There’s life in the old log yet

P1080667

This stump of a freshly felled tree in Anderton Nature Park caught my eye when walking there yesterday. It’s quite sad to see the remains of what must have been quite a large tree – maybe it had become diseased, maybe it was getting dangerous. We did hear the branch of a nearby tree creaking loudly and a bit alarmingly in the wind, as though it might have been loosening, ready to break off. We moved on sharpish!

The path took us through a wood full of past-their-best bluebells. Most of them were shrivelling and going to seed, but a few of the fresher and younger ones still looked magnificent. Right now the ground under the trees is carpeted with ramsens in full bloom, looking like soft white feathers.

The tree stump was surrounded by ramsens, and along with the ferns growing there they formed a wreath of green life, an appropriate memorial for a felled tree.

A day of birds and beasts

P1080567

Wetlands and Spanish Moss on trees, Brazos Bend State Park

Following our truncated stay and hasty departure from our visit to family in Houston ( to get back before all planes stopped flying, no other reason!) I’ve finally got around to looking at the photos I took there. So distracting and disorientating is this period of lockdown (what day is it…?) I’d forgotten about our family day out at Brazos Bend State Park and what we’d seen there.

It’s one of our “must go to” places when in Houston, so before our departure we had a family day together and enjoyed a walk around these wetlands. They are alligator- inhabited, a bit of a birder’s paradise, and they always delight us. We’ve seen roseate spoonbills, ibis, blue herons, bitterns catching fish just feet away from us, red-winged blackbirds and alligators basking on the banks.

Trees are festooned with Spanish Moss, noisy American coots hoot and squawk, anhingas (cormorant-like) sit with wings spread in the sunshine and large dark blue butterflies make their presence felt as their wings brush by.

P1080543There’s always something new to see, and this time it was the large brown furry creature in the marshy area, which some of our party thought was a beaver, some thought was a coypu, and some some just didn’t know. It’s taken me a while to get round to the ID job, and I had to check it out and do a spot of research too. It’s a nutria, which I’d not heard of before, but they’re quite common, are similar to beavers and are related to coypu, which are found in Europe. It’s the size and tail which give the answer – large body, rat-like tail. Beaver tails are flattened.

One down, one to go. What was that unusual bird with an orange and black head I saw lurking in the undergrowth? I took a few shots very quickly and managed to get enough for an ID. But what was it? I’d seen something like it before but couldn’t remember where.

P1080546Lockdown days offer more time to browse photographs. This bird looked vaguely familiar, so I tried a long shot and looked at photos I’d taken in Costa Rica, and there it was – a Crested Caracara. I’d seen one there. They’re listed as being seen in Texas, and specifically at Brazos Bend. It was quite  thrill to see this large bird – and not only that, on the way to Brazos by I spotted a male Hen Harrier (called a Northern Harrier in the US) flying low over a field.

This was probably the most significant sighting of the day for me. Hen Harriers are persecuted and endangered in the UK, and although I’ve been fortunate enough to see both male and female of this species on the wing in the UK, they still give me goosebumps on my neck when I do.

December dawn: and a new decade

P1080237

Drawing back the curtains this morning, this is what I saw. The pink of the rising sun set against the the pale blue promise of clear skies to come, with the silhouettes of nearby trees standing dark and proud in contrast. A touch of soft grey mist hovered gently in the middle distance.

Another day was dawning, and soon it will be another decade.

That we are moving from the 20-teens to the 20-twenties in a few day’s time has only recently registered with me; I’d only got as far as musing on the past year, let alone the past decade.

With my professional astrology hat on, I could expand on the current on-going rubbing of the shoulders of the planets Saturn and Pluto. I’m not going to do that, apart from saying that Saturn, as I see it, symbolises dyed-in-the-wool traditions and Pluto is the force that seeks to break down and throw out what is no longer of use and move on. Read into and interpret that as you will, there’s enough evidence of this taking effect on a global scale.

Going back to the photo, what I’m struck by is how strong, upright and present that tree is in this scene. It’s a tree I see daily, and perhaps don’t take that much notice of, although I do enjoy getting out my binoculars to ID whichever bird happens to be perching at the top. Sometimes it’s a magpie, sometimes a blackbird singing its heart out, and sometimes it’s a woodpecker. All have to be viewed against the light, hence the need for the binoculars to get more detail.

Could the shape and silhouette of that tree be a metaphor for the year/decade ahead? It’s suggesting to me the need to stand strong and proud, to be unashamed, to be present, to have a straight back like its trunk, to reach high like its crown where the birds perch, and to have open, welcoming arms which reach upwards, like its branches.

Venerable Oak

P1060722

This 650 year old tree is in Attingham Park, Shrewsbury. It was looking pretty good in a gnarled, bumpy and ancient way, standing proud and solid amongst the younger whipper snappers of trees hanging around nearby.

The park has a lot of ancient trees. This one is called the Repton Oak, named after Humphry Repton, a garden designer who worked on the grounds at Attingham in the late 1700s.

P1060714The bare branches rising above the broad trunk remind me of long hair wildly standing on end.

The textures of the old lumpy trunk, with the smooth, younger bare branch set against them make a pleasing contrast.

It’s beginning to look a lot like that time of year again….

IMG_0547

I’ve just put our very ancient vintage Christmas tree up. It’s an artificial one, made of plastic (shock horror – but it’s not as bad as it sounds). I bought it long long ago – so long ago I can’t remember when, and certainly when excessive use of plastic wasn’t a known problem –  but it was probably sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s. It cost £17, which was quite expensive at that time.

Daughter, who was at primary school when we got this tree, recently sent a link to a short video outlining the pros and cons of plastic v. real Christmas trees. Watching this with the 30+ years of annual outings our tree has had in mind, I know its carbon footprint debt was paid off long ago. We did have a real tree for several years before we went plastic; at the time it seemed more sustainable to have an artificial, reusable tree than to “kill off” a real one every year.

Our trusty tree looks surprisingly good and passably realistic (if you ignore the brown plastic trunk and branches), especially when the lights and baubles are in place hiding the more naff details. It has its own peculiar cachet.IMG_0507

Comparing it with artificial trees in garden centres, it can certainly hold its own, and doesn’t appear too dated. Of course it’s a bit of joke in the family as it has been around for so long, but when grandchildren stayed last year they thought it was pretty good and there were no complaints. Nine-year-old granddaughter’s eyes might have widened a little though, when we told her how old the tree was!

This year, with an 11 month-old-puppy now part of our household, we’ve decided to introduce it gradually to keep the excitement and potential destructive chewing under some kind of control. I put it together in another part of the house, added the lights, then brought it into the room where it now stands, as yet untrimmed. There was interest, sniffing, a quick grab at the festive “skirt” I’d put around the base, which he sank his fangs into immediately. That won’t be going back! Then said puppy, curiosity satisfied for the time being, settled down to snooze beside the tree. Maybe that’s a good sign.

As long as he realises it’s not a pee post!