25 August 2020

All Creatures Great and Small

 The world around us.....

Enough of these shots of wildlife!  

OK.  This may be the last such for a while, but I have a sermon to preach, and these recent pics are relevant.....

Not just because I walk every day and carry a camera all the time.... Maybe because I love wisdom (or do I love sophistry?)

Anyway, in observing the world around me, I muse here and there about the present, the past, the future....

I watch birds, like the Red Kite (top) the female Black Cap in the Elderberries (above) and snap at insects, like this male Banded Demoiselle....

And this Common (I think) Darter.....

And this (toxic) Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar feasting on its beloved Ragwort.....

And it's fun to catch a glimpse of some of the more camouflaged denizens of this world, like this common Field Grasshopper (who has the ornate latin handle of Chorthippus brunneus)...

I wonder at their beauty and their form....  I love to see the glossy sheen of Corvids, with their raucous voices and bold behaviours (they don't like Kites or Buzzards and will mob them to protect their young)....

It's great to see the usual suspects - tits and wrens, robins and sparrows, starlings and, as here, a chaffinch or two.....

And I am thrilled sometimes to spot something less common, like these two LBJs (little brown jobs) that were twittering and squabbling just ahead of me the other day - too far and too quick for me to ask them to identify themselves at the time.....

I kinda (sic) thought we might have a Whitethroat here, but couldn't get the eye stripe. So I made enquiries of the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) who thought there was a Whinchat wanting to dislodge a Whitethroat from its perch. That may be the case, though I sort of think they may both be Whinchats (females).  But hey!  What's in a name?  (A rose would smell as sweet....)

Excuse me?  You said you had a sermon to preach?

I'm coming to it.....

Well, get on with it will you?  I've not got all day.....

OK. I don't see so many animals/mammals.  At least not live ones.  The occasional deer, maybe, and this confused Hoglet, who seemed to have lost its mum.....

It's the dead you notice.  And I don't mean roadkill....

This badger had probably been poisoned - it doesn't have natural predators, and it wouldn't have died of old age quite so obviously.....  The local gamekeeper is renowned for his eradication of threats to his game birds....  He shoots crows and poisons foxes, so, sadly, I think this chap may have met his end in a similar way....

Though quite what happened to this common shrew (Sorex araneus) I cannot guess.  It would appear that this was a brutal murder, but there's no sign of a blunt instrument.....

And your point is?

Hang on a minute.....

And look at this....

You really lost me now.  That's disgusting!  

No.  It's a little unpleasant to look at, but it's the way of nature.  Everything has its time, and then  it's recycled.  We may not like wasps and flies, but everything has its place, and part to play.

So what is your point?

OK.  It's simply this.  In all my walks I observe the turning world and I note that everything seems to me to have integrity.  I mean, birds, animals, insects, et al, all do what they are made to do.  There may be strategies, and there may be camouflages, but there's no deceit.  I expect I am naive in this, and experts may give examples of where I am wrong, but, for instance, the corona virus did not set out to ruin our world.  Just like ebola, and influenza, and leprosy and bubonic plague, it didn't set out to spoil our fun.

We are the plague that will destroy this world.  We are the makers of the new Mars.

You're nuts!

Not a bit!  I'll give you one more example. What words spring to mind when you see this picture?

I will give you a few suggestions: Ambition. Laziness. Deceit. Lust for power. Selfishness. Irresponsibility. Cowardice. Misjudgement. Nepotism. Confusion. Pride.....

Methinks you do protest too much.....

Just take those words and see if any of them apply to any of the creatures, alive or dead, that I have illustrated above this last.....

Errr, well....

So.  Who did kill cock robin?

The sparrow.

How do you know?

Well, he confessed.

You'll believe anything they tell you, won't you.....?

Is that a wasp in your mouth?  Or are you just pleased to see me?

And..... on with my walk.....

Some people think the sky is blue....

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
Alexander BPJ wants them all.....

20 August 2020

The Ridgeway National Trail

 Walking, Just Walking....

It was grey, and wet, and slippery, and not a great day for an 87 mile trek.

Though it could have been worse.  It could have been hot, like two weeks ago.  Or thundering, like a week ago.  

Nothing's ever right.

It's all a compromise.....

Anyway, yesterday, we made it to the top of Ivinghoe Beacon at the northern end of The Ridgeway National Trail, looking into the murk over the Vale of Aylesbury.  Amanda held her umbrella to shelter our daughter Hannah and her husband, Cameron, while I took some pics of the occasion.

So, all geared up, and carrying packs with a tent and sleeping bags, food and 'stuff' here they are, smiling, and raring to go.

This was not a mercenary mission; it was something they had wanted to do, and with the relaxation of lock-down, the plan had been finalised.

But it seemed a good idea to ask for sponsorship to raise money for the National Brain Appeal as this charity manages Rare Dementia Support (Rare Dementia Support is a fund held by the National Brain Appeal. Registered Charity Number 290173) which we benefit from in caring for Amanda, who has the semantic variant of Frontotemporal Dementia.....

Dementia is currently incurable, and it is a one-way street. It is no fun for the sufferer, but is also hard for the family and carers, as memory slips away, recognition and language disappear, behaviour becomes unpredictable and sometimes problematic if not dangerous. But thanks to the researchers at the National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London, and their associates, progress in understanding is being made, and support is offered to sufferers and their carers.

(Which is good, as there is very little on offer from this government.....)

A few weeks ago we did a little reconnaisance, and walked to Wayland's Smithy, a two-phase Neolithic tomb originating from about 5,500 years ago. According to English Heritage, Wayland’s Smithy has been a recognised feature of the historic landscape since at least the 10th century AD. The name of Wayland’s Smithy has been linked to the long barrow since at least AD 955, when it was referred to as ‘Weland’s Smithy’ in a Saxon charter. It appears to be a name handed down from a time when metalworking was remembered as a potent, even magical practice.

It is a magical place, surrounded by mature trees and resting largely undisturbed by the masses.....

It looked pretty much the same when I first visited, (shortly after it was built.....) which is reassuring in a way.....

It's not the only piece of prehistory upon the Trail (and that's apart from me.....) The Ridgeway itself is an ancient pathway, trodden by innumerable human feet over at least five millennia.  Some of it is now on metalled tracks, 

some on muddy footpaths,  (and this is Hannah, yesterday),

I walked it about twenty years ago, when I was a lad of fifty or so, but it has been a National Trail since 1972.

It is part of a longer route which connected the coast of Dorset with the Wash and the North Sea.  In this section it follows the chalk ridges of the Wiltshire Downs and the Chilterns, so it is well drained and allows for fair visibility all round.

Along the way there are sites such as the Bronze Age Uffington White Horse, and the Iron Age Hill Fort known as Uffington Castle, where Amanda inspected the Trig Point at 261 metres above sea level.

The route is not all consistently well surfaced, but some stretches, as here near Uffington Castle, have been made good for wheelchair users, and, inevitably, cyclists.  When I walked it, however, much of it was uneven and in places badly rutted by off-road motor bikes, which made the going pretty tiresome.

I walked it in high summer, though the first two days I got pretty wet and my boots rubbed and I felt quite sorry for myself (as you can see.....)

But it warmed up after crossing the Thames at Goring Gap, and by the time I got to the White Horse my brain was scorched and I had to lie down.....

But I survived, and didn't wake up to find myself entombed, so I carried on......

And after another day or so I passed Barbury Castle, another Iron Age Hill Fort, 

And then, finally, after some five days of hard walking, I hobbled down to the World heritage Site of Avebury, where a lot of stones live in a circle.  

It was a wonderful feeling, and the stones were so welcoming!   

This is where Hannah and Cameron will be in a few days time, footsore but happy, with a great sense of achievement, after their 87 miles of backpacking. And, I hope, having inspired donations to help a seriously good cause.  Please support them, if you can, by donating something via JustGiving via: 

Well done little goblin!

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
Up the road, around the bend
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
In the last outback at the world's end

Ain't Talkin'
Bob Dylan

Contact Rare Dementia Support

For information relating to a specific dementia diagnosis contact the RDS Direct Support Team at contact@raredementiasupport.org or by telephoning 07388 220355 or 07341 776317 and we will refer your enquiry to the most appropriate team member.

Please note that phone calls will not be answered immediately, so please leave a voicemail message with your contact information if you would like to speak to somebody on the telephone. 

For regional enquiries please email Roberta McKee-Jackson at r.mckee-jackson@ucl.ac.uk.

For more information about our work or to share your stories and feedback please email: contact@raredementiasupport.org.

17 August 2020

Season of Mists

Summer's End

I'm feeling a little sluggish today.  It's been so hot, and then we had the tempest, and now it's humid.....  And everything has slowed down.  

Summer's end's around the bend just flying
The swimming suits are on the line just drying
I'll meet you there per our conversation
I hope I didn't ruin your whole vacation

Just a week or so ago I was photographing butterflies sipping nectar, and newly fledged birds were pestering their parents for food....  And then came the great heat and every living thing just hunkered down in the shade, panting for water, saving its energy.  And then it rained, for forty days and forty nights it seemed, and just about everything got in the ark and sailed away.....  And now, it's quiet.  The buzzard will perch with the dove (ok, pigeon).....

And those same wires are the gathering place for young swallows, about to dive south to avoid the cold of winter.....

My daily walks have seen the seasons swell and bloom, and now the harvest's in and seeds are ripe and young are grown, there's a peace upon the landscape, a slow, almost dull heaviness.  The hares are lacking their spring, 

Mixed flocks of tits twitter to keep together in the bushes, but they aren't singing....

There are fishermen about, filling themselves with plump young fry....

Or just enjoying the play of running waters

Most of the harvest is in.  Some fields are drying still, but the pigeons are having a field day, gleaning the fallen grains....

And the littler birds (goldfinches, sparrows, yellowhammers, et al) are feasting on thistles and other light seeds.....

And in the meantime the bees, and flies, are carrying on where the butterflies left off....  Presumably they have not been as affected by the rain?

It is strange to think that, on Ferragosto (or, if you prefer, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary), the summer seems to have come to an end, and autumn is beginning.  Season of mellow fruitfulness?  I suppose, if you consider that Spring is getting ever earlier round here, then it is inevitable that Autumn must also creep back in the calendar?  It can hardly become later, can it?

And it may perhaps be in my imagination that these misty days are autumnal, but see these pictures, all taken in the last day or three:



Field Maple




Sloes - Blackthorn

Acorns - Sessile Oak

Acorns -English Oak


As I said, things are slowing down.  Although swallows continue to scissor the air above the fields, their speed a reminder of how fast the time is flying,

The rest of the world is slipping into lethargy.  

I admit to a certain tiredness, a listless feeling that this virus has worn us all down, and that the future is a darkening tunnel.  I have no faith - not in the leaders who care more about themselves, and power, than the hot-polloi.  Nor in any hope that life will return to 'normal' at the end of this tunnel.  There are good things, of course, and, for my part at least, things could be much worse.  

But I am feeling sluggish.... 

Forgive me.....

The moon and stars hang out in bars just talking
I still love that picture of us walking
Just like that ol' house we thought was haunted
Summer's end came faster than we wanted

Come on home
Come on home
No you don't have to be alone
Come on home
Come on home
No you don't have to be alone
Just come on home

Summer's End
John E Prine / Patrick James McLaughlin