Survival is a common thread here.
Trivially, WordPress have just reminded me that I’ve now been writing, and photographing for these posts, for 7 years. I’ve survived for that long. This surprised me – that on one level I’m still wanting to spend the time doing this, and indeed sharing thoughts and ideas in a public place. With no economic reward. Not at all an entrepreneurial activity really, which is how I spent much of my former existence in one way or another. Striving to achieve, compete, and certainly do more than just “survive”.
Yet I’m still seeing things which excite me, either in the garden, or on our few acres, which make me realise how little I know or understand about how the bigger natural world interacts, and how, here, survival really is the name of the game.
Even just on an often wet, bare Welsh hillside.
As a theme, it seems that this is beneath much of current, and largely urban based human thought, endeavour, or artistic creativity.
Our species often now seems to have moved beyond thoughts of such basic contemplation. Only occasionally having the fragility of human frailty brought into clearer focus by events closer to home. Perhaps this is why I enjoy the insights which ordinary folk, with no one to answer to, can share through today’s interconnected world.So, as I began this post many days ago whilst our ground struggled to return to normal temperatures after the Big Freeze-Up, (or more correctly, Down, since soil is still frozen once one gets down 2 inches), a few vignettes of true local survival skills.
Beginning with the efforts of a single song thrush, Turdus philomelos.
Unperturbed by my presence beneath the drip line of our cottage slates, camera to my eye, it systematically scanned the west facing, and warmer, aspect of the fern and lichen adorned stone wall. Clearly seeking snails. At a time when much of the landscape, and available food sources were inaccessible. Eventually it reached a point where it must have spotted something from its ground level vantage point, and repeatedly took off, trying to cling to the scraps of foliage whilst attempting to probe for a morsel. It was sufficiently excited to briefly chatter noisily, but in spite of repeated efforts, I don’t think it could winkle whatever it had seen out of its rocky refuge, and eventually, empty beaked, moved on.
Now, read a story from sets of tracks on our snowy magic terrace garden. The couple of inches of snow which fell at dusk made for an interesting dawn dressing-gowned walk. But what happened here?
The familiar bounding rabbit tracks are clear, but joining them another set. A fox perhaps?
Rewind and try to work out the nocturnal scene, and chase.
Rabbit enters stage North, passes through the upper archway, out of the magic terrace garden, and then, turns back. Leisurely lollops along, about 2 feet gaps between tracks. Without my pee marked posts, thanks to a frozen watering can, it returns, crossing the central snow covered terrace and picks up the most easterly, curving crushed slate path. Just before a magic wooden mushroom, to the left, something dramatic happens.
The gap between foot touchdown extends. To very nearly 7 feet. What a leap.
The other set of predator tracks has crept up, hidden by the slope, and maybe, tracking its prey’s progress now closes in.
The rabbit explodes away. The fox lunges. The Southerly arch is reached in a flurry of snowy dust and strained sinews.
The rabbit curves right, beyond the inscrutable pheasant and at last is safe. Bounding up the hill and past the big bag bottle banks.
The fox gives up, and maybe that night, goes hungry.
So cold, the frozen barrelled discs linger.
Fractured planets. Sky fallen. Melting days.
So strong the winds, that sucked the warmth from chilly stream.
Ice padded feet, frozen toes dipped, mill water runs. Quietly.
So hard, the sodden slippery pastures, morphed to granite slabs,
Before the gentle flakes fell, soft, at dusk.
But meanwhile, Eastern spies who’d dodged the guns en route,
Found still muddied ribbons, low beneath the uncut hazel rods.
Now equal battle, this is not. The hunter – double goat-socked, booted,
Thinsulated gloved and scarved.
Now beanied, gileted, coated, over-trousered for
The patient quest.
Now grabbed the roving extra lens and ponderously
Traipsed past hungry ewes to start the flush.
But unseen eyes and barred-backed, feathered
Bodies probed. Still. Beaks and brains unflustered.
If only I had braved this tingling Arctic blast unhurried,
Perhaps I would have seen.
If only I had twitched my finger shuttered
Third eye fast enough.
If only, quickly, swung my clumsy arms round, wide,
Perhaps I would have snatched the perfect shot.
But every time, ignoring glasnost,
Patiently, the hunt resumed along the quarter-mile
Peripheral plod. Clutching elbows raised.
Patiently, and quietly, my un-camouflaged figure
Scanned the drab scene, feet ahead.
Patiently, I never guessed when next the feathered shotgun
Blasts before me – every time surprised.
But every time for days, at dawn, and dusk,
This thrill was life. Silently beguiled.
Exactly how to word this flight? Zig-zagged for sure,
Though always unpredictable, to left, or right.
Exactly how to hue these blurry scenes? Seen early,
Impressionistic, tundral grey and white.
Exactly tilted under-wing exposed, perhaps to
Veer more sharply, low, ground hugging,
But swiftly merging, gaining height and colour changing
Against the trees, now browns and beiges, triple bars in cream.
Regrets? Flown higher, nearly out of sight, the silhouette’s familiar now,
Focus locked with enviable artificial speed.
Regrets? The rain’s returned. The thaw’s set in.
Softer worm filled mud silts everywhere.
Regrets? The four, per walk, perhaps not quite collectively, a wisp,
For such explosive onomatopoeia sums them.
But for this Sniper? Mystery glimpses, snippets, snaps, of life’s rich glow,
The understated, Putinesque, yet hen like, Gallinago gallinago.
In the garden, the miracle recovery of freeze-dried plant foliage has amazed us both. Eventually the return of rain, along with a gradual thaw over many days, revived the garden scene, from this.
To this.It seems that some of the science behind this has only very recently begun to be understood. And needless to say, this has fascinated me. However, since I seem to have rashly agreed to once more stand up in front of people next winter and talk a little about my passion for snowdrops, I want to retain a little secrecy for now. Anyone interested in more can trawl the pages of scientific papers and reviews. Or wait for 2019.
A thoroughly interesting and stimulating post.
Thanks TP, Glad you enjoyed it,
I loved that blog
Glad you enjoyed it,
Do hope Fiona’s muscles have recovered now and that you are making sure she rests!!! It was lovely to see you both on Sunday …little did I know then that you were going to post another wonderful poem with some great photos too. You must have been a Boy Scout to deduce all that info from the tracks…a lovely tale with a happy ending.
Thanks Marianne… sadly F is still struggling – we think it will be a long haul – anyway lovely to see you and what a great exhibition at ABG.
No I never did scouting, and I maybe completely wrong, but I reckon that’s what was happening – just now trying to work out if we have Water Voles here. which would be very exciting. But really I need better photos first, so I’ve called in an expert!
Sorry to read about Fiona. Now water voles…that’s something really exciting …again! Years ago we used to go walking after work around our local nature reserve and water voles were regularly seen. Our walk wouldn’t have been complete if we didn’t see Walter, our very own water vole! Wonderful creatures. Look forward to hearing what your ‘expert’ says. Keep posting!
Thanks Marianne…I like the idea of Walter the water vole….will let you know! Though we’ll have to think of our own nickname now!
I have always lived in towns. I have always enjoyed visits to the countryside but admit to being brought up as a completely urban person. I am now probably peri-urban, not in the wilds but it has changed my thoughts so much. Confusing, actually and yes, distant from my former ideas. Your environment changes you whether you want it to or not. And what would it be like to return to the town? So glad that the garden has recovered from a point that it looked as if only green slush would remain. Amelia
Many thanks for this really interesting point. We spent over 20 years in a city, always enjoying any time briefly spent in the countryside, though we frankly weren’t really city people.
You’re completely right that our environment has completely changed our take on the world and life. Whether this is always a positive thing or not, I don’t know. But I suppose my point is that in an increasingly crowded island like the UK, it’s more of a rare slant on things to view things from a very rural existence – partly it’s what motivates me to write and photograph as I do – I feel the need to have some sort of counterbalance to what’s fed us ( even in our consciously media deprived existence here).
Would we want to return to a town…. Like many living in this part of the world the answer, for now, is a resounding NO. We might moan about all sorts of things – mainly the weather, septice tanks and drainage and internet access! But most wouldn’t trade it for anything else …which I guess means we all really value this place very highly,
I too am concerned with what is being fed to us and our need to form our own ideas. Perhaps it is more what we absorb from what is regarded as successful and respected around us. We are forever astounded by the rural population here and their lack of knowledge about the nature that surrounds them. Amelia
Thanks Amelia… I know you’ve mentioned it before, but it’s really surprising that the local rural population should be so divorced from the natural world around them….and quite scary! I do think we’re fortunate in having quite a few local folk ( though perhaps mainly “incomers”) who really on switched on to such matters.
I enjoyed these observations about blogging, and the story at the end!
Thanks Ali, and glad you enjoyed reading this piee,