Tag Archives: 2014

Beechwood sun and shadows

Weekend Nature Round-up – Signs of Spring

We probably all have our own little ways of noticing that Winter may be gradually releasing its icy grip, though this year perhaps ‘soggy’ would be a more appropriate adjective. I have noticed several of my Spring signs this weekend.

Late in the afternoon on Friday as I was busy with my usual housework I was treated to a glorious burst of singing, interspersed with a curious mix of clacking, clucking and peeping. This was one of ‘our’ starlings, singing his little heart out in our eaves. I’m not sure if he knew it was Valentine’s Day but I think he definitely sounded like he was keeping his toes crossed!

Today we took advantage of a sunny and relatively mild February Sunday and headed off into the woods for an afternoon’s ramble. As usual, being an avid nature-watcher I was on the look-out for several signs of a hopefully fairly imminent Spring.

Snowdrops almost blooming
Snowdrops almost blooming

The first of these was right outside our front door – our snowdrops are looking healthy and fit to burst. We’ll have to see what this week’s weather brings, but I’m sure those flowers will be opening very soon.

My second sighting, just a few metres into the wood, was the beautiful golden globes of the Winter Aconites Eranthis hyemalis. I always think of these flowers as ‘the’ promise that Spring is not too far off, so it is always a delight to see them. Rather like the snowdrops, they were just waiting to burst open. I’d thought today’s sun might have tempted them, but they mustn’t be quite ready.

The golden globes of Winter Aconites
The golden globes of Winter Aconites

The third sighting, close to the Winter Aconites, was my first bud-burst of 2014. The elder’s purple buds had burst forth just showing the tips of its tiny purple first leaves.

We stopped to admire the amazing reflections of the winter trees in the deep and muddy puddles along our path. The sun was still quite high and the reflected colours were much greener than a few weeks ago.

On we went, up through the sunlit beechwood, the shadows dancing across the mossy floor. This part of the wood is always full of interest, from fungi to flowers to fruits to creatures, there’s always something to discover. Today we were spotting new fungi growth on some old fallen timber – it was the fairly common Hairy Stereum Stereum hirsutum. Watching an old tree rot may not seem the most exciting thing to do, but deadwood is an amazing haven for wildlife and is especially fascinating to children [like ours] with a keen interest in both fungi and the invertebrate world.

Green shoots that promise bluebells in Spring
Green shoots that promise bluebells in Spring

At the ‘top of the forest’ we spotted the last of today’s new signs of Spring. Under the beech trees some familiar-shaped shoots were beginning to flex their glossy green fingers as they thrust their first leaves towards the encouraging sunshine. Here we saw the promise of bluebells! It will of course be some time yet before we are greeted by their glorious scent drifting on the breeze – but that is definitely something to look forward to.

J Peggy Taylor

Advertisements
Inserting the final willow rod around the base - using a Phillips head screwdriver!

Staking-up not staking-out

Today I continued the next phase of my basketmaking. For readers who don’t know the beginning of this story, I am attempting to teach myself the craft of basketmaking in 2014. I am working from a very helpful book by Georgia Crook, simply entitled “Basketmaking”. Readers who saw the first phase of this crafty tale may recall that so far I have made something remarkably resembling a willow basket base.

Today’s task was to add a set of willow rods around the base and to bend them upwards to form the main framework of my basket. I also continued to learn the various pieces of basketry terminology as I worked through this task.

My chosen willow rods and the base I made previously
My chosen willow rods and the base I made previously

I chose my upright rods from a bundle I had cut for this purpose. These 24 rods needed to be just a little thinner than the sticks I had used in the base. I prepared each rod by slyping the butt end (cutting the thick end of the rod to a point on one side).

Knife and some slyped rods ready for use
Some slyped rods ready for use

Next the rods were to be inserted into the weaving of the base. Using a greased ‘bodkin’ (I improvised with a Phillips head screwdriver 😉 )the rods are pushed into the pockets at either side of the base sticks. This sounded fairly straightforward, and to an extent it was, except working a set of rods each slightly over a metre long into a circular base meant I ended up working with something like a giant willow octopus … but with 24 arms!

Inserting the first four rods into the pockets of the base weaving
Inserting the first four rods into the pockets of the base weaving

I should probably have carried out the whole of this task outside rather than attempting it in the kitchen. Fortunately nothing came to grief … quite … though a pot of willow cuttings in water had a close shave! However, to continue my basketmaking, I decided it really was necessary to remove my willow octopus outside, which required a few extra helping pairs of hands. Thank you helpers!

Willow base and rods - like a giant octopus
Willow base and rods – like a giant octopus

To form the uprights the willow rods have to be carefully bent upwards around the basket base. This is done by pressing a knife blade gently into each rod where it protrudes from the edge of the base. Then with a slight twist of the knife the rod neatly kinks so it can be bent upwards at a right angle, but without snapping. Clever! … and it even worked for me as I managed not to snap any of my 24 octopus arms!

Kinking the first uprights  with a knife at the edge of the base
Kinking the first uprights with a knife at the edge of the base

Now it was time to control my octopus … in other words, bend up those carefully kinked rods and catch them together in a loose willow ring. I made a quick willow ring from a left-over rod. My instruction book advised folding up the rods from opposite sides of the base, so this was how I began.

Catching up the rods from opposite sides in a loose willow ring
Catching up the rods from opposite sides in a loose willow ring

Unfortunately, my ‘loose’ willow ring was evidently just a tad too loose and came undone, spilling my neatly collected octopus arms back down onto the ground. Ohh! Sigh! … and start again …

All the upright rods in the second willow ring
All the upright rods caught in the second willow ring

This time I made the willow ring slightly tighter to avoid a similar fate. Perhaps as a result of the willow rods being flapped up and down rather more times than they should, I found a couple of my carefully slyped rods had crept out of their basket-base pockets and needed to be firmly replaced.

However, eventually, I ended up with a satisfyingly-shaped willow barrel, with all the upright rods neatly caught in the willow ring. Now I’m ready to start ‘waling’ so I can finish my ‘upsett’ … though I should reassure you that I’m not expecting to shed any tears!

J Peggy Taylor

Sunny Saturday in the woods

New month: Nature roundup

We seem to have spun through January and reached February already in 2014. I am relieved to say in our northern valley, apart from periodic bouts of strong winds and gales, we have not suffered with the extreme weather conditions that are being experienced elsewhere in the UK.

Walking out in our local countryside in mild winter sunshine on both days of this weekend I couldn’t help thinking about the people of Somerset and others who are still suffering flooding – a month on – with the weather forecast again offering them little in the way of respite.

In recent winters we’ve had snow that lasted for weeks but this year on the first weekend in February, muddy paths and busy burns were the only signs of winter weather we encountered. The sunshine was very pleasant and we remarked on it with other walkers we met along the way.

Whilst I would say our winter has been relatively mild, we were still very surprised on Saturday when within a short stretch of a favourite woodland path we spotted Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) in three different stages of growth.

Green Hogweed in February
Green Hogweed in February

The first example was particularly remarkable as it was not brown and broken as you’d expect in late winter, but green with newly-formed seed pods! We normally see it at that stage in August not February!

Seedhead stars on old Hogweed stems
Seedhead stars on old Hogweed stems

A little further on, along the stretch of path where summer finds us spotting curious insect-life, some brown stems of last summer’s Hogweed were still standing proud above the remains of other plants and grasses. I love the way the winter light reflects from their starry seedless heads. These old stalks still have beauty to offer yet.

Hogweed with seeds - in February
Hogweed with seeds – in February

Across the path in the lea of the towering mature pine trees we saw our third state of Hogweed. These ones were in full autumn glory, their heads sporting a full complement of perfectly formed seeds – again, a beautiful sight with the morning sun catching them as they danced in the light breeze.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage by the burn
Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage by the burn

As we retraced our steps homeward we stopped by the burn to seek out any signs of early spring flowers. No Dog’s Mercury or Wood Sorrel yet, but the very-small-flower-with-the-very-long-name was looking promising by the waters-edge. I’m talking about Opposite-Leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)- which, as you can see, is indeed a very long name for so small a plant. The tiny golden flowers were ready in their buds so I’m sure will appear very soon.

Sunday brought another chance for a sunny walk under azure blue skies. Today’s walk was in a different direction, along the valley side on an old mineral line before dropping into another woodland below. The spring signs I was seeking here were Blackthorn blossom, Gorse, Broom and Primroses. I found two out of four, so wasn’t disappointed.

The Blackthorn buds are filling up but none had burst forth yet. Both Gorse and Broom grow along the old railway line. I thought the Gorse looked particularly beautiful against the amazing blue of the sky.

gorse-against-blue-sky

The birch trees with their white trunks and purple twigs also caught my eye as I walked along.

winter-birches-blue-sky

There was lots of mud in the wood … but no sign of primroses today. Still, there’s plenty of time for them yet.

J Peggy Taylor

First Base complete

On reaching First Base in a new craft

One of my crafting ambitions of 2014 is to learn basketmaking. As my main interest is working in hedgerow materials I’ve been avidly studying a very useful book I discovered by Georgia Crook, a professional basketmaker and tutor in Scotland. The book is simply entitled “Basketmaking” but its focus is on using hedgerow materials as well as giving a clear and practical introduction to the basics of this ancient craft.

So far I have been practising some of the real basics – such as cutting slypes and making slaths. If you are thinking I’ve started talking a different language, to an extent you are right. One thing I quickly learned was that it is important to get to grips with the correct terminology in this craft. A slype is an angled point cut with a knife on the end of a rod of willow or other basket material. A slath is the neat cross-over of sticks that make the centre of a basket base.

Slath for First Base
A slightly shaky version of my slath – with two slypes in the near foreground

Today I moved on from slath-making and started weaving, or pairing to be precise. Pairing is the the type of initial weaving that holds the slath sticks in place.

Pairing weaving in progress around the slath
Pairing weaving in progress around the slath

I finished up with a relatively round basket base 15cm (6 inches) wide, though I did learn a few things along the way. I learned that the first pairing weavers need to be really quite thin to make working neatly possible and that my ready-cut oddments of green willow are reaching the point of needing soaking before they are going to be workable.

I also learned that basketmaking is an ideal craft for a chilly day – it certainly kept me warm as I worked my slightly-too-chunky weavers around the slath.

First Base complete
My completed First Base

I was fairly pleased with my first attempt at a basket base and I am now inspired to try my hand at the the next stage, the “upsett” – I’m sure that will be another story.

J Peggy Taylor

Turning a new page, planting a new seed

a new year … 2014
a new enterprise …  http://www.etsy.com/shop/OakTreesStudio
and a new blog to go with it … hello world

This blog is definitely a work in progress. I’m thinking that’s really the nature of all blogs.  A blog starts like a tiny seed and as we nurture it, it grows. As it grows it develops all kinds of branching off-shoots, reflecting the blogger’s interests and inspirations.

But I think also a blog needs to have strong roots to steady it and hold it firm. I think those roots are borne out of the blogger’s initial purpose for the blog. From the initial inspiration – the ‘why I am doing this blog’ – the blog needs to develop its own persona, its own style and voice. The individual persona or brand of the blog helps us to root our blog posts, articles and whatever else we decide to add to our blog,  helping us make sure that what we write is relevant and connected to this particular blog.

You’re probably already a blogger, so you know all this. I’m telling myself really – getting my blog-head into focus, as it were.

…  so here’s to a productive 2014!