“What’s the rush?”
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.
Put the kettle on in the kitchen, soak up the golden glow around the peacock feathers perched in the window.And then, never minding the chill from dressing gowned attire, nip outside, possibly even before the first cup of tea.
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.
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.Is there a pot of gold somewhere beneath the landing point of such aerial magic?
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. It always colours a little earlier than our favourite, Sorbus sargentiana, which features leaves in burned orange to gold. 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. 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.
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.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. Like many other plants of Chinese origin, it seems to thrive in the environment at Gelli Uchaf.
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. 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. Both trees were indeed firs, and whilst living had numerous Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria, which sprouted around them – again not expected for conifers.
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. 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.
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.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. 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. 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).