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)

Saturday, 27 July 2013

July 27th.

The hot spell has finally broken and the day which started off sunny has descended into heavy rain and dark grey skies, I'm sure many will be thankful for it especially farmers, but along with the butterflies which have been thriving this year because of the kind conditions, I prefer the blue and dry skies. The first caterpillars have started appearing, found some yellow and black striped cinnabar moth caterpillars on the ragweed. These caterpillars live only on this plant and fortunately for them ,there is lots of it about this year, big bunches of bright yellow blooms along the roadsides and meadows.
 Also the tadpoles have transformed themselves and there are lots of tiny frogs in the grass, they at least will enjoy the wet, as will the heron who was greedily watching out for them.
The hedgerows are still full of fledglings, lots of finches about at the moment, and the buzzard is still whingeing in its willow tree!
All the spiky plants; thistle, teasel and burdock are in flower at the moment and the insects love them!
Illustration available here

Rain in Summer-
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!

The sick man from his chamber looks
At the twisted brooks;
He can feel the cool
Breath of each little pool;
His fevered brain
Grows calm again,
And he breathes a blessing on the rain.

In the country, on every side,
Where far and wide,
Like a leopard's tawny and spotted hide,
Stretches the plain,
To the dry grass and the drier grain
How welcome is the rain!

And near at hand,
From under the sheltering trees,
The farmer sees
His pastures, and his fields of grain,
As they bend their tops
To the numberless beating drops
of the incessant rain.
He counts it as no sin
That he sees therein
Only his own thrift and gain.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

July 24th.

The Dragonfly-Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Today I saw the dragonfly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Through crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.

A beautiful day on the flat lands of the Gwent levels. Went out in the morning before the sun was too hot, and the breeze was still whispering like rustling paper through the reeds, to the wetlands at Uskmouth. Saw a bearded tit, a bird that has only in recent years returned to this area, feeding its young in the reeds, and many water birds; Swans, coots, moorhens, little grebes, mallards, tufted ducks lazing in the sunshine on the water with their young ones. Around them a myriad of butterflies in the abundant wild flowers, and huge azure and emerald green emperor dragon flies, like little helicopters buzzing around the reed tops.

 Out on the mud-flats that shone silver in the sunlight, were
 shell-ducks, gulls and curlews. I love the sound of curlews, such a melodious warbling call, that bubbles up like laughter and makes you listen.  A heron was looking suspiciously and with a measure of hostility at an egret, a lovely white  bird that is becoming a more and more common sight on our shores.
Down on the marsh lands , because the landscape is so flat, the sky looked huge and blue.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

July 20th.

Illustration available here

So many beautiful butterflies enjoying this summer weather in the meadows; peacocks, red admirals, meadow browns,tortoiseshells,small skippers, small coppers, commas and whites! This year without rain or wind to bash about their delicate bodies , they are flourishing. Fledglings too are doing well, although I've seen many sparrow hawks about the last few days hoping to swoop unawares on them, a female even dived over a hedge and landed empty-clawed right beside me, much to hers and my surprise.
 I have a very friendly young blackbird in my garden who follows me about when watering the plants ,waiting for the worms to surface.
The hot weather continues, although more cloud has moved in today so perhaps this hot spell is coming to an end?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

July 17th.

Another stunningly hot summers day, with temperatures in the high twenties, unsurprisingly the hay has been cut in nearly every meadow. Some of the meadows along the Olway brook are waiting for a later cut and so are tall and thick, full of thistles, purple loose-strife and knapweed.Walking through them, clouds of meadow brown, marbled white and tortoiseshell butterflies rose in the air, a beautiful sight! The tall grass is full of young crows and jackdaws too, who also rise up  into the air in a black flurry of feathers, squawking in surprise. A young buzzard has taken residency in one of the willows along the brook and sits there whingeing loudly all day to its parents for food, and as I watched a blackbird trying to get its fledgling to eat independently, patiently showing it how to peck at the food it had brought instead of popping it straight into its open beak, I thought it funny that all animals, including us, have the same challenges when trying to rear their young!

Illustration available here

Summer- Christina Rossetti.
Winter is cold-hearted
  Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weather-cock
  Blown every way:
Summer days for me
When every leaf is on its tree;
When Robin's not a beggar,
  And Jenny Wren's a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing,
  Over the wheat-fields wide,
  And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
  Swings from side to side,
And blue-black beetles transact business,
  And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
  That no time be lost,
And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive.
Before green apples blush,
  Before green nuts embrown,
Why, one day in the country
  Is worth a month in town;
  Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
  That days drone elsewhere.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

July 14th.

Illustration available here

Still hot and sunny, the meadows are baked in the sunshine, and the reens that were  full of water only a week or two ago , are drying up, leaving some huge groups of fat tadpoles stranded in large black wriggling masses. I collected a few jars full and transferred them to some fuller ponds, they have developed their back legs but still have a way to go before they can survive out of water. The willows that line the Olway valley are shedding their seed, white fluff falling down like snow.There are so many wild flowers in bloom, and ironically the best place to find them is on the roadside verges; ragweed, st. Johns wort,willow herb, bindweeds, agrimony,cranesbill and several varieties of thistle. Many of these plants are considered weeds these days, but they are all very pretty plants, and full of bees and butterflies. The grasshoppers too are out in force in the meadows, leaping between the different grasses.
Although my garden is full of house sparrow fledglings, the parents have started hatching out the next brood, unfortunately another day or so old chick fell out of its nest in the roof to its death. The little birds must be baking up in the roof-space, and dehydration can often be a problem for young animals of all sorts in this weather.
On the river the birds were looking a little worried by all the humans that have invaded their usually peaceful waters ( me included!).The river has a big bloom of crowsfoot this year, growing in thick clumps with little white flowers, even the people didn't deter the damsel flies that were crowding on to the flowers. Saw a young dipper, but sadly no kingfishers.

Summer Images-John Clare. ( lines from)
Now swarthy Summer, by rude health embrowned,
      Precedence takes of rosy fingered Spring;
And laughing Joy, with wild flowers prank’d, and crown’d,
      A wild and giddy thing,
And Health robust, from every care unbound,
      Come on the zephyr’s wing,

          And cheer the toiling clown.
Me not the noise of brawling pleasure cheers,
      In nightly revels or in city streets;
But joys which soothe, and not distract the ears,
      That one at leisure meets
In the green woods, and meadows summer-shorn,
      Or fields, where bee-fly greets
          The ear with mellow horn.

 The green-swathed grasshopper, on treble pipe,
      Sings there, and dances, in mad-hearted pranks;
There bees go courting every flower that’s ripe,
      On baulks and sunny banks;
And droning dragon-fly, on rude bassoon,
      Attempts to give God thanks
          In no discordant tune.

 The speckled thrush, by self-delight embued,
      There sings unto himself for joy’s amends,
And drinks the honey dew of solitude.
      There Happiness attends
With inbred Joy until the heart o’erflow,
      Of which the world’s rude friends,
          Nought heeding, nothing know.

   There the gay river, laughing as it goes,
      Plashes with easy wave its flaggy sides,
And to the calm of heart, in calmness shows
      What pleasure there abides,
To trace its sedgy banks, from trouble free:
      Spots Solitude provides
          To muse, and happy be.

 There think me how some barter joy for care,
      And waste life’s summer-health in riot rude,
Of nature, nor of nature’s sweets aware.
      When passions vain intrude,
These, by calm musings, softened are and still;
      And the heart’s better mood
          Feels sick of doing ill.

 I see the wild flowers, in their summer morn
      Of beauty, feeding on joy’s luscious hours;
The gay convolvulus, wreathing round the thorn,
      Agape for honey showers;
And slender kingcup, burnished with the dew
      Of morning’s early hours,
          Like gold yminted new.
Illustration available here

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

July 9th.

Illustration available here

The weather continues to get hotter and hotter with the Usk valley being the hottest place in Wales today! Went for a long ramble early in the morning up in the fields, through the woods and up to the mountain top above Mamhilad. A stunning day to be on a mountain top, with the most spectacularly beautiful views across the county, from Abergavenny and the Wentwood ridge down across the Usk valley, and to the Bristol channel across to Somerset beyond. Skylarks filled the air with their song and meadow pipits fluttered among the bracken stalks. Amongst the bracken were hundreds of foxgloves which made the most beautiful purple and green landscape.

Also there, were some large flocks of Mistle Thrush, something rarely seen down in the valley. The woods were a cool, damp relief after the sweltering mountain top, and full of moss and ancient beech trees. Saw a lovely family of spotted flycatchers in the dappled branches. Down in the meadows were lots of butterflies; tortoiseshell, meadow brown, small skipper  and the welted thistle that seems to be having a bumper year was full of hungry goldfinches. Back in Usk along the Olway valley,I was very pleased to see a family of linnets, a bird I haven't seen here for a long while. This so far, is a much kinder summer to wildlife than many years previously!

On The Hilltop-Elizabeth Stoddard. ( lines from).
Not by the margent of the sea,
But on the hilltop I would be,
My little house a mossy den,
Between me and the world of men.
Beside me dips a wide ravine,
Covered with a flowery screen;
Far round me rise a band of hills,
Whose voices reach me by their rills,
Or deep susurrus of the wood,
That stands in stately brotherhood,
Upholding one vast web of green,
Whereunder foot has never been—
The pine and elm, the birch and oak—
And thus their voices me invoke:
“If you would on the hilltop be,
We cannot share your misery;
Cease, cease this moaning for the Past:
The law of grief can never last.”
When springtime brings anemones,
Upon the sod I take my ease,
Or in the tinted April hours
I watch the curtain of the showers
That fall beneath a lurking cloud,
Which for a moment throws a shroud
On the sun’s arrows in the west,
Till it blaze up a golden crest.
The young moon bends her crescent horn
Against the lingering summer morn;
Then, riding down the starry sky,
She follows me till night goes by.
Whatever is the truth, I say,
If up and down the world I stray,
Still on the hilltop I would be,
Not by the margent of the sea!

Friday, 5 July 2013

July 5th.

After a few cloudy, cooler days, the summer has hit again, with soaring temperatures and blue, blue skies. Farmers are busy cutting the fields, although they tell me this year the hay crop is not very thick because of the cold Spring. The meadows are full of meadow brown and speckled wood butterflies and a huge amount of other insects, including unfortunately, swarms of horse-flies that would not leave me alone! Saw the pretty red and black Burnett moth buzzing around the grasses, and huge yellow clumps of St Johns wort in bloom.

The Bee- Emily Dickinson.

Like trains of cars on tracks of plush
I hear the level bee:
A jar across the flowers goes,
Their velvet masonry

Withstands until the sweet assault
Their chivalry consumes,
While he, victorious, tilts away
To vanquish other blooms.

His feet are shod with gauze,
His helmet is of gold;
His breast, a single onyx
With chrysoprase, inlaid.

His labor is a chant,
His idleness a tune;
Oh, for a bee's experience
Of clovers and of noon!

Illustration available here

Monday, 1 July 2013

July 1st.

Illustration available here

July was the fifth month in the Roman calender, and so was called Quintillius. It was renamed Julius after Julius Caesar, his birthday being in this month. The Anglo-saxons called it Heymonath or Maedmonath meaning hay, or meadow month.
 In Welsh it is Gorffennaf- the end of summer,and the ancient Celts called this season Equos-'horsetime'.

Folk-sayings about July.
"A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly."

'If the first of July be rainy weather
twill rain more or less for four weeks together'.

'St. Swithins Day, if thou dost rain,
for forty-six days it will remain,
St. Swithins day if it be fair,
for forty days'twill rain nae mair.'

Traditional days in July.
July 3rd-Dog Days begin.
July 15th- St. Swithins Day.
July 25th-St. James's Day.
Illustration available here

A warm, sunny start to the month. This is the month that the British landscape for me really comes into its own, as our countryside is full of hedgerows. They are thickly festooned with so many varieties of plants, just in one patch this morning were trailing pink and white roses, honeysuckle, bindweed, pale bramble blossom twined through the banks, with hedge parsley, hogweeds and meadowsweet standing upright and sculpture-like, underneath masses of creamy elder blossom- beautiful chaos! They are the safe havens too for all the fledglings around at this time of year, this morning there were wren families, green woodpeckers, blackbirds and several varieties of finch all living in these riotous habitats.