of shark finning and China last year announced it would no longer serve shark fin dishes at official banquets. I've respectfully written to our new local Chinese restaurant and asked them to take shark fin soup off the menu. Crafty Green Boyfriend and I will not eat at this restaurant until they take shark fin soup off the menu.

You can find out more about the issues on these pages:

 Shark Trust.

Stop Shark Finning

Wednesday 28 August 2013

In the Kettle, the Shriek by Hannah Stephenson

I was delighted to win a copy of In the Kettle, the Shriek from Hannah in a competition she ran on her Storialist blog. (You can see my winning photo on my Shapeshifting Green blog).

This is a lovely book, the front cover is hauntingly beautiful. Hannah's poems are conversational in tone and thought-provoking, many of them drawing the reader in by asking questions or making suggestions.

Hannah finds inspiration all around, often from visual art (when she posts poems onto The Storialist, she links through to the artwork that inspired the poem). 5 Second Rule was inspired by a trip to the laundromat and the very entertaining Suddenly, Pasta Salad was inspired by the brand name of a pasta salad, making the reader ponder about the odd names that brands are often given:

Voila! Spontaneous
occurence of noodles
and diced vegetables. 

Great Migrations was inspired by the design on a porcelain bowl

in the stock still water, feeling no wind,
cranes panic and launch, beat their wings 
with such force that nearby villagers
mistake them for dragons.

Several other of the poems in this book include references to nature. I love this from In Silos:

...we are also stocked with the ability

to feel astonished at how
blossoms and leaves are tucked 
into the sleeves of dark branches.... 

Other poems explore themes such as being neighbours, making assumptions about people based on their wedding ceremony, selling mattresses, spirituality and consumerism. My favourite poem though is Saying Grace, which starts:

Dear dinosaurs, we thank you

and ends:

We thank you for dying and 
for letting your 
bodies fall, for blessing our travel
and machinery
by letting the earth digest you
and allowing us 
to witness your canonisation,
bones into gasoline.

Despite its inaccuracy (fossil fuels aren't made of dinosaurs, but of organisms (mostly plants) that lived millions of years before the dinosaurs) this is a powerful comment on the modern day life.

This is a book full of beautifully written and thoughtful poems that you'll want to re-read as soon as you've finished them.

In the Kettle the Shriek, by Hannah Stephenson published by Gold Wake Press.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Water of Leith

Two photos of Colinton weir on the Water of Leith taken from underneath the footbridge, an area which isn't normally accessible, but the water is low at the moment.

I've noticed more cuckoo pint than ever along the river walkway this year.

Strangely though, I've never yet noticed this plant in spring, when it looks like this.

Today along the river walkway, a tiny baby rabbit came hopping towards me, stopped then bounced into the undergrowth! Also I spent a lovely few minutes watching a family of wrens, the young ones at the stage of hopping around in the shrubbery but still all yellow beak and fluff.

For Nature Notes 

The nature photographers reading this may be interested to know about the Nature Conservancy photo competition! Send in your best photos of the natural world (closing date 9 September)!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more

Monday 26 August 2013

Storing plastic bags

How ever careful you are in refusing plastic carrier bags (carrying a canvas tote bag in your handbag is a great way to make sure you don't pick up plastic bags) and trying to avoid plastic produce bags you are likely to end up with a pile of plastic bags (how many of us are prepared to stand in the supermarket and take a loaf out of its plastic packaging and repack it in our own paper or fabric bags. Not many of us! And even the independent health food shops in Edinburgh wrap at least some of their items in plastic).

Plastic bags can be easily reused, perhaps as bin liners for example. I always take a plastic carrier bag or two with me when I'm doing my voluntary work along the Water of Leith so that I have something to put the litter in.

So how do you store your plastic bags? One solution is to use a fabric bag like this:

I made this one from a sleeve of the satin robe that I've used to make several other craft projects (for example this chopstick bag and this wrist cuff). I threaded some elastic through the bottom and an old boot lace through the top. I put plastic bags in the top and take them our of the bottom when I need to use them. (Notice that the bag is hanging next to the House Rabbit Connection calendar that Jade and Mickey of Zen of Bun so kindly sent me for Christmas).

The dimensions of this bag aren't perfect (and were constrained by the dimensions of the sleeve I used). The bag is slightly too wide and too short. So I made one of better dimensions out of a remnant of tie dye fabric from Malawi which I've also made a tablecloth out of.

This one is now in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop. I hope to make some more of these in different fabrics.

Meanwhile I'm delighted that one of my beaded bookmarks has been included in this treasury on Etsy.

And I've put together a Tiger themed Treasury

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Sunday 25 August 2013

Poetry in the branches of revolutionary trees

Normally I go to at least a few events during the Edinburgh Festival season, but this year I hadn't gone to anything. Today though I won a ticket to an evening of Egyptian poetry and music at Edinburgh International Book festival.

The poetry came from Amin Haddad and the music from Eskenderella (you can see some of their music videos on YouTube here). Eskenderella are one of the foremost revolutionary bands in Egypt and they perform musical settings of many Egyptian poets, historic and contemporary but for tonight they performed solely their settings of Haddad's poetry.

The poetry was in Arabic with English translations (by Professor Marilyn Booth) showing on the screen behind the musicians. The opening poem was about Bread and this was a theme that wound through the rest of the poems, along with the blood of the martyrs and themes of solidarity and freedom. I was fascinated by the walking, talking trees, a seemingly silly piece of whimsy on one level but a powerful metaphor for political freedom on another level. Likewise the flying horses that gathered children to safety. All through the poetry, trees, moon and sun seemed to be participating in the creation of poetry and there were many beautiful phrases.Thanks to Edinburgh International Book Festival's Twitter feed I can rememeber at least this one:

Poetry is the startled heartbeat when the danger siren goes

Powerful rousing music to accompany the words. Played on ouds (a pear shaped instrument related to the guitar), a wonderful variety of drums, with bass guitar and keyboard.

There was a standing ovation and, possibly for the first time in the history of Edinburgh International Book Festival, an encore.

Eskenderella have an album coming out soon, it will be worth checking out, but if you ever get the chance to see them live, take it.

Thanks to Edinburgh International Book Festival for my ticket for this event, which I won via a competition on Twitter.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Wester Craiglockart Hill

I've blogged several times about Easter Craiglockart Hill (for example read the first few posts here) but today was, unbelievably, the first time Crafty Green Boyfriend and I have walked up Wester Craiglockart Hill.

There's a pretty wooded path round the hill which comes out onto the grassland that makes up the majority of the hill.

Part of the grassland has been for years a golf course, the other part is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for acid and calcareous grassland, though ecologically speaking, the SSSI is in very bad condition.

There are some lovely views up the hill, and today's low clouds made them particularly atmospheric (though at the same time that means that some of the photos are quite dark). I love the late summer pale gold grasses and the way they contrast with the dark skies and late summer dark green of the trees.

Friday 23 August 2013


Lothian Birding announced on Twitter this morning that a spoonbill had been seen at Musselburgh. This is even more exciting than the avocets that I saw at Musselburgh a couple of months ago. The avocet is a bird I had always wanted to see, the spoonbill is one I had never even thought I'd ever get a chance to see. So off I went to Musselburgh.

No spoonbill.

But the weather was beautiful, there were low flying swallows everywhere, lots of other birds and a sandpiper that I'm pretty sure was a green sandpiper (though it may have been a wood sandpiper, actually that may be more likely as wood sandpipers have been seen regularly at Musselburgh over the past few weeks and green sandpipers haven't).

Also this fascinating insect observation:

Anyone know what that green stripy insect is? There were plenty of them about, but most of them seemed to be eating plant material, unlike this one that seemed to be eating a dead bee. Lots of hoverflies about too, at least three species. Too speedy to catch on camera unfortunately but fascinating to watch!

Meanwhile, thanks to Hannah Stephenson for posting my guest post on writing, crafting and procraftination on The Storialist.

Thursday 22 August 2013

The Seventh Crane by Birgitte Rasine

The Seventh Crane is a beautiful fable about the relationships between humans and nature and growing up into your true self.

An unnamed young girl encounters a whooping crane on a beach on a family holiday. She never forgets the experience and she meets more cranes on the same beach as she grows up through her teenage days of writing her journal on the beach to her adulthood as a wildlife photographer. The story is told largely from the points of view of the cranes, and includes insights into their lives, nest making and courtship and family relationships.

It's a beautiful, touching story of how we can create close relationships with birds and how we can learn to use our wings and become the person we really are.

Thanks Story Cartel for my free download of The Seventh Crane by Birgitte Rasine.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Windowsill Garden - update

We've grown tomatoes for several years now and have nad good crops every year. This year, one of our tomato plants is producing full size tomatoes rather than the cherry tomatoes we nromally get.

And for the first time, we're growing parsley this year:

and Crafty Green Boyfriend's parents just gave us a lovely lemon basil plant, the leaves are quite different from normal basil, but the perfume is just the same!

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Silverknowes - Cramond

The best thing about going to the dentist for me is that the surgery is very near Silverknowes so after every appointment I walk down this road to the front at Silverknowes and along to Cramond.

There's a lot of hairy willowherb in flower at the moment.

This is one of the flowers that first got me really interested in Botany. When I first saw this plant (on a family holiday, in Cornwall I think) I thought it was incredibly beautiful and then realised it wasn't in the flower book I had so I rushed out to buy another flower book! (I've blogged about its more common cousin rosebay willow herb here).

I love the architecture of the seedheads of the cow parsley, and they smell of fennel!

for Nature Notes

I just put my upcycled gift bags into the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other pages where you can find out more.

Monday 19 August 2013

Late summer, Colinton Dell

This is a view of one of the wildflower meadows that the Water of Leith Conservation Trust has planted along the shores of the river. This one is on the site of the old Bogs Mill. The old mill house, now a residential home, is just behind the bushes on the right of the picture. The meadow is apparently a favourite grazing area for roe deer, though I've never seen them in this meadow (I've seen them several times in other places along Colinton Dell).

The rose hips are already starting to ripen

though the roses are still in bloom

Meanwhile the shaggy ink cap fungi are already old and dripping with ink

(they're not edible at this stage, though when younger they are).

This isn't a perfect photo, but I love how bumble bees (in this case I think it's a white tailed bumble bee) bury their faces in the flowers (in this case common knapweed).
And not caught on camera were my brilliant views of kestrel, sparrowhawk and kingfisher.

Meanwhile, over on Shapeshifting Green, I've posted some photos of a different part of the Water of Leith, better known for its industrial heritage.

as ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday 17 August 2013

The Burrowers

I watch little TV apart from nature programmes, The Simpsons and tennis from Wimbledon. But for all those nature programmes I almost never write about them here! However, given the number of bunny bloggers reading this, I thought I would talk about The Burrowers.

This BBC2 programme looks at the underground lives of three British burrowing mammals - the rabbit, the badger and the water vole. Presented by Chris Packham, the programme created entire artificial underground burrow systems with underground viewing chambers, separated from the burrows by strong glass. This means that the programme can give fascinating insights into animal behaviour never seen before.

It's well worth watching, there's lots of animal cuteness (tiny baby bunnies!, arguing water voles!) and interesting questions (will the lonely badger cub make friends with the other badgers? will the water voles learn to stop arguing?).

You can read a longer review over on The Rabbit House blog

If you missed it last night you can catch it on I-player (only if you're in the UK, I think) and there are two more episodes to go.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more. 

Friday 16 August 2013

Written in Stone

Written in Stone

A stony beach hard on my feet,
a restless sea, green, grey, brown,
splashes of white where ocean waves
meet rocky outcrops, tiny islands.
Here the veil is thin between
earth and heaven, eternity.

Sheep, regardless, eat the seaweed
stranded on the strandline.
This the beach Columba landed,
stones are sacred, water holy.
Bow your head, take off your shoes,
walk on sacred ground.

Among the pebbles, one stands out,
a pretty, pinky marbled grey
with two meandering veins of white
right angled in a central cross –
random chance of nature’s craft
or blessing from Columba?

This poem was inspired by a visit to the island of Iona, where St Columba landed to bring Christianity to Scotland. 

The collage version of the poem (see photo above) is now for sale in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop

I've also put together an Etsy treasury with an elephant theme. Treasuries are a great way to highlight some of the wonderful items on sale on Etsy. Elephants are struggling at the moment, there are rumours that African elephants could be hunted to extinction in the wild in as little as 18 years, which is a terrifying thought.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Neon Literary Magazine Issue 35

I was delighted to be sent a copy of Neon literary magazine to review. It's a beautifully produced publication with a striking monochrome photo on the front. There are more striking black and white photos inside alongside the poetry and short stories.

The poetry and stories tends to be dark and circle round relationships, a selection of the titles hinting at the range of topics covered:

What You Need to Know About Your Caesarean Section by Derek Adams
Boot Sale Blues by Sarah Greenfield Clark
Nothing, Shadows by Jack Brodie

I'm always interested to read how authors relate to nature and there are some good examples here.

Jenny Gray's poem We Always Swam in Rivers uses the great outdoors as a backdrop to a poem that focuses on the narrator and their companion:

"You always
dived deep. 
Red hair flowing behind you."

Noel Sloboda uses nature as metaphor in his poems to describe My Stepfather as a Porcupine and My Mother as a Raccoon. 

Coyote Runs, a short story from US writer Nicole Cloutier, juxtaposes the life of a coyote with a group of youngsters who break into an abandoned rural house. The woods are presented as looming and threatening. This is never how I feel about woodland, but then if I go walking in the woods by myself in Scotland the largest animal I'm likely to encounter is a deer, and although dangerous people can lurk in the woods just as much as they can in the darker streets of Edinburgh, there are fewer examples of fugitives on the run from the law in Scottish woods than in US woods. Anyway those were the thoughts running through my mind as I read this story, which I enjoyed for the observations of the coyote woven in amongst the main narrative and for the thoughtful way the characters are drawn out.

You can find out more about Issue 35 of Neon magazine here.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

The Planet and Stuff

There are so many grim stories about the environment at the moment, here are just a few:

In Texas some towns are losing their water supplies, because the wells are being drained so the water can be used for fracking.

Half the world's hungry people could survive for a year on the food that G8 countries use as biofuels.

The elephant is loved, revered and respected by people and cultures around the world, yet we're on the brink of poaching these magnificent creatures to exctinction.

The real challenge is knowing how to address these issues without giving in to huge pessimism. I always think that creative projects can do a huge amount to get people involved about thinking about the issues in ways that are empowering rather than depressing.

Polka Theatre recently emailed me about their forthcoming production The Planet and Stuff. Polka Theatre produce world class shows for children and with this production they aim to get children engaged in the issues round climate change. As their own publicity says:

From global inequality to your own recycling. From what’s going on up in the atmosphere to where that sweet wrapper in your pocket came from and where it might end up, climate change takes centre stage.

Part live science demo, part hyperactive game show,The Planet and Stuff  is the fact-packed, straight-talking climate change event with all the answers. What could possibly go wrong?

Monday 12 August 2013

Upcycled beaded keyring

I just added this wee keyring to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop. I made it from broken jewellery and a basic keyring from my stash.

Meanwhile I'm delighted that some of my sea pottery shards have been included in this lovely sea themed Etsy Treasury

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Bees drunk on rose nectar

We went foraging for raspberries today along one of the old railway lines that is now a pathway. There were lots of bees about, which was very heartening. Bees of all species are having a hard time at the moment, but the good summer weather we're having this year seems to be good for the bees too. They were everywhere along the side of the path, but seemed to be particularly fond of the roses:

 in the photo below, a hoverfly (a marmalade hoverfly if I'm not mistaken) wants to get into the rose flower, but won't go in while the bee is there!
 It was wonderful to see these three bees all lined up in the three rose flowers, making a lovely loud buzzing noise as they gorged on the nectar and wallowed in the pollen.
We were also delighted to see a group of six freshly fledged wrens flying around and, at a safe distance from the young wrens, this lovely cat wanted to say hello to us but couldn't quite find a safe route through the undergrowth to get close to us!

Despite the roses being in full bloom, some plants are already turned to seed, like these thistles

and we picked many raspberries, which Crafty Green Boyfriend's parents will make into jam.

Friday 9 August 2013

Autumnal colours Fabric wrist cuff

 This is the latest fabric wrist cuff I made. I repurposed an old fabric sample and some white mesh fabric, which is secured to the base fabric with some floral charms. The cuff fastens with a button and a leather 'button-hole'. All materials are repurposed.
Even though I made this with repurposed fabrics I have in my stash, the main colour almost matches Koi, one of the colours in the fall trends as highlighted by Pantone.

This wrist cuff is now for sale in my Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday 8 August 2013

West End Craft Fair

For anyone who loves handcrafted gifts, the West End Craft Fair is an essential part of the Edinburgh Festival experience.The fair offers about 50 stores, in the grounds of St John's Church at the West End of Edinburgh.

I wandered round today and was struck by the range of items and like last year there seem to be quite a lot of new product ranges for sale.

Some of my personal favourites include:

McAnarack Buttons, which not only sell lovely handmade buttons (which you can buy online) but also a wonderful range of customised jackets, which are only available at craft fairs (currently the West End Craft Fair).

Morag Lloyds Textiles who sells wonderful fabric jewellery made from repurposed, reclaimed fabrics and other found treasures.

Elle and Pea who take photos of Scottish coastal scenes and transfer them onto shards of sea pottery

Louise Pringles' Eclectic Shock Jewellery which I'm sure I've highlighted before for their beautiful repurposed jewllery, but this year my eye was caught by what look like new ranges of key rings and earrings made from old coins and other repurposed items.

Wudwerx sells a lovely range of bird and insect houses.

And finally Linda Lovatt of Beastie Brooches makes assemblages and jewellery, including a whole range of rabbit themed items, a selection of which you can see in this post on her blog.

So, if you're in Edinburgh be sure to browse this wonderful treasure trove! And if you're looking for fair trade gifts, the One World Shop can be found in St John's Church alongside Henderson's at St Johns vegetarian cafe, which is an ideal place for lunch or coffee.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

haiku and birds

dusty paths -
a butterfly flies
alongside me


Definitely high summer along the John Muir walkway at Musselburgh today. Lots of butterflies about.

When I got to the bird reserve on the old ash lagoons, I was delighted to see my first ever ruff. I had read that it was there, but had worried that with it not being in breeding plumage, I might not recognise it. Never fear, even without the magnificent breeding feathers, it's still a fine looking bird.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Quiet Forest 2

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I enjoyed a tasty supper at Forest Cafe this evening, while enjoying Quiet Forest, the one day exhibition of varied and creative poetry installations and activities. Here are photos from the evening.
Rita Bradd shared three installations - haiku hidden in bamboo pipes, poems written on tea sachets arranged in a tea pot and mini artist books inspired by a trip to Shetland.

The next photo shows three poets' work:

Steven Fraser's book Bad Teenage Poetry takes a comic book approach to poetry.

Katherine MacMahon's book Recipe for a Universe combines poetry, recipes, photos and physics. 

Alexander 'Twig' Champion wrote poetry on fallen branches and other found natural items and planted them in the plant pots round the cafe.

Stephanie Arskosa's audio piece 'When I was Wee...' asked the audience to respons creatively to the statement 'when i was wee I believed.....' (see photo below)

A J Sutherland had taken photos and written poems inspired by the Anthony Gormley statues along the Water of Leith

Marc Malone's Exercisations are fitness inspired artworks paired with poems

You can see my poetic contribution to the event in my previous blog post here.

Quiet Forest is a one day event - the Forest Cafe is open until 10pm tonight, so if you're in Edinburgh, why not pop along and have a look. The cafe serves good veggie food too (we had burritos followed by carrot cake).

Quiet Forest

Edinburgh's Forest Cafe has become a poetry installation for the day! Organised by Inky Fingers,      Quiet Forest is an exhibition of poetry installations, poetry activities and interactive poetry. 

I'm delighted to have some poetry windchimes / hanging mobiles as part of the exhibition:

a wrought iron fence – spotted with rust and ladybirds

I locked my secret
in my heart -
told no-one but my dog
who ran away.

summer shower -
raindrops sparkle
on roses

the last birdsong of summer -
the first falling leaves

All my mobiles are made using reclaimed materials and poetry fragments inspired by the materials.

The whole cafe is now full of poetry from:
Marc Malone, Rebecca Green, Rita Bradd, Alexander Champion, Steven Fraser, JA Sutherland,  Stewart Hogg, Stephanie Arsoska (and me).

Here's it being set up this morning, which gives you an idea of how part of the space looks:

So if you're in Edinburgh, why not pop along and enjoy the poetry! And have some of the Forest Cafe's delcious vegan food while you're there.

Quiet Forest is at The Forest Cafe until 10pm tonight.

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I will be there later and I'm hoping to get some good photos of the other artist's works and post them here tomorrow. 

Monday 5 August 2013

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

This is the tale of how Bryson and an old school aquaintaince, Katz, hike the Appalachian trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. They don't actually hike the whole thing, but they do cover an impressive amount of it and they have quite an adventure on the way. Bryson's observations on the people they meet along the way is a little cruel sometimes (I'm sure Mary Ellen was difficult to spend a few days with and Katz dousn't sound like the easiest person either, but does this need to be so expanded on? I guess the answer is that is one of the things that sells books).

Bryson weaves into his narrative lots of information about the US National parks system, tree diseases, the history of hiking in the USA (and specifically the Appalachian Way itself), the fact that US towns are designed for motorists and no-one really walks anywhere any more, the complexities of buying hiking equipment, the deprivations of wilderness hiking and how to deter bear attacks. This was the most enjoyable element of the book for me.

I was slightly disappointed that Bryson wasn't more fascinated by the natural history of the forests they passed through. I know that scale of hiking is exhausting and leaves little energy for looking around and taking in your surroundings, but I had hoped for more birding and botanising observations along the way.

Something that amused me was that while Bryson comes across in his writing as an American, his comments about hiking in the Lake District (meaning the English Lake District) make it clear he's writing from a British perspective for a British audience. I wonder if these elements are changed in the US version of the book?

A lot has probably changed since this book was written in 1997 but it's still a fascinating read.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson published by Doubleday

Saturday 3 August 2013

Palms and Birds

We went to Edinburgh Botanic Gardens today. To get there we walked through Inverleith Park, where we found outselves surrounded by low flying house martins and sand martins, a lovely experience! The sand martins were quite unexpected here, as they are birds very closely connected with water and though there are ponds and the Water of Leith not far from where we saw them, they seem to have strayed quite far from the actual water!

There's an excellent exhibition on at the Botanics at the moment. The World of Palms looks at the biology, ecology and cultural significance of palm trees. Lots of artifacts are on display, including a large Malawian mat, very similar to several I had in my house when I lived over there! The exhibition also explores the negative ecological and social impacts of oil palm plantations.

This is a touring exhibition from the Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the information boards are all in German as well as English.

Alongside this is a small and informative exhibition about ash dieback, the killer diesease that currently threatens ash trees in the includes clear photos on how to recognise the signs of this disease so that the general public can hopefully help to prevent its spread.

The World of Palms is on until 20 October.  

Moving Forward from Ash Dieback is on until 31 August. 

Both in the John Hope Gateway of the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Friday 2 August 2013

Tanka and fireworks

we know
the fireworks damage
the buildings -
yet every year, again
the festival fireworks


Last night it was the fireworks to celebrate the official beginning of the Edinburgh festival season. After 11pm on a midweek night. A few years ago there were incidents with falling masonry (including someone who died because masonry fell on her) in the centre of Edinburgh. The masonry was shown to be weakened by all the fireworks that go on in the city during the festival season (there's a small display every night during the festival and then the large and lavish display at the end, as well as the medium display at the beginning.)

So we have evidence that the fireworks are weakening our buildings, putting at risk our architectural heritage and people's lives. Rabbits and birds are also sometimes injured or killed by the fireworks. So what do we do? We carry on with the fireworks displays, year on year, just making them slightly quieter.

This feels like a metaphor for something bigger....


Meanwhile, to co-incide with the Big Butterfly Count, I've put together a Butterfly themed treasury on Etsy.  If you're in the UK, the count is running until 11 August, so before then try to make time to get out and count the butterflies! The lovely summer weather we've (mostly) been having has meant a bumper year for many butterfly species, which are bouncing back somewhat after many years of decline.

and finally, I'm delighted to have some poetry windchimes in this exhibition at the Forest Cafe in Edinburgh. 

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more

Thursday 1 August 2013


Blackfish is a documentary exposing the reality behind Seaworld and other marine entertainment parks. The film focusses on a large male orca that killed two trainers. Former Seaworld trainers talk about how they became disillusioned with the work, discussing issues relating to health and safety at work, lack of transparency and animal rights. There's also a lot of footage of the fatal accidents caused when orcas went bad and killed trainers at marine parks (in fact sometimes it felt like "When Killer Whales Attack!" rather than an animal rights expose.)

Most of the interviews emphasise the problems of working with animals that can be dangerous, rather than trying to explore in depth why these animals do in fact become dangerous. Orcas don't attack humans in the wild, so why do they do it in captivity? The footage speaks for itself in making the point that intelligent creatures such as orcas shouldn't be confined to small metal swimming pools nor should family groups be split up (watching and hearing mother orcas screaming when their babies are taken away is very distressing). Treating them in such ways, is it any surprise that they turn on their keepers to vent their frustrations?

This is a very powerful film, making the clear point that if we mistreat wild animals, then we can't be surprised when they turn round and take revenge. Orcas should live wild in the oceans with their family groups, not be caged in small pools and expected to jump when we tell them to. 

If you are concerned about this issue, you can pledge not to visit marine parks that use animals for entertainment.

Good news: India recently banned commercial dolphin entertainment.

Blackfish is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse today only.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.