Hunting Gold and Bonfire Skies; Magic M on M’s; and Ovine Entanglement.

“What’s the rush?”

Was the query from beneath the quilts this morning, as I delivered the early morning cuppa to Fiona, still in cosy comfort.S1030034 (2)

I’m on sunrise alert. Partly because the weather and day length make any outdoor activity a constant challenge for the next few months, but mainly because early November and early February are when the sun rises behind the special copse on the hill summit, South East of our front door. So, the merest hint of morning light squeezing past the tiny drawn bedroom curtains, has me peering out to see if it’s worth a wander.S1030004 (2)

Put the kettle on in the kitchen, soak up the golden glow around the peacock feathers perched in the window.SDIM9539 (2)And then, never minding the chill from dressing gowned attire, nip outside, possibly even before the first cup of tea.

Where will it rise today? I can sympathise with the ancients’ fascination with the hoped for return of the sun each day.S1110024 (2)

Early mornings can really lift the spirits for the whole day.S1010026 (2)

And there have been some special moments over the last 10 days, but not I fear now, that really longed for special moment of the sun sneaking over the horizon and illuminating the copse from directly behind. Its daily march round the ring of hills to the south of Rhydcymerau, means only 3 consecutive days in spring and autumn will bring potential for this specific view.S1010030 (2)

A few days too early, we had a brief clear interlude above the hill top, but the sunrise was too far to the East.S1110023 (2)

One of the garden’s territorial robins seemed to sense a special moment and allowed its picture to be taken against a gold rimmed cloud.S1010007 (2)S1010011 (2)

And in amongst the showers, we’ve had some truly magical rainbows, as the sun soon dips from its zenith and sinks in the West.S1010074 (2)S1010101aJPG (2)S1010073 (2)Is there a pot of gold somewhere beneath the landing point of such aerial magic?S1010074.aJPG (3)S1010102 (2a) (3)S1010074.abJPG (2)

Maybe next February, will give us a colder, clear snap at just the right time? But the latest Met Office data confirms that October has been another warmer than average month, along with all the other months of 2014 apart from August.S1020007 (2)

Then, after beginning to write this post, on this Guy Fawkes, bonfire day morning, a day too late for the ‘through the trees moment’, there were some fireworks in the sky.S1030002 (2)S1030014 (2)S1030015 (2)S1030026 (2a)b (2) Opposite us, the old farmhouse is alert for the moment. She’s seen it all before through the decades, but for the first time I catch her eyes.

She sees me, and flashes a greeting across the valley, her chimneys joining in the fleeting arousal.

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It’s a little strange that all the leaves are already off our major trees in time for November 5th. I’ve noticed in recent years that this rarely seems to happen, though fond childhood memories of family bonfire nights, always seemed to happen to a backdrop of skeletal trees. My guess is that this year’s extended dry period in the summer and September was sufficient to initiate early leaf fall.S1010092 (2)S1010094 (2)

As always, the two most reliable trees in the garden for autumn colour (aside from the Acers), have excelled again this year. Sorbus ‘Olympic Flame’ is a form of S. commixta which arose as a seedling collected from South Korea in the 1970’s, and is marketed elsewhere as S. ‘Dodong’, after the port on the island of Ulladong on which it was found.SDIM9570 (3) It always colours a little earlier than our favourite, Sorbus sargentiana, which features leaves in burned orange to gold.SDIM9566 (2) But both trees lose their leaves as complete complex multi-leaf clusters, with the individual leaves still firmly attached to the central petiole, so that the display continues to brighten the scene on the ground, once they’ve fallen.S1110033 (2) I guessed that the ‘sargentiana‘ was in memory of a famous botanist, and indeed it was.

Charles Sprague Sargent was an American botanist, tree expert and founder and director of the Arnold Arboretum, which falls under the umbrella of Harvard University in the U.S.A.

Click here for a link to the arboretum’s website, and an array of photos and information on the huge range of trees that they grow with many significant collections – their Acers and Malus looked particularly beautiful.S1010052 (2)

The Sorbus named in honour of Sargent isn’t just impressive for its autumn colour, the more so since the leaves are the largest of any Sorbus, but also because it produces typical large clusters of orange rowan berries, which never last long, since the birds love them. These develop from huge corymbs of white flowers in spring. Its other notable feature is the wonderful red sticky buds, produced at the end of winter, and an interesting stocky spreading habit, gradually producing a rounded crown.SDIM9567 (2)We’re training both a Clematis ‘Jackmanii Superba’ (purple flowers) and a climbing Rosa ‘Albéric Barbier’ (with cream flowers), up through it to, make it even more glorious. In its native regions of Sichuan and Yunnan, it can grow up to 50 feet tall with a 20 inch diameter trunk, growing in mountainous regions between 6 and 10,000 feet.S1110030 (2) Like many other plants of Chinese origin, it seems to thrive in the environment at Gelli Uchaf.S1020015.aJPG (2)

More magic and colours in the lower copse, where my chainsaw shaped, moss capped mushrooms, have this year sprouted crops of mushrooms, from both their stump bases, as well as their long surface contouring roots.S1020012 (2) They seem to be Shaggy Pholiota, Pholiota squarrosa. Roger Phillips’ excellent book on mushrooms lists them as being ‘occasional’, inedible, and more usually at the base of deciduous and very occasionally coniferous trees.S1020011 (2) Both trees were indeed firs, and whilst living had numerous Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria, which sprouted around them – again not expected for conifers.

Neither species has obviously read what conditions they’re meant to enjoy.S1020009 (2)

Interestingly the mushroom trunks on the magic terrace, which enjoy a more open location, are as yet showing no signs of fungal fruiting, though they were fashioned a few months after the first two. The plan always was to give the trees a life after death, and a place in the garden, gradually decaying through fungal, moss and lichen attack, at roughly the same rate of decay as the tending gardeners. So that as the gardeners leave the scene, the mushroom tree stumps will be collapsing into oblivion as well. I’m not sure whether this latest observation puts the mushroom stumps ahead, or behind, the curve.

I mentioned before that tupping time is in full swing. Doublet, our ram lamb, has graduated from yellow raddle to green over the last 10 days.S1000004 (2) For those unfamiliar with the shepherd’s meaning for ‘raddled’, it refers to the practice of using coloured dyes to mark the brisket of the ram, and so identify any ewes that have been mated. Not therefore the ruddy cheeked, or hung over, alternative meanings for the word. This coloured marking helps estimate lambing dates, as well as giving an initial idea of whether the ram is actually doing anything, since much mating activity seems to be nocturnal. A ewe typically comes into season, oestrous, about once every 17 days for a period of about 24 hours. So, by changing colours every 17 days, you can get an idea of whether a particular ewe has been mated, and whether it’s then conceived – clearly if she ends up with mixed colours, one assumes that she didn’t ‘take’ to the first mating episode.

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Fortunately, Doublet, is very amenable to having his brisket smeared in coloured gunge, and always races across the field for his morning treats. So, I was somewhat taken aback a week ago to see him, cartoon style, trying to gallop up the hill, but going nowhere.

Climbing to the bottom of the field soon clarified the problem. He’d pushed beneath a couple of long bramble stems which had grown over the fence, and become tangled in them. He literally couldn’t move forwards or back.S1110002 (2)Armed with a pair of secateurs, we were able to cut him free from the brambles and then tug them out of his fleece. None the worse for wear, he was soon back to business, raising his head in typical Flehmen posture, and apparently sniffing the air for any hint of one of his harem coming on heat. In fact the flared nostrils aren’t an attempt to smell through his nose. What’s happening is that the nostrils are being closed, and air is being sucked in behind the incisor teeth into a narrow channel that leads to a specialised sensory organ called the vomeronasal, or Jacobson’s organ, situated at the rear of the nasal cavity, and the mouth. Click here for more.S1110007 (2) Pheromones released in the urine, or from the ewe’s genital tract, give the clue as to when she will both become receptive to the ram, and ovulate. There is huge variation amongst mammals over when oestrous occurs – it may be seasonal as in sheep; or continuous (polyestrous, as in pigs and cows); or even occur just once a year, as in foxes. Click here for more. But in most cases, it’s linked to available food for offspring available, and is controlled in part by the action of melatonin, which controls the day-night cycles critical to many biological functions.

In researching this hormone, I discovered that it’s also present in bacteria, plants and fungi, so probably has a role in the seasonal emergence of many mushrooms, as well as triggering the onset and cessation of egg laying in our poultry. Interestingly our turkeys are still laying, though our hens have all stopped for now. Click here for more on melatonin, including its role in normal sleep patterns. S1110013 (2)Much has been discovered about melatonin since my physiology and biochemistry lectures, including more on its synthesis in animals from another significant neurotransmitter chemical – serotonin, which also has multiple actions within the body. Click here for an outline of its critical roles within the body.

There is a purpose in this deviation in my train of thought, since this week saw Professor Andrew Oswald from Warwick University, who as an economist has spent a lifetime looking at what makes different peoples happy, publish some interesting serotonin linked research.

His previous research has shown us that happy people are weighted towards the young and old, (not middle-aged), rich, educated, married, in work, healthy exercise-takers, and slim – with diets high in fruit and vegetables. In addition to these lifestyle factors, the standard of government and institutions within a country, as well as how equal the people are within them, has been shown to have an effect.

But his latest work, presented at this year’s ESRC Festival of Social Sciences, shows that genetics may play a role. More specifically the inheritance of a gene controlling serotonin metabolism. The Danes and Dutch, who are ranked as the happiest in the world, have a high incidence of a long form of the particular gene. The Brits, Americans have a higher incidence of a shortened form of this gene, and rank less well in national happiness surveys, with the French and Italians even worse off. A brief and simplistic summary of some fascinating work. Click here for more, on how he’s investigated this topic.

So, as the days continue to shorten, and I sometimes feel that hibernation would be the best route to February, (like the smooth newt, below, which I spotted by torch light half way up the inside wall in our Carthouse last week, as I nipped out to collect some potatoes).S1010001 (2)S1010003 (2)

Maybe such thoughts of a long winter sleep are just a complex dance between my genes, neurotransmitters and that fleetingly available light. And what would you miss, holed up in a wall?S1010099 (2)S1110038 (2)S1010042 (2)S1010070 (2)S1010063 (2)S1110018 (2)


12 thoughts on “Hunting Gold and Bonfire Skies; Magic M on M’s; and Ovine Entanglement.

  1. Hi Julian,
    Finally I’ve had the time to catch up with your blogs again, and I must say, a most impressive bunch of autumn posts! Amongst the things I really appreciate is your ability consistently to see familiar scenes and subjects in totally different ways and lights – truly wonderful art!

    By the way, after your comments on happiness, I thought you might like to have a look at the Economist’s take on it in this article from a very recent issue. It relies on a different source for it’s data and although some of the conclusions are the same as your reference, the Economist inevitably relies a little more on economics than biology. It does deviate in the last paragraphs, however, where it states:

    “Within countries, richer people express more satisfaction than their poorer neighbours. The study divided respondents into categories with higher and lower incomes and fewer and more household goods. In every country in every group, richer folk with more goods expressed higher levels of happiness. So at a personal (as opposed to national) level, money does buy happiness. And if you ask people about different aspects of their lives—health, family life, religion, standard of living—it turns out that satisfaction with living standards still has the biggest influence on happiness.

    But the secret of happiness has been scattered around. Women tend to be happier than men. Married people are happier than unmarried ones. Latin Americans are more satisfied than people in other emerging markets. Asians are the most optimistic; Middle Easterners the least. Income still matters. But it has been dethroned.”

    (I’ve included the extensive quote, because the Economist resides behind a paywall, and generally limits non-subscribers to a minimum number of articles per period. If you haven’t reached your limit, do have a look at the article here:

    Keep warm this winter!

    • Hello Kevin,
      Glad you enjoyed this post, which indeed I enjoyed putting together. In places!!
      As always your insight and quote from The Economist adds to the happiness discussion – I rarely visit their site, so might be allowed to read the full piece, which I shall try to do. I quite understand that you have had a lot on your plate recently, but I’m glad you’ve been able to catch up now. My ability , such as it is, to see things in a different light is however the inevitable consequence of living off the wheel in a hole in a Welsh hillside, with nothing else to occupy my time, rather than any greater skill. Simple hobbit hermit that I am,
      Best wishes

  2. I must be blessed with a particularly long gene as I’m usually a very happy person until this time of year when a cloud descends! Thank goodness I have your wonderful photographs and blog to brighten the cold, wet and dark days of winter! Thanks Julian.

    • Hello Marianne,
      Thank you for such a kind comment. I read the other day, which is indeed my experience, that you need 3 times as much light to be able to read when you’re past 60, as you did when you’re a teenager (probably in an ad for an expensive reading light, come to think of it!), so maybe SAD problems are inevitably more prevalent as you get older? I reckon, though some will no doubt disagree, that I’m maybe a longer gene person most of the time…though one can never quite be sure whether I’m not slip streaming in Fiona’s very upbeat wake!
      Best wishes

  3. Hello, just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading your blog this evening, love the idea of the mushroom stools decaying in time with the gardeners, it seems very poetic.

    • Hello Julie,
      Glad you liked the post – I must admit to being surprised just how quickly and extensively this mushroom has affected these particular large mushroom shaped stumps – to begin with I just wanted to leave something of these firs since the roots were very organic running over our mossy paths. It’ll be interesting to see just what else will grow on them – the moss is already creeping up the bases, and elsewhere on the terrace mushrooms, purple leaved Bugle is scaling the lower bit of the trunk. So they’re blending in much better now. But one of the reasons I blog, is because I’m sure that when we move out/on, the garden will collapse and decay. So the whole process does have a certain in built poetry or, art, or pathos, to it. Perhaps?
      Best wishes

  4. I can not express to you just how much I LOVE your postings! I prepare a cuppa tea and relish my time spent looking at your incredible photos and soaking up topic of the day. Food for the soul and mind! (Sitting by my woodstove here in the country…my hobbit hole!)

    • Hello Jenny,
      Thank you so much. It is a real boost to keep going when I get this sort of comment! And of course it’s nice to know that all over the world there are others who enjoy their own little hobbit hole of peace and solitude in this mad, mad world. Long may the hobbits survive! Though just here and now, yet more threats are on this hobbit’s horizon…more next post!
      best wishes

  5. I wish I had more time to keep up with your posts – there is so much pleasure to be had in the simple of things of life. Lots of interesting snippets here but the one that’s really got me thinking is the newt – I wonder where my newts go?! I assumed they buried themselves in log piles or the like …

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