Friday, 8 May 2015

Hertfordshire 1 - The Chiltern Hills

Spring Fever - When that Aprill with his shoures soote.....






Although there is an unusual tendency among certain human types to mutter and moan at every change of weather, there can be little argument that the gradual lengthening of days and warming of the soil in March and April brings relief and joy to the northern world....



Among the first signs of life renewal, which may be in January or February (they are traditionally linked with Candlemas), are snowdrops.....








But these icy little flowers are soon followed by sunny primroses, (from prima rosa - first flower) emerging on banks and in ancient graveyards (Primrose Day is April 19th, when primroses are laid on Disraeli's monument at Westminster Abbey).....









And in the meantime the male catkins of goat willow (pussy willow) turn bright yellow to brighten hedges and scrublands....






Around the same time daffodils come into bloom.  Wild daffodils are also known as Lenten lilies, and Easter lilies, and they used to be among the commonest of our wild flowers.  I remember the fields near my grandparents' home in Sussex being completely filled with them when I was young....  The two bright yellows of these flowers gladden hearts as they shine like the sun, and it is not surprising that Wordsworth's poem is one of the nation's favourites.....



Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.






But perhaps the best of spring comes with the emergence of shining lakes of perfumed bluebells?  I suppose it marks that point of no return for Spring, when the earth is full of growth, the air is full of scents and songs, and the fires of love warm life anew.  We may suffer inclement showers and stormy winds, but the prevalence is for light, and the snows and frosts of winter are now, we hope, fading memories.....




O I admire and sorrow! The heart's eye grieves
Discovering you, dark tramplers, tyrant years.
A juice rides rich through bluebells, in vine leaves,
And beauty's dearest veriest vein is tears.


Gerard Manley Hopkins, On the Portrait of Two Beautiful Young People




Near where I live are the splendid beech woods of Ashridge, but all around me are pockets of ancient woodland with well-established colonies of native bluebells.  From a distance sometimes they shimmer like water, as Housman suggests, waves of them lapping at the boles of trees....



And like a skylit water stood

The bluebells in the azured wood.

A E Housman




A walk in the bluebells has long been an annual necessity in our family, and, though the real thing is never as good in two dimensions, there has often been an attempt to capture the moment....



My mother took this snap of dad in the last year of his life....


With the sun a little higher in the sky, and the unfurling of fresh young leaves and fronds, the woods at this time of year continue to surprise with their variety. Later in the year, when the trees are in full leaf, less light penetrates to the floor, so the sparkle is gone.....








At this time, the stems themselves can seem like trees....






And their own haze makes the perfect background for their individual bells....







Sometimes they are whipped by hurried breezes, 






Sometimes you find a solitary plant standing quietly in a clearing.....






Although they are found all over the British Isles, and don't only clothe the floors of beech woods, in the Chilterns they mostly live under the canopy and do their best to flower and set seed before the darkening leaves close over them and they die back.....




A bluebell's eye view....



The rich weave of colour that we see when the bluebells are at their best distracts us from everything else, and it comes as a surprise to find that among them, as if by stealth, other bright gems are set....






Greater stitchwort with its fragile stems needs the cover and support of other plants to raise its delicate flowers to the sun, and then lower in the undergrowth, Germander speedwell makes its appearance....






And peeking from the foliage, another little blue flower appears....




That sweet and bright-eyed flowerlet of the brook

Hope's gentle gem, the sweet Forget-me-not!


Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Keepsake



Ground ivy joins the blues, 






White dead-nettles attract the bees..... 






Jack-by-the-hedge appears in flower.  This is also known as Garlic mustard, and it has long been used for flavouring and for salads.....







Though if you would like a slightly stronger taste, then the leaves of Wild garlic, or Ramsons, can be gathered and eaten in salads or wilted like spinach.....






And, as the bluebells begin to fade, Yellow archangels take their place in the parcels of ancient woodland in Heartwood Forest.....







So......

Whan Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodie.....

[Geoffrey Chaucer
The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales]


Then I love going on rambles in the countryside.....  It's such a positive time of year!








Spring Fever is generally a good and lively thing, and the rising sap stirs us from our invernal lassitude. But every silver lining has a cloud, as they say, and Spring Fever can also be the opposite, known as Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, an unexpected tiredness or loss of energy.....

This may account for the lack of engagement noted in this quotation from P G Wodehouse's novel, Spring Fever:

Breakfast had been prepared by the kitchen maid, an indifferent performer who had used the scorched earth policy on the bacon again..... 

Or it may in part be responsible for the appalling laziness that led to this example of Spring Cleaning:





There's always someone around to spoil things.

Fly tipping not far from Heartwood Forest.





* * * * * * *



This one's for my mum.....


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