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)

Thursday, 29 August 2013

August 29th.

Walked up the Flood Route and back up along the Olway Valley in the morning, with a heavy dew lying on the fields. The hedges along the lanes have been cut back so there are very few flowers about, and now all the nests and burrows from the summer months have been
revealed including a rather large wasps nest! 
The skylark has I think left its summer nesting ground up on the top fields as I haven't heard it for a while now, and the swifts too have disappeared, back on their long flight south. The swallows and martins still fill the air though.
It seems that August is quietly slipping into Autumn, the robin has started singing its'Autumn' song- just as it's one of the first birds to herald Spring, so it does Autumn too.
Illustration available here

 A huge crop of juicy blackberries this year, ate quite a few on my walk- very tasty!

Ode To Autumn- Keats.( lines from.)
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
        With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
    To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
        And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
          To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
        With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
  Until they think warm days will never cease,
          For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

  Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
      Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
  While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
      And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
  Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
      Among the river sallows, borne aloft
          Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
  And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
      Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
      The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft

      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Monday, 26 August 2013

August 26th.

The Usk valley this afternoon was basked in hot sun, one of those lazy, hazy days of late summer. The Olway brook is very low, as is normal this time of year and consequentially a kingfisher has returned, it was perched on a branch sticking out of the water with a large fish in its beak, skimming away down stream in a flash of turquoise when I disturbed it.Hopefully next year they will return to nest on this part of the brook.
 The dog roses climbing through the woods, that what only seems like weeks ago were in glorious flower, are now heavily laden with huge swollen rosehips, and a crab apple tree close by is similarly loaded with fruit. Lots of white and tortoiseshell butterflies about and a lovely little common blue fluttering in the long grass at the edge of the woods, and also found lots of cabbage white butterfly caterpillars on ( very aptly) my cabbages!
 Apart from some very large and noisy flocks of finches that were grouped together in the willows lining the brook it was a quiet, dreamy afternoon the like of which you only get in late August.
The Summer Sun Shone Round Me - Robert Louis Stevenson
The summer sun shone round me,
The folded valley lay
In a stream of sun and odour,
That sultry summer day.

The tall trees stood in the sunlight
As still as still could be,
But the deep grass sighed and rustled
And bowed and beckoned me.

The deep grass moved and whispered
And bowed and brushed my face.
It whispered in the sunshine:
"The winter comes apace."

Thursday, 15 August 2013

August 15th.

It's been a very unsettled month so far; sun, rain, winds, humid air and sometimes a chill that feels distinctly like Autumn. Over the fields the fungi have started to pop up in profusion, there's edible field mushrooms to be picked already and many different species of toadstool climbing up through the dewy grass, looks like it's going to be a good autumn for them.

There are large flocks of martins this August too, both house and sand variety. On the brook and the river and the adjoining fields they are as numerous as clouds of flies, a fantastic breeding year for them, and as always happens, good for their predators too. Saw a hobby swooping in among a flock a couple of days ago , martins are their favourite food, which caused widespread panic and screeching. 
The Ash trees are bowed over with large amounts of keys, and it looks like there's going to be a bumper crop of acorns too-plenty of food to sustain wildlife over the winter.

An August Midnight-Thomas Hardy.
A shaded lamp and a waving blind, 
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor: 
On this scene enter--winged, horned, and spined - 
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore; 
While 'mid my page there idly stands 
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands . . . 

Thus meet we five, in this still place, 
At this point of time, at this point in space. 
- My guests parade my new-penned ink, 
Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink. 
"God's humblest, they!" I muse. Yet why? 
They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

August 8th.

Illustration available here

The meadows along the Olway valley were alive with insects today, buzzing, jumping, fluttering in every blade of grass it seemed, it's been a very good year for insect loving plants so hopefully their numbers will recover a little this year. Lots of grasshoppers in the fields, some a woody brown and others bright green, and a lot of small copper butterflies.Also found several bee hives in the willows, which are perfect homes for bees because of their tendency to crack and hollow out.

 For the other animals and birds it's a fairly quiet month as their hectic months of mating, nesting and rearing young are coming to an end, though have seen several blackbirds and thrushes with beaks full of worms in the last week, so they are obviously still feeding chicks.There were some large flocks of assorted tits in the willows ; blue, great and long-tailed with a few tree creepers mixed in, noisily grazing their way through the swishing branches.The trees and bushes are bursting with ripening fruits, seeds and nuts so there will be plenty of food for wildlife in the coming month or so.

Monday, 5 August 2013

August 2nd and 5th.

Two very different days in the Usk Valley, one full of hot sun and butterflies and the other grey, cold and wet after days of thunder and heavy downpours.
On Friday, walked up the Olway valley, through Llandenny and then up and along the ridge at Great House Farm.Saw lots of small birds along the brook; tits, finches, pied and grey wagtails bobbing on the pebbly shore of the brook. Up to the ridge the farmer has left some lovely meadow land which was full of huge purple bunches of knapweed. The insects love this and it was alive with butterflies of all sorts, the first painted ladies I've seen this year. The views up on the ridge are beautiful, the Abergavenny hills on one side, and wentwood and surrounding hills on the other. The thermal currents rising out of the two valleys up to the ridge must be incredible as there were at least fifty ravens up there all enjoying the warm blue skies and doing their amazing aerial acrobatics. I love watching ravens flying, you can tell that they fly for the sheer joy of it!
Illustration available here

Today, walked along the Usk river to The Bryn in the pouring rain. Lots of common sandpipers and a redshank on the river beaches, as well as mallards,canada geese, herons and some young great created grebes.The clouds were very black and low, obliterating the surrounding hillsides. 

Storm and Sunlight-Siegfreid Sassoon.

In barns we crouch, and under stacks of straw,
Harking the storm that rides a hurtling legion
Up the arched sky, and speeds quick heels of panic
With growling thunder loosed in fork and clap
That echoes crashing thro’ the slumbrous vault.
The whispering woodlands darken: vulture Gloom
Stoops, menacing the skeltering flocks of Light,
Where the gaunt shepherd shakes his gleaming staff
And foots with angry tidings down the slope.
Drip, drip; the rain steals in through soaking thatch
By cob-webbed rafters to the dusty floor.
Drums shatter in the tumult; wrathful Chaos
Points pealing din to the zenith, then resolves
Terror in wonderment with rich collapse.
Now from drenched eaves a swallow darts to skim
The crystal stillness of an air unveiled
To tremulous blue. Raise your bowed heads, and let
Your horns adore the sky, ye patient kine!
Haste, flashing brooks! Small, chuckling rills, rejoice!
Be open-eyed for Heaven, ye pools of peace!
Shine, rain-bow hills! Dream on, fair glimps├Ęd vale
In haze of drifting gold! And all sweet birds,
Sing out your raptures to the radiant leaves!
And ye, close huddling Men, come forth to stand
A moment simple in the gaze of God
That sweeps along your pastures! Breathe his might!
Lift your blind faces to be filled with day,
And share his benediction with the flowers.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

August 1st.

August was the sixth month of the Roman calendar, and  so originally called Sextillis, but was later renamed Augustus in honour of the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. 
The Anglo-saxons called it 'Weod-monath'-weed month. The 1st  of August is Lammas day and was traditionally the first day of  The Harvest Festival, and the beginning of Autumn. The wheat harvest was celebrated and it was customary to take a loaf of bread  to church to be blessed, the Anglo-Saxons called this 'hlaf-mas'- loaf mass.
 Now is also the celtic festival of Lughnasadh.

Folk-sayings about August.
' Dry August and warm doth harvest no harm'.

' If the first of August be warm, the winter will be white and long'.

' If the 24th of August be fair and clear
 then hope for a prosperous autumn that year'.

Traditional days in August.
1st august- Lammas day.
24th August-St Bartholemews Day.

Lammas Ritual.
'Blessed be the Harvest,
Blessed be the Corn Mother,
Blessed be the Grain God,
For together they nourish both body and soul.
Many blessings I have been given,
I count them now by this bread.
Guardian of the East, I pray for your indulgence.
Hear me now as I request your aid in the cycle of life.
As your winds blow through fields of ripened grain,
Carry loosened seeds upon your back
That they may fall amidst the soil
That is our Mother Earth.'

Summer Sun- Robert Louis Stevenson.
 "Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.

The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy's inmost nook.

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes."

A brilliantly hot start to the month. This evening the Usk valley was bathed in a beautiful golden glow, the heat still coming in waves from the warm earth. The wheat fields towards Trostrey looked vibrantly golden, almost like sand dunes. A true Lammas day, with the fields full of golden ripe wheat and the hedgerows bursting with their ripening fruits; elder berries, hawthorn berries,hazel nuts, rose-hips, blackberries and masses of hops winding its way up through the hedges and trees.