Three Images, March 2017.

Daffodill Opening -with Dewdrop (single click to enlarge).

Palmate Newt – About to be Relocated to Our Pond.

A Rhino Stone, Surely? (single click to see properly).

With all manner of other-than-human persons  waking up and getting on with their Northern Hemisphere Spring business around me, I thought I’d better post a couple of seasonal images.  Apparently the first word I said was ‘lellow’.  The fragrance of Daffodils is almost as mesmerising as that golden yellow colour, if a bit more subtle.  Although these are not the wild variety, I’m still excited by them every year.  Its a bit on the cold side here today, so that little palmate newt was almost comatose.  She’s now been moved to a much more suitable location, where a potential friend awaits.  Toads have already been out in force on our local roads – perhaps responding to the full Moon, so it’ll be ‘all go’ for a few weeks now.  The third image is of a being with an altogether different sense of time.  This imposing individual looks irresistably rhinosceromorphic to me!

Spring Blessings 🙂

B.T. 13th March 2017.

Spring

Rumworth Morris at Todmorden Folk Festival

Rumworth Morris at Todmorden Folk Festival

“Our hats are standard bowlers, painted white and decorated with flowers and jewellery. Six strands of navy blue ribbon, about three feet long, are attached to the hatband at the back – and can make a nuisance of themselves when we dance in strong winds, as they wrap themselves around arms, garlands and faces.

We wear white collarless shirts, with a gold sash that goes twice around the waist in the style of a cummerbund and is tied and pinned at the inside hip.

We also wear a red sash that goes over the inside shoulder and is pinned at the outside hip. This asymmetric arrangement of the sashes means that you are dancing in either the left hand or the right hand file – but not both, at least not in any one ‘spot’. (Unless you’ve tried it, you would not believe how long it takes to put those sashes on!)

Our breeches are navy blue corduroy, with three gilt (brass) buttons on the outside of each leg just above the hem.

Our footwear is the traditional black clogs that are one of the trademarks of the North West Morris dance …”.

After a long, dark, wet, mild winter, punctuated by horrible flooding that left a tangle of human and environmental challenges in its wake, the return of spring has been eagerly awaited in the valley.  A fine gathering of morris teams lifted our spirits recently.  They were all good, but I particularly liked the floral hats worn by Rumworth Morris from Bolton. (the above comes from their website.)

We’re just back from another trip to Wharfedale, where the woodland floors were jewelled with violets, primroses, and wood anemones.  There’s something special about the colour of primroses.  The name apparently derives from the Old French Primerose, or the medieval Latin, prima rosa, first rose.  It comes as no surprise to find them associated with love, protection, and faery lore.  In North Yorkshire spring garlands of green leaves, primroses, and buttercups, were made to welcome spring, and confer good fortune.(1)

Robert Graves declared that ‘the lotus crowned goddess in the Corinthian Mysteries … must be worshipped in her ancient quintuple person, whether by counting the petals of lotus or primrose, as Birth, Initiation, Consummation, Repose, and Death’.(2)  Fiveness is said to be about ‘the creation of order out of chaos, bringing together things that are naturally separate into a formal relationship with one another’ (3).  In alchemy the quintessence is present in the four elements, not as a separate substance, but as the pre-exisiting spirit which all possess in common, and by which they are united. (4)

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But Spring is also a site of struggle.  Other-than-human-persons don’t spend all their time ‘respecting’ each other.  We watched female bee-flies, hovering, their long proboscises dangling ahead of them, depositing eggs, with a sudden darting movement, into the nest holes of solitary bees.  The larval stage of bombyliidae parasitises bees, wasps, or beetles -but (I find myself speaking as the anthropocentrically judgemental liberal here) some varieties redeem themselves as important pollinators.

We also came upon a contented looking Stinking Helleborine, that, like the primrose, embodies fiveness in its petal-like sepals.  The stinking helleborine’s flowers are, however, tinged with maroon, and it sometimes smells of wet dog, alerting us, hopefully, to the disconcerting fact that the plant contains toxins that can induce nausea, vomiting, diahorrea, headaches, mental confusion, numbness of extremities, hypotension, muscular spasms, cardiorespiratory failure, and finally death. Some of the poisons can be absorbed through the skin. see here.

Stinking Helleborine

I was not in any mood to dwell upon katabatic powers, however.  Pulled on by April sunshine, I embarked upon what turned out to be the longest walk that my rather challenged body has managed in many a year with no small help from the invigorating powers and presences of the Wharfedale landscape.  Birks Fell, a beautiful hill with an elongated ‘snout’ resembling the prow of an upturned boat, or perhaps the tail of a limestone whale, formed by, and marking, the confluence of the Wharfe and Skirfare, pulled my heart strings from across the finely sculpted valley, and put a spring in my step.

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B.T 24/4/16.

Sources:

(1) Margaret Baker Discovering the Folklore of Plants, Shire.

(2) Robert Graves, The White Goddess.

(3) David Hamblin, Harmonic Charts, A New Dimension in Astrology.

(4) Paul F. Cowlan An Alchemical Countdown; The Quintessence, Four Elements, Tria Prima, etc, Alembic, 2010.

 

Something Astonishing is Happening.

Thanks to the Obliquity of Ecliptic, our mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere world is tilting back towards the Sun, and everything is coming back to life.  Jubilant swallows have returned.  Nuthatches are plastering tree holes to make suitable nest sites.  Lesser celandine carpet the woodland floor.  Wood Sorrel and Wood Anemone sparkle white among ancient horsetails.  Marsh marigolds glow in boggy streamside mud.

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This Cartesian attitude of an insentient, nonvolitional, unminded natural world […] owes something to the Platonic-Aristotelian backgrounding of plants”.

“Darwin not only put forward the idea of relatedness between humans and the natural world, but his work was the first to demonstrate and articulate the idea that plants are capable of movement and sensations – providing the basis for the discipline of plant signalling […] scholars in this discipline have begun to recognize many points of continuity in the natures and capabilities of plants and human beings.” 

“Working closely in collaboration with plants on a restoration project can allow many Westerners the opportunity to directly encounter the autonomous qualities that plants possess”.

Matthew Hall, Plants as Persons, A Philosphical Botany, SUNY, 2011.

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The images are of: lesser celandine, horsetail and wood anenome, marsh marigold, wild cherry (two images), a primrose/cowslip hybrid, new beech leaves, and cuckoo pint.  The celandine were in our local wood, the rest were taken in North Lancashire and South Cumbria.

Protecting the vulnerable

toad in pond. with string of toad spawn.

Contented Toad – in our local pond. with a necklace of spawn.

Our world is warming up again.  Milder evenings are waking toads from their hibernation.  So, once again, we potter up the hill with torches, buckets, smaller pots for the occasional frog -who wouldn’t want the company of toads- and yogurt pots for palmate newts.  What better way to mark the arrival of spring!

The lane through the wood tucks into the hill, so its often warmer there, protected from the chilly westerly wind.  On clear nights the tree branches above us are lit by sparkling stars. Sometimes the silence of the night is punctuated by Tawny Owl conversation.  The small ragged wood is thick with memories.  In summer we’ve often gone there to watch bats, and I’ve had several very close encounters with foxes.

This week we’ve been finding male toads (which are smaller), sitting upright in the lane, sniffing the air.  Last night one perky individual was squatting on a stone.  They’re probably hoping that a female (they’re much bigger, and scarcer) will come along, so they can hitch a ride, or failing that, perhaps some friendly hominid with a bucket and torch?  Their migration, along the lane, and either up through the steep wood, or across two fields, to their ancestral pond, is an impressive feat.  I sometimes worry that our assistance might be interfering with their navigational ability.  Are they adapting to our participation in their annual rite?  Some may have had several rides in our buckets by now.

I also wonder whether we’re simply saving them from the danger of being crushed beneath a vehicle’s tyres, or under a human foot, only to serve them up as fox or badger snacks?  But the latter have to eat, and last night we found half a dozen freshly killed individuals on the road, so I think its better to intervene.  When we put the rescued toads down most of them strode off purposefully, as though they knew where they needed to go.

Over the years my partner has researched some ten migration routes locally, and found volunteers to look after them.  If you’re in the U.K and would like to help out, go to Frog Life to find your nearest toad rescue site.

A newt in the hand.

A (palmate) newt in the hand.

We’re fortunate to live in a small town in the North of England where quite a lot of people get  involved in these kinds of activities.  But even here there are many who, are at best, oblivious.

These are, no doubt, the same people who are unable to empathise with vulnerable fellow humans, and who succumb to the relentless propaganda against benefit claimants.  Most of my past involvements were in community action and community development work (supporting self-advocacy), rather than conservation or ecological activism.  Although this blog has focused mainly on relations with the ‘natural’ world, animism makes no sense to me unless it also engages with social justice issues.  I’m no longer able to be politically active, but I’ve been incensed by the ever increasing inequality (over the the past 35 years), and by cuts to essential public services and welfare benefits.

Images from Community Action, Manchester, 1972.

Memories from Community Action, Manchester, 1972. Inequality is now far worse.

Today’s news includes a report from Oxfam -who now run anti-poverty projects in the U.K- showing that five super-rich families have more personal wealth than the poorest 20 per cent of the population.  A long term psychiatric patient at our nearest hospital, who recently had a heart attack after her treatment had been stopped, and was still being harassed by the Department for Work and Pensions after she had gone into a coma, is one example of how government cuts are targeting extremely vulnerable people.  Its now beyond reasonable doubt that people are taking their own lives due to benefit ‘reforms’. (some testimony can be found here).

Although the issues are, of course, rather more complex than rescuing toads, there’s an urgent need to raise awareness of what is happening, to resist cuts to essential public services and welfare benefits, to propose alternatives, and to ensure that vulnerable people in our society are respected and protected.  There’s also a need to stay sane, perhaps, with the help of some small amphibian friends.

B.T 17/3/14.

Comment by e-mail: “What a great toad photo! I like the way you linked it with vulnerable people too.” J.P.