In 1906 Edith Holden started a Diary, now known as ‘The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady’. In it, she observed Natures cycle through the months of the year, writing simply about the weather, the birds, the flowers and the natural world around her. All the pages are beautifully ornamented with her original artwork and favourite poems. In this Blog, I’m going to try to emulate her Diary in a modern way. For a start, this is a blog on a computer, not pen and ink lovingly written on paper! However, I hope that the end result will have some similarities, in that I want to capture day by day, month by month the steady rhythm of Nature through the year. For although our 21st century lives are hectic, chaotic, noisy and deafened by electronics, the beat of the natural world, which is the backdrop to all our lives whether we notice it or not, remains ever the same. So take a sedate, gentle and steady-paced journey with me through the next year, observing the natural world. Our way of life may have changed almost beyond recognition since 1906, but nature is doing what it always has done, the cycle of nature remains constant and reassuringly predictable. In that respect, nothing has changed. ‘ No Winter lasts forever; no Spring skips its turn.’ (Hal Borland)

Sunday, 30 June 2013

A perfect summers day to end the month. A month that's been fairly dry and warm, and a month full of flowers; from the roses rambling in abundance through the woods, campions, foxgloves and vetches tangled in the banks, to the cranesbill and huge hogweeds along the river bank. Today, very fittingly walked through the gardens of Usk in their 'open gardens' weekend and saw lots of the wild flowers from the fields, reflected in the gardens, many of which were full of bees and butterflies. It's lovely to see such a resurgence of interest in wild flowers for gardens and they are a huge benefit to wildlife. The pond at the school was particularly beautiful, with colourful water lilies, cranesbill, trefoil and flag Iris all making a perfect home for frogs, newts and insects.

[Month of] June-Hilaire Belloc.
Rise up, and do begin the day's adorning; 
The Summer dark is but the dawn of day. 
The last of sunset fades into the morning, 
The morning calls you from the dark away. 
The holy mist, the white mist of the morning, 
Was wreathing upward on my lonely way. 
The way was waiting for your own adorning 
That should complete the broad adorned day. 

Rise up, and do begin the day's adorning; 
The little eastern clouds are dapple grey: 
There will be wind among the leaves to-day; 
It is the very promise of the morning. 
Lux Tua Via Mea: your light's my way - 
Then do rise up and make it perfect day.

Some days in June in the Usk Valley.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

June 27th.

Illustration available here

Went for a long walk this morning along the lanes and back up the valley along the river. A beautiful, hot morning, very different to the weather now as I'm writing, which is grey, cool with heavy rain! How a day can change!
Lots of the fields along the top of the lanes have been cut, including the one the skylarks nest in, hope they've managed to rear their chicks in time, modern farming methods are often incompatible with the best interests of wildlife unfortunately.They were up and singing though so I will take that as a good omen. It's really nice to see both the brook and the river at their proper summer levels, instead of the high flood levels of the last few summers. This has proved very beneficial for the birds nesting in the islands in the river; goosanders, swans, mallards, wagtails and the common sandpiper, a pretty brown bird which was sat quietly on a rock in the river.
The kingfishers and dippers are scarce though which is a result of the floods destroying their nesting sites.
Also a lot of fields along the river valley have been planted with wheat again, so hopefully this may encourage birds such as  the yellow hammer back to the valley, it used to be a common sight years ago.

Monday, 24 June 2013

June 24th-Midsummer day.

Ballade (Double Refrain) Of Midsummer Days And Nights-W.E. Henley.

With a ripple of leaves and a tinkle of streams
The full world rolls in a rhythm of praise,
And the winds are one with the clouds and beams—
Midsummer days!  Midsummer days!
The dusk grows vast; in a purple haze,
While the West from a rapture of sunset rights,
Faint stars their exquisite lamps upraise—
Midsummer nights!  O midsummer nights!

The wood’s green heart is a nest of dreams,
The lush grass thickens and springs and sways,
The rathe wheat rustles, the landscape gleams—
Midsummer days!  Midsummer days!
In the stilly fields, in the stilly ways,
All secret shadows and mystic lights,
Late lovers murmur and linger and gaze—
Midsummer nights!  O midsummer nights!

There’s a music of bells from the trampling teams,
Wild skylarks hover, the gorses blaze,
The rich, ripe rose as with incense steams—
Midsummer days!  Midsummer days!
A soul from the honeysuckle strays,
And the nightingale as from prophet heights
Sings to the Earth of her million Mays—
Midsummer nights!  O midsummer nights!

And it’s O, for my dear and the charm that stays—
Midsummer days!  Midsummer days!
It’s O, for my Love and the dark that plights—
Midsummer nights!  O midsummer nights!

After a chilly, cloudy start midsummer day eventually turned into another lovely day.The fields and hedgerows are full of wild flowers, this year in particular seems to have been a very good year for them, they've all blossomed in abundance and because of the late spring they've all come at once which has meant that there has been some stunning displays of flowers especially along the banks of the lanes. There are lots of house sparrow fledgelings about, fluffy and soft-beaked, 'cheeping' loudly to frantic parents, and the flocks of starlings in thefields also have many young with them, still with brown plumage. There are two pairs of beautiful collared doves about too, but they have the unfortunate habit of sitting in the road and I'm worried they're going to get run over. The buzzards are enjoying the summer skies, gliding overhead and 'mewing', joined now by their newly flying young.

Friday, 21 June 2013

June 21st. Summer Solstice.

Longest day today, and a lovely day it's been. 
Walked up along the Usk river towards Abergavenny, passing the beautiful windmill at Llancayo standing in fields of wheat. The lush and tangled undergrowth along the banks of the river provide an ideal home for insects galore, there were many cabbage white butterflies and a brimstone which is a fairly rare sight these days. Damsel flies in a myriad of colours,were chasing each other through the bracken and wheat fields that
are lined with delicate vibrantly red poppies.
The mallards were lazing on the rocks and the females hiding with chicks under the overhanging willows. A lovely radiant day, one which I always feel bittersweet about as from now on the days start to get shorter again.

June- Francis Ledwidge.
Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by, 
And plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there, 
And let the window down. The butterfly 
Floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair 
Tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs 
Above her widespread wares, the while she tells 
The farmers' fortunes in the fields, and quaffs 
The water from the spider-peopled wells. 

The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas, 
And bobbing poppies flare like Elmo's light, 
While siren-like the pollen-staind bees 
Drone in the clover depths. And up the height 
The cuckoo's voice is hoarse and broke with joy. 
And on the lowland crops the crows make raid, 
Nor fear the clappers of the farmer's boy, 
Who sleeps, like drunken Noah, in the shade. 

And loop this red rose in that hazel ring 
That snares your little ear, for June is short 
And we must joy in it and dance and sing, 
And from her bounty draw her rosy worth. 
Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south, 
The wind wheel north to gather in the snow, 
Even the roses spilt on youth's red mouth 
Will soon blow down the road all roses go.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

June 19th.

It's nearing the summer solstice,and today has been an archetypal mid-summer day, hot from morning until dusk with fabulous blue skies full of screeching swifts, tractors cutting the first hay and sheep and cattle huddled under the nearest broad oak tree for shade.
Walked along the valley early in the morning while there was still a heavy dew on the fields, and the birds were still full of song before the day got too hot.Several thrushes were singing very melodiously from the branches, and the wild honeysuckle in full bloom smelt gorgeous! Also saw a lesser spotted woodpecker on an ash branch, it's the first sighting  I've had this year of one, usually see a couple every year in the Usk area, they're lovely, miniature woodpeckers.
 Loads of young birds about; a family of goldfinches were stripping the sorrel in the meadows, they only have their drab brown plumage except for the wing-bar at the moment but will soon develop their bright adult feathers, also another family of crows sitting in willow branches noisily calling at their parents and flapping their wings for food, even though they are now as big as their parents!
Saw a lovely brown slow-worm  basking in the sunshine which slid quietly away in to the grass when it saw me.

Monday, 17 June 2013

June 16th and 17th.

Went to Wentwood, primarily to see if I could hear the Cuckoo one last time before they  start their long flight south to Africa. In recent years Wentwood has been the only place that I've reliably heard the Cuckoo, they have become very scarce in the Usk valley now, but unfortunately didn't hear one. The broom was out in magnificent yellow bloom though, which brightened up what has been a very grey, cold and damp week.

The banks along the lanes have very thick undergrowth now, perfect, but at least three or four weeks late, for nesting birds-profuse bunches of campions, stitchwort, foxglove, vetch, herb robert and the tiny wild strawberry all tangled up together. I picked some of the tiny fruit to eat, which are very sweet but not much of a mouth-full! The skylark on Red hill flew up right beside me as I walked along the hedge, singing as it went-hope its nest has been successful. There were clouds of damsel-flies, and they too brightened up the grey atmosphere with the glinting of their brilliant metallic turquoise bodies and wings.

Illustration available here

Friday, 14 June 2013

June 14th.

Walked up to the marshes along the lanes to Gwehelog. There have been little pockets of marsh here for many years, but they have spread and grown to very lovely mature, large patches on both sides of the lane, full of some beautiful plants. The flag iris were out in full yellow bloom and lots of them too. Dotted in amongst them were the delicate ragged robin, and masses of marsh mint which gives off a very strong spearmint fragrance when trodden on. The hedges are full of fledglings, saw a family of great tits, and goldfinches. The foxgloves have come in to flower, magnificent bundles of them, statuesque in the banks.

Foxgloves- Mary Webb.
The foxglove bells, with lolling tongue,
Will not reveal what peals were rung
In Faery, in Faery,
A thousand ages gone.
All the golden clappers hang
As if but now the changes rang;
Only from the mottled throat
Never any echoes float.
Quite forgotten, in the wood,
Pale, crowded steeples rise;
All the time that they have stood
None has heard their melodies.
Deep, deep in wizardry
All the foxglove belfries stand.
Should they startle over the land,
None would know what bells they be.
Never any wind can ring them,
Nor the great black bees that swing them--
 Every crimson bell, down-slanted,
 Is so utterly enchanted.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

June 11th.

The wild roses are in bloom in the woods,  all tangled and interwoven in a pretty, fragrant jumble with wild honey suckle. It's a good month for all climbing and creeping plants and the woods can sometimes get quite inpenetrable with the wild undergrowth that suddenly, and thickly springs up. Blackberry bushes are in bud. The smell in the air is beautiful, with wafts of sweet perfume carried on the breeze, especially in the evening.The birds are all very busy, saw several blackcaps catching flies above the brook and a pair of crows feeding four large chicks sat grumpily on a willow branch. After a cold and wet start to the day, it turned into a lovely evening full of bird-song.

June- Matthew Arnold

The evening comes, the fields are still,
The tinkle of the thirsty rill
Unheard all day ascends again;
Deserted is the half-mown plain,
Silent the swathes! The ringing wain,
The mower's cry, the dogs alarms,
All housed within the sleeping farms!
The business of the day is done,
The last left hay-maker is gone.
And from the thyme upon the height,
And from the elder blossom white
And pale dog roses in the hedge,
and from the mint plant in the sedge,
In puffs of balm the night air blows
The perfume which the day forgoes.
And on the pure horizon far,
See, pulsing with the first born star,
The liquid sky above the hill!
The evening comes, the fields are still.

Illustration available here

Thursday, 6 June 2013

June 6th.

The beautiful summer weather continues. There is a fantastic display of buttercups in the fields along the Olway brook, and in the wild angelica that grows abundantly along its banks were clouds of iridescent damsel flies. Pied wagtails and sparrows were having a feast, catching beakfulls of them and the other insects to take back to their broods. Watched a tree creeper preening on the trunk of a tree, and buzzards soaring in the blue sky. 

The Brook- Alfred Lord Tennyson. ( lines from)
I come from haunts of coot and hern,
   I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
   To bicker down a valley.

I chatter over stony ways,
   In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
   I babble on the pebbles.

 I chatter, chatter, as I flow
   To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
   But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
   With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
   And here and there a grayling,

And draw them all along, and flow
   To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
   But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
   I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
   That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
   Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
   Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
   In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
   I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
   To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
   But I go on for ever.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

June 4th.

Another beautiful summers day. Went up to the Wye valley, which is very lush and green this time of year, as is the Usk valley. Took a canoe out on the river, which is a great way to get a different angle on the wildlife, I got a water-birds eye view. The river is teeming with mallards and their ducklings, it seems to have been a good year for them, as the Usk too has lots of young mallards.Also lots of pied wagtails about, dancing over the water catching flies, and a  lovely yellow wagtail too, its plumage dazzling in the bright sunshine.

There was a big flock of canada geese on the one bank, but couldn't see any young ones with them, and the same with a number of swans.
June is certainly bursting out all over as the saying goes, the woods and hedgerows are now very dense and flourishing, full of riotous colour.  I especially like the huge comfrey plants that have sprung up and are now in flower along the hedgerows.

Down The Stream The Swans All Glide

Down the stream the swans all glide;
It's quite the cheapest way to ride.
Their legs get wet,
Their tummies wetter:
I think after all
                                      The bus is better .    ( or maybe a canoe!)

Spike Milligan