Looking up in my allotment garden today, I found my Champion of England tall climbing peas had reached the 8 foot high crossbar on their giant pea frame 😀 (That’s almost 2.5 metres, if you’re metric!)
If you want to learn more about growing climbing peas or about saving this heritage variety of peas from extinction, you can find the rest of the story about my Champion of England tall climbing peas in my post, “A tall pea plant tale”.
Sometimes, a door can let you enter the past. As you cross its threshold you can imagine all of the historical figures who have made that same step. The doors I have chosen for the WordPress Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge belong to two of Newcastle upon Tyne’s medieval buildings. Ever since the 14th century, people have been entering and leaving through these doorways – from medieval kings to modern day visitors.
I like to change my blog header for each of our seasons. Being a keen gardener and based in the UK, my seasons divide neatly into three-month blocks: March, April, May is my Spring; June, July, August is my Summer; September, October, November is my Autumn; leaving December, January and February as Winter.
The end of November – beginning of December is when Autumn and Winter converge, and we have definitely noticed changes in our weather. November has been dull and dreary with mists and fog, but December has already brought us drier, brighter weather, though colder, with the beginning of frosty nights.
For my Winter season blog header, I decided to choose a very wintry image. The header is taken from this photo I took a few years ago at the entrance to our woods after a heavy snowfall. I love the way the snow conceals almost everything, just leaving the tree trunks and a few branches visible.
The other obvious thing that remains visible in the image, is the wooden signpost that marks the converging footpaths at this point. If you look very carefully you may also just see the faint tracks in the snow – some coming in from the right and others heading straight on along the old railway path.
Imagine – you’re waiting here alone. Darkness will fall soon. Suddenly you begin to hear galloping hooves approaching through the mist. Your heart leaps, but you’re also trembling. You know soon you will be escaping from the lurking dangers of the night …
Imagine – you’re sitting on the sunny riverbank on this warm Summer’s day. Shafts of sunlight stream through the tree boughs that overhang the slow-moving river. Your eyes are mesmerised by the river’s kaleidoscope of gentle swirling green reflections as you drift into your sun-warmed dream …
After my surprise and delight at being selected by Cee as one of her Featured Bloggers for my post in last week’s Fun Foto Challenge on the colour blue, this week I have looked for yellow signs of Autumn in my favourite environment, the woods.
When we took a Sunday stroll in one of our local woods last weekend, we could certainly see Autumn is upon us. Yellowing bracken and yellowing leaves were all around us.
The Autumn leaf colours that we all so enjoy are a very visible sign that the trees and plants have done their work and are approaching their Winter’s rest. The changing colour we observe is part of the chemical process in the leaves that we know as photosynthesis.
The lower levels of sunlight and cooler temperatures of Autumn mean the leaves are no longer able to produce chlorophyll, the pigment that paints the leaves green in Spring and Summer. As the chlorophyll is used up by the leaf for food and the leaf is no longer able to produce more, we observe the green of the leaf fading to yellow.
The yellow colour is provided by the carotene that has also been present in the leaf but in Spring and Summer is not visible to us under the green cloak of the chlorophyll. We learned all this and more on the changing colours of Autumn leaves from this fascinating Woodland Trust information leaflet.
The signs of the approaching time of rest for the trees gives rise to another kind of sign in the woods too – Tree Felling time! Autumn and Winter are the seasons for a lot of woodland maintenance work. The woodland you see in my images in this post is currently undergoing a restoration plan. The ancient woods that once cloaked our valley have largely disappeared as farmland, villages and commercial forestry took over.
There is now a move to try and restore some of the remaining woodlands to their former glory, especially in woods such as this one, where small pockets of the ancient woodland remain. With careful planning it is possible to remove the commercial plantation plantings and facilitate the regrowth of indigenous tree and understorey species. We have already seen how successful this can be in other parts of this wood.
When we visited these woods on Sunday we saw the tree felling signs were in place, ready to remove the fully grown Norway Spruce trees from an area of the wood our children have known as ‘Mirkwood’. If you’re a Tolkein fan, you will recall instantly that dark, dense forest from The Hobbit. So, although we know the restoration of ancient woodland will be wonderful in the long run, it is with a tinge of sadness that we see this part of a childhood play area being felled. Perhaps we can recognise this as a sign of our children growing up too – though I doubt they will ever grow out of building dams in woodland streams or having pine cone battles between the trees!
I’m very fond of Swallows, their grace and elegance in flight is mesmerising. Watching them is one of the joys of Summer. I love the way they ‘talk’ to each other, constantly, whilst they are on the wing too – though I have occasionally pondered on this propensity to ‘talk’ and eat at the same time! However, I will forgive Swallows their table manners because here in the UK they are our often-longed-for heralds of Summer.
If the weather is sufficiently mild, from early April I will scan the skies regularly, searching for the Swallows returning after their Winter sojourn to Africa. By chance it was Easter Sunday when I spotted my first Swallow flitting high in the sky over our street – that was 20th April this year and we’d been enjoying a warm and sunny few days. There is an old saying, “One swallow doth not a Summer make,” but seeing the first one is always cause for uplifted spirits and hope.
There is an old saying, “One swallow doth not a Summer make,” but seeing the first one is always cause for uplifted spirits and hope.
There are really two reasons I am pleased to see the Swallows return to our skies. The first is the happy one I have said above, the Swallows bring with them the promise that the sunny days of Summer are not too far off. The second reason is rather darker – I am thankful that at least some of them have survived the long and dangerous journey that they must endure as they migrate between here, in the north of England, and South Africa, then back again in the Spring. Starvation, exhaustion and storms mean that many birds will not survive this hazardous round trip. Flying around 200 miles each day and a total of over 5500 miles (9400 km) in each direction is an amazing feat for a bird that is only 7 1/2 inches (19cm) from its beak to the tip of its long tail feathers.
I always feel a tinge of sadness when I see our Swallows begin to gather on the wires outside our house. For us, it means the end of Summer and the year drawing on into the colder months of Autumn and Winter. For the Swallows, it means they are about to embark on their dangerous adventure – for the young ones it is their first time. I wish them well for a safe journey and a safe return.
The Swallows’ migration route takes them from where we are in north east England, to the south coast of England, across the English Channel and down through the west of France, across the mountains of the Pyrenees and down the east of Spain to Morocco. Then, incredibly, many Swallows cross the Sahara Desert as part of their migration route, though others take a course down the west of Africa to reach South Africa.
I wonder, how did Swallows and many other bird species evolve to have this adventurous spirit that causes them to cover such vast distances and face such huge risks? Migration truly is one of the wonders of nature.
I think there is something immensely ethereal and primeval about sunlight in Winter. Here on latitude 55 degrees north, we experience our ‘shortest day’ of the year on 22 December. On that day the sun rises around 8.30am in the morning and sets around 4.00pm in the afternoon. Since it occurs during our normal waking hours in mid-Winter, we notice and often watch the sun as it rises or sets in spectacular fashion. The above image was taken in mid-January at 8.30am. As the sun rose over the woods to the east of us, the sky filled with flaming colour, silhouetting the trees and the valley horizon … and our washing line and the streetlight. Even these mundane details were drawn into this dramatic, glowing dawn.
It is not at all surprising to me that our ancient ancestors were such keen observers of the ‘movements’ of the sun, nor that fire was of such significance to them, especially during those dark Winter days. A few miles across the moors from us, the town of Allendale hosts a unique fire festival on New Year’s Eve (31st December) called the Tar Barl, when flaming barrels of tar are carried through the town as part of the New Year festivities. In northern Europe fire festivals hark back into ancient times when encouraging the return of the sun after the dark days of Winter was an important task.
Browsing through our photo archives for silhouette images for the WordPress Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge this week, I noticed the images that best fitted the theme also had something else in common – Winter sun.
The old railway cutting is one of our regular paths so we have seen it in all weathers, as we make our way in and out of the woods. I love the way the snow lights up the cutting, emphasising the dark tree trunks on each side. The pale peach light of the setting sun is just visible directly ahead. When we see that pale peach light, we know we may be treated to a beautiful Winter sunset as our path takes us onwards out of the trees.
I showed another image of this location in my last post for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge Winter theme. Here on the edge of the wood we can look out right across the upper valley and moors. Beyond the drama of the dark foreground silhouettes of the tree and the gatepost, I also like the middle distance silhouettes of the Winter trees. Their leafless branches expose the stark beauty of their structure, like natural sculptures. In Winter the sun sets behind the distant valley here, so this is a favourite view of ours.
This is another one of those slightly strange Winter sun experiences. My son spotted this silhouetted tree pattern against the sun as it struggled to put in an appearance through the cold and heavy grey sky.
Natural textures don’t only reveal themselves to us through our eyes, I find. Sometimes they appeal to our sense of touch instead. An example of this for me is when I notice something new in the texture of tree bark. To really appreciate its beauty, I am drawn to touch it, to experience the tactile nature of the texture.
This week I have been working with what I call ‘real’ wool in a crochet project. This hand processed and handspun natural undyed wool is from the fleece of Jacob sheep. This wool yarn has a wonderful springy texture which is retained in the crocheted fabric as I work. In this particular project I am introducing a further texture in the form of a herringbone stitch pattern. The herringbone design dates a long way back into antiquity and I felt this ancient design seemed appropriate for this ruggedly natural wool yarn.
My second natural texture came as part of my recent experiments with natural ingredients for ‘tea’ type drinks. This week this led me to try out raspberry leaves. For me, natural ingredients are more likely to be found in the woods and hedgerows than in supermarkets. For raspberry leaves, I knew just where to look.
Picking raspberry leaves whilst balancing on the edge of a ditch makes you acutely aware of all your senses, it seems. As I stretched out carefully to reach some unblemished leaves, I was intensely aware of how soft and velvety raspberry leaves are on their dark green upper side whilst their pale, grey-green undersides are traced with prominent veins, plus one or two small thorns. Following a refreshing raspberry leaf tea taste test using a single fresh leaf, I am currently drying the remainder of my foraged leaves for future use.
Sometimes when searching through your photo archives for a particular shot you need for a project, you come across images you love but had almost forgotten. This shot of a Small Copper butterfly resting on the sun-warmed riverside shingle is one such image for me. I love the delicate softness of the butterfly against the stones. The stones themselves provide a wonderful variety of textures – from rough to smooth. Hiding away towards the top left of the picture I noticed a piece of rusty metal too.
I have enjoyed exploring the creativity of texture for this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. I am always inspired when visiting other blogs to see how people have interpreted the challenge.
The raspberries are ripening! The sun is shining! … and so fruit-picking time begins for 2014!
But before the fruit-picking can begin, the first job is to dig out my old and trusty recycled containers. There are those that I like to take out with me for holding the berries whilst I’m picking. Then there are those that fit together well for storing my fruit in the freezer. My many containers come in useful different shapes and sizes. It seems WordPress must have read my mind this week when choosing “Containers” as the topic for the Weekly Photo Challenge!
I love foraging for wild fruit. We spend many happy Summer hours fruit-picking. We’re lucky as we have a good variety of wild fruits growing nearby to us. For me fruit-picking is such a calming and tranquil activity – a chance to slip away from busyness into my own little world for a short time.
The raspberries are the first of our fruits to ripen, so I’m usually picking them by mid to late July. They grow in a rather overgrown but sheltered spot, which is lovely in the warm sun. I get so absorbed in seeking out and picking the fruit that I always end up with more than a few nettle stings when I’m finished! ‘No pain, no gain’ … so the saying goes!
As raspberries are rather soft and easily squashed, I tend to pick them in small batches. I take a shallow recycled tub to hold the raspberries – I’ve had some of my foraging tubs for years, but they are ideal for this job.
When I return home, the raspberries are washed and checked over. The berries are either eaten immediately for quick and easy desserts or I put them into a container and place them in the freezer. Sometimes my sons come along to help with the picking, then even more of the berries get eaten immediately! … including before the raspberries actually arrive home, as you might imagine!
Over the next few weeks more batches of raspberries will be picked and frozen. As I gradually amass a good quantity of berries in the freezer, we begin watching out for the apples ripening. They also grow close by to us, so we’ve not far to go to keep checking them. … and then it will be time for jam-making to begin!