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)

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

28th and 29th December. The end of the Year.

Today was the calm day after the storm. Went for a walk along the very wet Olway Valley and up on to the lanes that criss-cross these hills towards Gwehelog. A hard grey light today that seems to bleach colour out of the landscape, which you often get after a storm. There's been a lot of wind damage to the trees, with many branches down and a loy more cracked and ready to fall in the next bout of storms that seem to be heading this way. In tha calm today though there were many birds of prey about, keen no doubt to make the most of the calm conditions to do some hunting and eating! A Sparrowhawk was chasing a green woodpecker that was calling out in fear and alarm and would in a few seconds have got it if it wasn't for the fact that I was in it's flight path and it pulled back when it saw me- lucky for the woodpecker! The hedges are full of birds so I'm sure it didn't take long for it to find an alternative meal. Also saw a beautiful female kestrel which is a rare treat these days in this area, a few decades ago they were very common here but have greatly declined. 

A cold, clear, frosty and sunny day. Walked along the Usk Valley, lots of the flood water lies iced over in the fields. The river is still high and fast flowing, with waves lapping up on to the banks in places, so still devoid of its usual birds. A beautiful glowing golden light today though and lovely blue skies to be appreciated before the next band of grey rain descends!

...And the Year ends on a dark stormy note.

The Darkling Thrush- Thomas Hardy. ( composed New Year's Eve 1900)
I leant upon a coppice gate
   When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
   The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
   Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
   Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
   The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
   The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
   Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
   Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
   The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
   Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
   In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
   Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
   Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
   Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
   His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
   And I was unaware.

Some December days in and around the Usk Valley.

Monday, 23 December 2013

December 23rd.

December's been very mild so far, but the last few days have been incredibly stormy, with lashing rain and gales. 
The river is very high and the flocks of swans, the goosanders and the mallards have all abandoned its fast flowing , muddy waters for calmer waters elsewhere, probably the reservoir at Llandegfedd. The Olway brook too is in flood, and similarly abandoned, though the overflowing waters have provided ponds in the fields that have attracted flocks of gulls. Most birds are grounded today though the high winds make flight very difficult! Along the brook, many trees and branches of the willows especially, have come down, revealing nests and honeycombs in their hollows from the Summer, and with their branches huge bunches of mistletoe are strewn on the banks. The hedgerows though are full of large flocks of thrushes, this year the Mistle thrush seems to have thrived, and they are now joined by their Winter cousins the fieldfares. The Robin in my garden has been singing a beautiful winter song all day, every day for the past few weeks, and although it s melodious notes started early this morning, it's now gone deep into the hedge to find shelter from the storm, no doubt as soon as the storm passes, it will be back out valiantly singing again!

Solstice Song.-K. Craigen.
Turn from the darkness
Step in to the light,
Burn the Yule Logs,
on this long Solstice night.

The Earths balance shifts
And we turn to the sun,
The journey to Spring
Has once more begun.
While the hedgehog lies sleeping,
The Dormouse dreams on,
The Robin and Thrush sing their mid-Winter song,
That tells of the light 
And the warmth it will bring,
The eggs in their nests,
And the flowers of Spring.

Say Goodbye to the darkness,
This Mid- Winter night,
The Earth beats a rhythm,
Dance in to the light.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

December 1st.

The name 'December' comes from the Latin word for 'ten', as this was the tenth month of the Roman calender. The Anglo-Saxons called this month 'winter monath or 'yule monath' as at Mid winter (21st December), they would burn the Yule Log to banish darkness and celebrate the return of the light as the year turned once again towards Spring. Later as they became Christians they also called it ' Heligh monath'-Holy Month referring of course to their newly acquired festival of Christmas. 

Traditional days in December.
6th December- St Nicholas's Day.
21st December- Winter Solstice.
25th December- Christmas Day.
26th December-St Stephens' Day.
29th December- St. Thomas's Day.
31st December-New Years Eve.

Folklore sayings about December.
' If the sun shines through the apple trees upon a Christmas day,
When Autumn comes they will a load of fruit display'.

'Snow on Christmas means Easter will be green'.

'A mild December precedes a cold snap later in the Winter'.

In Drear-Nighted December-John Keats.
"In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne'er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne'er remember
Apollo's summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would 'twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme."

A mild, grey start to the month. On the river there were several families of swans, white parents with their large but still grey-feathered young enjoying the calm and mild waters. The river is fairly low at the moment as November was a dry month. Only a couple of weeks until the year turns around again and the nights start to get lighter!

30th November.

A beautiful day to end the month, which has been a very dry one and apart from a couple of days of frost, a fairly mild one too, today in the sunshine I even saw a red admiral butterfly! The old railway line running along factory lane was a flurry of birds today, all gorging themselves on the mass of berries that grow along there, nearly all of the hawthorn berries have been stripped now, but still plenty of rose-hips, mistletoe and holly berries remain, as well as lots of crab apples which will sustain them well into the winter months. There seems to be a lot more mistle thrushes about this year than usual so they obviously flourished this year. The fields as normal for this time of year are full of crows, rooks and jackdaws, with the occasional jay flying and squawking through the tree tops. Got a brief turquoise glimpse of a king-fisher darting along the brook. The owls have become very noisy at night again, with lots of hooting and screeching from barn and tawny owls in the trees behind my house.

Talking in their Sleep- Edith.M. Thomas.

“You think I am dead,”
   The apple tree said,
“Because I have never a leaf to show—
   Because I stoop,
   And my branches droop,
And the dull gray mosses over me grow!
But I’m still alive in trunk and shoot;
   The buds of next May
   I fold away—
But I pity the withered grass at my root.”

 “You think I am dead,”
   The quick grass said,
“Because I have parted with stem and blade!
   But under the ground
   I am safe and sound
With the snow’s thick blanket over me laid.
I’m all alive, and ready to shoot,
   Should the spring of the year
   Come dancing here—
But I pity the flower without branch or root.”
“You think I am dead,”
   A soft voice said,
“Because not a branch or root I own.
   I never have died,
   But close I hide
In a plumy seed that the wind has sown.
Patient I wait through the long winter hours;
   You will see me again—
   I shall laugh at you then,
Out of the eyes of a hundred flowers.”