Seas, Crises, Wobbles, Eunice, Wild, and Shooting Star.

The garden is full of white at the moment, a veritable sea of snowdrops, but today it’s two other, stronger, early spring colours I’d like to open with.

Yellow. And Blue. And the briefest mention of another one, red, that hardly features in our winter garden, or indeed in the wider natural world around us, with its disturbing associations with aggression.

Whether a gale is blowing or not, I salute the brave nation of Ukraine in standing up to the aggression it’s currently being subjected to.

This post is dedicated to their ongoing struggle.

If you didn’t know this anthem and its lyrics, you should listen to it, or read this webpage which begins thus:

THE HISTORY OF UKRAINE’S NATIONAL ANTHEM
“Ukraine is not yet dead”, the first line of a patriotic poem written by Pavlo Chubynsky in 1862, the prose, later to accompany a musical score written a year later by Mykhailo Verbytsky, a Ukrainian composer and Catholic priest, denotes the cultural mix of hope and desperation felt by Ukrainians through the centuries to rule their own land. Widely sung as a hymn originally, both the melody and lyrics share similarities with Polish, Serbian, and Israeli anthems. Formally adopted as the national anthem of the briefly independent Ukrainian National Republic after Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Ukraine’s national anthem became a source of controversy in 1991 when the country’s second, but permanent, independence declaration was secured.”

Should you wish to express your own views on this unnecessary conflict, there is a petition and open letter you can sign, co-ordinated by campaign group AVAAZ, by following this secure link – https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/stop_the_war_loc/?cMLnudb

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How bizarre? How appropriately timed.

After roughly 23,000 days, or nights, of personal, potential moon gazing opportunity, I’ve discovered something new and wonderful about our earth’s natural satellite. Well, actually lots of interesting things, though many of these will be old hat to anyone with an interest or understanding of basic astronomy. However I was never hooked by (Sir) Patrick Moore, “The Sky at Night”, or anything else focused on the celestial, finding the sheer scale of everything up there just too difficult to comprehend. So preferred to be fascinated more by the minutiae of life down here, and largely ignored the magnitude of more distant objects and happenings.

(Before continuing, what about the etymology of ‘bizarre’? I was going to begin with “how strange”, but reckon that bizarre may indeed be a better choice since etymonline says -.

from the Italian bizarro  – “irascible, tending to quick flashes of anger” (13c.), from bizza “fit of anger, quick flash of anger” (13c.). The sense in Italian evolved to “unpredictable, eccentric,” then “strange, weird,” in which sense it was taken into French and then English.)

My journey of personal illumination began with a number of images I’d taken of the moon during the last 10 days, when breaks in the cloud seemed to open up only at dawn or dusk. Studying one photo, I noticed what I took to be a large crater on the ‘Northern’ surface of the moon, which with a little bit of research turned out to be one of the many named large ‘mare’ or seas, which pepper the surface of the moon, at least on the surface which we always see. And what’s the name of this, for me, only very recently observed sea?

Mare Crisium, or ‘Sea of Crises‘.

I had heard of the ‘Sea of Tranquility’ on the moon’s surface, recalling the great excitement when our class of teenagers was allowed to watch the blast off of the Apollo 11 mission rocket at school, on the sitting room TV (if I remember correctly) of our German teacher and housemaster, Mr. Humphries, way back in 1969. 4 days later the lunar module touched down in this ‘Sea of Tranquility’.

The many named lunar ‘mare’ or seas’, were so called because in the early days of moon study, these dark, flat looking surfaces were thought to be filled with water. In fact, they’re now considered to be the result of impacts from huge meteor hits, crashing through the thin outer layer of the moon’s surface and exposing the basalt minerals below. In the case of Mare Crisium, the impact apparently happened about 3.9 million years ago. Fortunately there are wonderful bloggers, such as Andrew Planck, who know all about the minute details of the moon’s surface, and have been studying it in great detail for decades,

His blog gives regular updates of what you might be able to see if you look up at the moon, in a particular week of the year.

But I also discovered that experts still aren’t completely certain about how the moon came into existence. The most likely current theory being that it formed not long after the earth, around 4.5 billion years ago, when a postulated giant Mars sized body called ‘Theia’ smashed into the earth’s surface, and some of the resultant debris split off, forming the moon, which gradually shifted into the relatively stable and slightly elliptical orbit in which it now sits. I’m also ashamed to admit that I didn’t know that we only ever see one side of the moon from earth. The far, dark side of the moon looks very different to the large mare patterned view we always get to see, being pocked with multiple smaller irregular craters from meteor hits. I probably had a better visual image of the cover of the iconic seventies Pink Floyd album cover, than the real thing. Here’s an interesting creative take on one of their tracks from this classic early ’70’s album.

Just why we only get to see one side of the moon is brilliantly illustrated by several short videos on the NASA website, which show the relative movements of the moon and earth and also the moon’s regular slight wobble, or libration, as it passes through phases of its visual appearance from earth. These wobbles mean we never quite see the same view of the near side surface, as the moon waxes and wanes from full to new, and back again, as it rotates the earth and picks up more, or less of the sun’s illumination on it’s monthly cycle of about 27.3 days. Well worth a look, if like me, you know little of such detail.https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4874

But back to that name. The ‘Sea of Crises’.

How appropriate for me to discover this crater on the moon, and indeed its name, in the week we’ve just had here. Three named storms, ‘Dudley’, ‘Eunice’ and ‘Franklin’, have battered us after the previous weekend of (67 mm) persistent rain had us largely confined inside, and all garden visitors were postponed. And then the madness of President Putin finally making a move, and mounting a full scale invasion of Ukraine after weeks of speculation about what he might do. With the potential for sparking a vastly greater crisis, which is evolving very fast as I write this. I might have hazarded an early guess at how the new virus discovered in January 2020 might impact on our lives, with my zoonotic aware background, but my ability to crystal ball gaze on where this latest crazed political decision might lead in 6 months or longer is completely beyond me. Having lost faith in the integrity of many of our political leaders, one is left despairing and wondering whether things could really get any worse? I’m just holding my, deeply inhaled, breath, and feel such immense grief and sympathy for the ordinary people in both countries caught up in this conflagration, through no fault of their own.

But back to our very own local, and by comparison banal, small scale personal crisis. For the first time since we’ve organised the annual event where we cull a couple of ewes to provide us with home reared mutton for the year, the long walk from pen to barn was a slithering struggle on sodden ground. The deed completed, we’d arranged for Neal to return 6 days later to butcher the carcasses, but by then the forecast for Friday was becoming worse by the hour, with ever stronger winds and even the prospect of blizzards, and we were delighted that he phoned us to offer to return the previous evening. Job completed, we left the joints on racks on tables in our cart shed overnight, pondering our next move.

Should we try to freeze them in advance of possible power outages? Or just keep them, relatively chilled, in the cave like atmosphere of the barn’s lower storey for a bit longer? In the end our decision to bone much of the meat out, and de-fat it, to reduce the space required to fit it all in, meant that the full force of storm Eunice was hitting us, although we’d only completed a quarter of the task.

And then the power went off, around midday. Sadly by now we’d also had our potentially busiest day of garden visitors trashed by Eunice, but as news came in of the worsening weather we switched into hunker down mode, having taken the sensible pre-outage measures of stocking up our indoor wood supplies; turning up the thermostat on the biomass stove to pre-heat the house to a temperature above where we’d normally have it – of course the flaw with any such system is that it nneeds power to work the water pump and electronics; boosting the immersion heater first thing in the morning; cleaning, fuelling and sharpening chainsaws; and charging the phones, cameras and any rechargeable torches we possess.

We’re extremely fortunate to have the back up of a conventional wood burning stove, which meant that not only did half of the house stay really warm throughout, but we could even have our vital cups of tea, and cook our customary weekend breakfast, as normal, albeit in the gloom of our sitting room.

There was also, for me, the unusual appreciation of curtailed early evening activity, as we sat in a very quiet house after dark, with a little bit of reading by the tiny LED light of my beanie. However, as the messages from Western Power kept pushing back the likely time for our power restoration, the issue of the freezers and mutton troubled us more.

Although we’ve a small generator, we haven’t used it for years, and the advice Fiona gleaned on line from her mobile (thank goodness for this, and the continuous EE beamed internet connectivity from the unscathed mast in the valley below us), was that such low voltage, patchy electricity could damage the copper windings in a fridge/freezer compressor. So we opted to sit things out, leave the freezers closed, and dice and marinade most of the mutton – something we always do anyway, pre-cooking.

With some relief the power was restored about 36 hours after the outage, which given the scale of national storm damage was a great achievement on the part of the power engineers. By then the outside damage assessment had begun. Amazingly the house and garden were largely unscathed, apart from 2 big bags worth of twiggy debris, although there was a modestly sized fallen tree across the track. This needed chainsawing swiftly before our pre-booked grocery delivery arrived later on that evening, (again, amazing service from Tesco to get to us, even though we’d given up on them, and I’d jumped into a dimly lit, but warm bath) and then we spotted the new gaps in our copse beyond the lower streamside meadow.

Walking down the following day revealed the scale of the damage. Multiple large pine and fir trunks downed, with ripped up root plates on the steep slope, or some huge Scotch pines with snapped trunks. If a tree surgeon had felled these, he’d have been impressed with his precision, with 5 of them lying parallel just a few feet apart. Some on our land, but fallen into our neighbours, some just on theirs. The long task of clearing these has begun, but we’re very grateful to have such lovely neighbours who’ll let us pace ourselves with this task. They will eventually yield both much burnable material and maybe the odd bit of useable construction or fencing material, if we can somehow manage to extract it down the steep slope of the copse, across the stream and back to the house through 4 fields! However this is all for another day.

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The beginning of February has been marked by much communication with prospective garden visitors, many of whom have been frustrated by the weather changes at short notice. In spite of many cancellations or postponements, it’s still been our busiest start to our garden opening year, and as always, it’s been an absolute delight to meet so many lovely folk, and even a few seasoned returning visitors. Many have had the bonus of seeing the garden in sunshine, (not just dry), but even those visiting in drizzly conditions, have all been wowed by Gelli’s magic, and we were delighted to be sent photos and a poem by one lovely couple who’d travelled up from Llantrisant to be here.

More recently a couple who’d travelled even further, from Chepstow and Cowbridge, made a point of buying my remaining bulb of G. ‘Melanie Broughton’. One of them had a very personal link to the real life Melanie Broughton – the daughter of Lord Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey, after whom the snowdrop was named. For the seasoned galanthophile, such personal insights are all part of the aura of affection and human association which makes the snowdrop season such a wonderful prelude to the rest of the gardening year.

It gives us such a thrill that others can share in the delight we experience from living and gardening here, and we hope that in potentially worrying times ahead, people can continue to gain pleasure and inspiration from our remote garden. Thank you to everyone who’s made the inevitably long trek to get here so far, and for any who haven’t, the snowdrops will last I think for at least another couple of weeks, and by then the daffodils, camellias and scillas should be picking up the baton.

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We were delighted to receive a copy of “Wild – the Naturalistic Garden”, which I mentioned a few posts back within the last fortnight. Whilst we were pretty certain that Gelli Uchaf would feature, we had no idea about the format, or which the other featured gardens would be. In the end there are just 41 gardens chosen from around the world, and it’s a thrill to have been selected and find our upland hillside included alongside many more famous spaces, most of which have been designed by significant garden designer names.

As always Noel Kingsbury’s writing is detailed, thoughtful and analytical, whilst Claire Takacs’ wonderful photographs capture the very different atmospheres and aesthetics of the different plots. It’s quite a weighty tome, and one to be dipped into I think, to get an insight into how each garden has been created and what motivated the different designer/makers/managers to have made these garden spaces in the way that they have, where the influence of a looser, more naturalistic style of garden making is clearly a common thread. There are some interesting stylistic choices made by the book’s designer/production team, but it’s a great insight into how a branch of garden design and aesthetice has been morphing, through the eyes and minds of many different people, in recent years. Many thanks to Noel, Claire and Phaidon for including us in this significant work, and indeed for our freebie copy, which we weren’t expecting. (For the record, we receive no monetary benefit from either featuring this book here, or indeed being included in it).

 

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I knew I shouldn’t have said that my woodcock photos had finished for the year, but I’ve just uploaded a You Tube of the footage from January 13th, when I stood as dusk fell on a still clear night, and counted 14 woodcock fly past, near, far or overhead, and then on up the hill, some no doubt settling in our hay meadow. There are the cynics who’ll suggest it might be the same one, flying in circles, but I have back up confirmation of the numbers out there this year from our elder son and fiancee who visited us a fortnight ago arriving just in time for woodcock commuting time, and sat on our croquet lawn stone slab and counted about half a dozen fly over, in 10 minutes.

As I was clipping the video down slightly for You Tube, I got to the very end, where you can hear me returning to the camcorder to switch it off, and the camera wobbles slightly, and then as I was about to trim this off, I thought I noticed a bright flash, which I hadn’t seen before, just above the hedgeline in the distance, below the second taller hawthorn tree. I replayed it several times, and there it was. A very bright shooting star. Fleeting as they always are, and not overhead, but down at eye level.

It’s strange how one’s brain instantly comes up with a memory after seeing this. I’d actually caught a shooting star on video…

“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let if fade away,

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day”.

I instantly sang to myself the Perry Como song which was one of those stalwart regulars played on the Sunday morning family favourites radio show of the sixties. It was evidently so successful, it beame the first song to become a gold record in America, although the lyrics sound very simple, by today’s standards. 

How amazing and appropriate to find such a shooting star to include in this post, since we discovered only after a recent garden visitor had left us this week, that we’d missed recognising another star, very much in the ascendancy of late, and possibly with their current orbit zenithing around Sunday March 13th. Such are the consequences of living in our remote, TV-less bubble. But as with all our other visitors, we were delighted that our paths had crossed, and that they left with a little bit of Gelli Uchaf’s magic and memories to remind them of their visit.

This clip is 10 minutes of what passes for rush hour here in mid January. I defy you to watch the whole clip. And if you do, to spot the 7 or 8 woodcock which whizz past, and to have not nodded off, before the shooting star streaks down!

For the woodcock, I suspect some, or all, have already left us, embarking on their perilous long flight home to Kazakhstan, possibly even taking them over the Ukrainian confilct zones. We wish them safe passage, and perhaps some of them will make it back next year, to enliven our winter months.

I’ll leave you with another song which my brain correctly dredged up from my childhood memories, sung by Jimmy Cricket in the Disney film of Pinnochio.

And when was this iconic song released into the world? 1940, when another stain on humanity’s record was already spreading fast.

12 thoughts on “Seas, Crises, Wobbles, Eunice, Wild, and Shooting Star.

  1. Another wide ranging and interesting post Julian. The snowdrops and crocuses are the stars of your garden just now and all your visitors will have been delighted to see them all in such a unique setting. We have a 6 inch Newtonian reflector …don’t you know!!! I had to ask Jim what the telescope in our bedroom is called! It’s wonderful to see all the craters on the moon and everything else that is pointed out to me! Watch out for the space station…able to be seen with the bare eye! Track it :https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/tracking_map.cfm
    Thank you Julian for the Ukraine’s National Anthem…heart breaking for all.

    • Thanks Marianne.
      Well that sounds mighty impressive to me! You and Jim are clearly way ahead of us with moon gazing. Well done. I have toyed with a telescope occasionally, and think on occasion I’ve seen the space station, and of course the plethora of satellites up there. After finding the national anthem for Ukraine and hearing its lyrics in translation, one feels almost more aggrieved for their nation, and whilst completely impotent, wanted to do something to express my solidarity with them as a clearly proud nation and people. Let’s hope that mounting support and pressure will help prevent greater tragedies ahead,
      Best wishes
      Julian

  2. Thanks so much for sharing the snowdrops. I wish I was someone who could consider the long pilgramage to your garden!! And congratulations on your inclusion in Noel Kingsbury’s book. From what I’ve seen of your garden it’s mightily deserved!

    • Hello Cathy,
      Thanks for the kind comment. This year has at last seen the snowdrops really creating impact in many parts of the garden – but also their companion Crocus, Cyclamen et al. We’ve reflected on the advice and encouragement from a visit to Colesbourne a few years back, that it’s worth plodding on with regular splitting and moving – eventually you can create a real spectacle – even in a generation!
      To be included in Noel/Claire’s book was a great honour. Whether it’s deserved or not, is another issue, but again at least we now feel in its totality, and through the seasons the landscape here has a lot of interest and can both delight and inspire visitors, particularly those who happen to be here when the sun shines!
      You would of course be very welcome anytime. Though actually this is where I always see a role for the blog – it paints a much more complete picture than a book, or even a single visit can give.
      Best wishes to you in your lovely rural spot,
      Julian

      • I am always nervous about splitting anything here – sometimes perennials simply die when I split. Admittedly the ‘split’ snowdrops have done very well – inspired by you, I shall be moving some clumps around later in the week! I won’t, sadly, have another 20 years in the garden, but perhaps someone else will appreciate the results. There’s nothing like snowdrops (or crocuses/cyclamen – where do we stop?) in spring. From what I’ve seen of your garden, it’s a beautiful paradise – gardening exactly after my own heart – it well deserves to feature in the book!

      • Thanks Cathy – I’ve always thought the great thing about snowdrops is they’re survivors and will outlast any of our efforts, (that was until recently, when significant climate change or nuclear armageddon would seem possible and throw a spanner in the works) though we can give them a helping hand. I’m glad your efforts at splitting them helped too – I always tell visitors, even in wet Wales, that if they do split them, it’s best to water them over the following 2-3 months in any dry spell, which seems to work.
        I REALLY appreciated getting your comment this morning after a fitful night following the first incident/complaint we’ve received in 12 years of oepning for charity, which winged its way to me last night. I may or may not discuss this next time, but a little bit of positive feedback does a power of good at such times. Why do the efforts of the bullies in this world seem to cloud the joy and lives of the majority?
        Anyway I did dipped into your lovely blog again this week and well done at writing again – your header image was lovely and great to see that spring’s arriving with you too, and we can all get excited by what that holds in store for us,
        best wishes
        Julian

      • Don’t listen to the naysayers – you have inspired me so very much – practically too. I have a shrub bank where I now put all bulbs – anything and everything – that have passed a season in a pot. Thanks to you!

      • Thanks again Cathy, and you’re quite right of course, though it always takes a while for me to get the angst and gloom such an incident creates, out of the system!
        It’s alwyas wonderful to know when someone has benefited from something I’ve written about.
        BTW last night, we watched a brilliant webinar from Garden masterclass, which we bought and downloaded. Don’t know if you’ve checked them out, but I think what Noel and Annie are creating here is a wonderful library of interesting comment. Maybe a little pricey, but we became members so got 50% off, and the one we listened to by Ian Young on Erythroniums was really brilliant…

        and
        https://recordingsgardenmasterclass.org/video-category/plants/

        best wishes
        Julian

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