MIDSUMMER

A windless morning in the garden. A lone robin is singing in the birch tree. Some sounds are travelling up from the town in the valley. I’m having my morning coffee outside on the patio and enjoying this beautiful and peaceful scene. Our foxgloves are almost totally in seed now, only the tops of their long stems are still a beautiful pink, they have been very good for the pollinators. This morning only a few bumblebees have visited. Seagulls and crows are flying over our airspace shouting confident cries. Sparrows are chirping in the hawthorn tree, many of them. How I love all those sounds.

Of the usual two dozen that years ago were, there are now only four swifts visiting in our area, I so miss their summery sounds above our houses and gardens.

How I enjoy all this activity in nature, and this morning is a rare break in my own daily activities, a solace to the soul, a much desired rest for the body. And yet it is there for the taking – whenever and free. A true blessing.

OBSERVATIONS

Some weeks ago my sister Josephine stayed with us, it had been three years since she travelled to Ireland and we were overjoyed to see her. With her she brought me this beautiful gift. A little special notebook that she bought at an exhibition of works by Gustaf Klimt in Brussels. It is so beautiful that I decided it can only contain words about beauty, and so the thought came into my mind to use it to note down some of the observations of my quieter moments. Observations in nature and in daily life. I like to share them with you.

17 May 2022

Today, in the garden I enjoyed the wild freshness after rain. I saw that our elderberry tree is about to come into flower, and that will be the first time since I planted it. The foxgloves are opening pink and beautiful. There are buttercups among other wild flowers, everywhere the growth is abundant and the trees, we have four, are looking very lush, their leaves still somewhat laden down with drops of rain. The hawthorn also has started to flower and there is a faint, delicate scent in the air. Birds started singing. I felt a breeze and now and then rain fell from fast moving clouds. These were perfect moments, I love the scent that rises from the earth after rain, it is so refreshing.

19 May 2022

The intense colour from the cineraria flowers in the Ilen street in town, the deep sky blue was a sight to behold. The scent was faint, it just caressed my nostrils and soothed my brain. Early morning in Skibbereen, the sun has just started to warm the cement of the colourful town houses. I feel good in expectation of the day ahead.

20 May 2022

It was while on my course on biodiversity with Wild Work. We were having a conversation about native woodlands and native wild plants. What took my special interest was a little wild plant that I had not seen growing here in West Cork before, it is called Sanicle (sanicula marilandica). It’s native and a woodland plant, it belongs to the carrot family, we found it on the grounds of a large woodland area.

21 May 2022

Today we cooked with aromatic spices and lentils, an Indian recipe. Alice and I enjoyed seeing all the spices come together and release their aroma, the dish we cooked was dahl. So delicious and an good dish for vegetarian Alice to learn to cook, she loved it. Earlier I was very pleased to see how well our oak-leaved lettuce were doing in the garden, the brightness of their various shades of red was invigorating.

22 May 2022

From my kitchen window I noticed the unripe fruits of the krentenboom (Amelanchier lamarckii), and it reminded me of the cycle of life; Just recently the flowers appeared, then the leaves turned the tree quite green, and now the fruits are already ripening, slowly they will become red later on in the year. I could see the parallel with our own lives and the thought that our times are fleeting moments in the greater cycle of things, of times. It is a very natural happening.

23 May 2022

While opening our front door, I looked down to the yearly new growth of the lady’s mantle and it inspired me, very beautiful and delicate, its veins like capillaries in our own bodies, green instead of red, dark green actually on the light green leaf… spreading out from its twig. Perfection!

I hope you enjoyed a glimpse in my little book of observations, it has been a pleasure to share them with you.

A LITTLE DETOUR

Bantry Bay

Yes a little detour in this remote part of Ireland is always exciting to say the least, I knew that I was going to do it, I knew that I was going to take photos and I also knew that it was going to be a lovely break. So after my appointment in Bantry I drove into a little side lane off the N71 and followed it down to the rocky seashore. Magnificent views of Bantry bay with the Caha mountains in the distance greeted me. I strolled along the path leading beside the air-strip, quite a few people and dogs were walking there and one man had his fishing rod out into the sea. The rocks were colourful. The air smelled of seaweed and was very fresh. Somewhere far away I could hear a blackbird singing, one of my favourite birdsongs. When I walked back to my car this last view surprised me, I thought that I could easily have been in Canada probably because of the lovely pine trees. Peaceful and at the same time invigorating, this little diversion to my day gave me plenty, I realised all of a sudden that I had been doing an exercise that my recently bought book on photography in nature advised me. That is, spending 10 minutes in nature, breathing deeply, really observing nature, taking note of what you see, hear, smell and how that makes you feel, how that affects the photos, and all that even while I often spend much longer in nature, but then I probably don’t always take it in so intensely.

View towards Shrone Hill
Sugarloaf mountain to the left
I’m actually totally in love with these mountains and hills
Beautiful Bantry Bay
This view gave me much pleasure

This book I am currently using to inspire my nature photography, only just started it and finding it helpful and enjoyable. (translation title… Grip on creativity, developing your own style in nature photography).
It gives me a new perspective on the endless photos that I take. It is mainly about creativity. I will talk more about this book when I have read and practised a bit more of what it teaches. Here’s one of my try-outs.

ONE MORNING EARLY

This morning nature is calm, mature and mellow. 

I am sitting in the garden, it is early.

The trees, their canopies heavy with foliage are at their most impressive, not a wind is stirring in their rich green leaves.

There is a different feel to the world right now.  The frantic twittering of the young sparrows in the hawthorn tree has eased now that the fledglings are looking for their own food. 

Last night, after a really warm day, there was rain and the refreshing scent of earth and herbs is exhilarating.

A light mist hangs over the long valley, the blue sky is nowhere to be seen yet. Cows are lying in the gently sloping fields.

Yesterday I heard the young swifts in the nests under the eaves of our neighbour’s house. The young are being fed by swooping brigades of adults, they are feeding the fledglings’ purposefully so that they will be strong and ready for the long flight to Africa in a few weeks’ time.

Days like this remind me of Constable’s paintings and of Elgar’s music, of the English countryside of years gone by, and of their beautiful cottage gardens.

Many plants are in full bloom, others are busy creating their seeds.

It is mid-summer, nature is coming into its own, rich variety of wild plants and flowers cover the garden around me. I wish that I could stop time right now.

But breakfast has to be made, the day’s work has to start. Thank goodness that there is a moment for everything, for rest and for work, all in its own time.

NATURE ~ ALL AROUND US

“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour—such is my idea of happiness.” —Leo Tolstoy,

“I think about this, not like someone thinking, but like someone breathing,
And I look at flowers and I smile…
I don’t know if they understand me
Or if I understand them,
But I know the truth is in them and in me
And in our common divinity
Of letting ourselves go and live on the Earth
And carrying us in our arms through the contented Seasons
And letting the wind sing us to sleep
And not have dreams in our sleep.”
― Alberto Caeiro

“If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” —Vincent Van Gogh. 

Every particular in nature, a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Ralph Waldo Emerson

The laws of nature are but the mathematical thoughts of God. Euclid

I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my favourite quotes about nature and some of my recent photos of our garden. My own thoughts on nature are also reflected in the quotes that I picked. When I am in nature, on my own or together with my grandchildren, my daughter or with Ian, I feel totally at ease, calm and joyful, yes especially joyful. And I can but join in the sentiments of Sylvia Plath when she said that she felt her lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. and she thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.”‘

JUST NOW

Just now we returned from catching some fresh air and admiring the beauty of Loch Hyne some 10 minutes drive from here. There were many people, young and old swimming and more people chatting over cups of tea. The sun had come out and it was now actually warm. A most beautiful evening and a great ambience.

I noticed two new flowering plants that I want to identify. Ok I think that both these two photos are Sea Spurreys. The one on the right might be Greater Sea spurrey (Spergularia media) but I have a suspicion that it is actually Rock Spurrey but in order to confirm that I have to go back and check the underside of the sepals. This little flower has 10 stamens and the sepals are shorter than the petals. The photo on the left, I will also go and double check this little plant, it is a Spurrey but I am not sure which one, probably the same as the one on the right but not in as good a condition. So some homework for me to do.

Lichens growing on the stone wall.

We both feel refreshed and ready to head into a peaceful night.

WE ARE OF THE EARTH AND HEALED BY NATURE

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts – William Hazlitt
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter – Rachel Carson
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements – Henry David Thoreau

I hope that these nature photos and valuable quotes have been a solace to someone who is disturbed by earth’s current difficulties and dangers. I wish us all well.

ICE FLOWERS AND LEAVES

We woke this morning to an icy cold and beautiful sunny morning, yes it had frozen even here in usually mild West Cork. So I could not wait to get out and feast my eyes on all this frozen beauty, and I was not surprised to find that everything in the garden was gleaming in a sparkling white coat. Yes, old man winter had walked the land that was plain to see. The temperature was 4 degrees Celsius. But the sun had already come out and I could feel its warm rays on my skin, I had gone out without a coat or boots and soon my feet were freezing. The bright, beauty of the morning filled me with energy, it is such a change from all the rain.

This Rudbekia a plant which I sowed early last spring has finally flowered, and what a day to choose for it. Beautiful.
The leaves of the Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethopica) never fail to look good any day but especially this morning they looked wonderful!
I’ve been thinking what to do with all the many young Foxgloves plants coming up in the garden, now I am happy that I left them as the frost has decorated them so brilliantly.
This is the sort of photo that stops me starting to paint again, why would I paint if art is show me in nature just like that. How could I ever make it more beautiful.
And so another evening has arrived, and I made use of my extra energy to clean up the front garden as this was very overdue. The leaves of two smallish trees had nearly covered the cement tiles, and the Buddleia needed trimming. This was a rather slow job as the branches had overgrown and they all had to be cut and cut again in order to be brought through the house to the back garden for shredding. But recently I have found joy in doing jobs slowly, or rather in doing slow jobs, they are like a meditation and I know that I benefit from this. Also I have noticed this tendency in my reading habits, these days a really tick book does not put me off anymore, on the contrary I seek them out and relax into them for days, savouring the story. Same with cooking, I now very much prefer to cook totally from scratch, enjoying the extensive cutting up of vegetables, or shelling of peas.
I am grateful to have the time for all of this now that I am retired.

My dear readers and friends I hope that wherever you live, keep warm or cool as the case may be, and enjoy the moment.

ROCKS AND FOSSILS ~ A FASCINATION

Stones…..over the years I have gathered a huge collection of rock samples, of stones. I’ve had an interest in stones, in rocks and fossils ever since I can remember. I’ve always had this connection with the earth , and to me a stone was never a dead thing, no, rocks are alive, definitely in the sense that they evolve, they change, over millennia they change, and what is a millennia in context with the unfathomable, expansive, and the immense timescale of the cosmos. And so, yes, I think rocks are alive. And I’ve always had this affinity with rocks, but also with sand, and what other is sand than tiny pieces of rock, and what does sand do under pressure and given time but change into rock.

I was, for a large part when I was young, living in that part of Antwerp where sand had been dredged up from the river Schelde, this sand that we had in our gardens and everywhere else, was sea sand, and it was full of pieces of shell and other sea creatures. In a way it was like living on the beach. One day while on a walk with my family I happen to see something curious, I picked it up and identified it as a fossil, a fossil of a conch or some type of sea shell. I was eleven years old. It was the start!

And yet I did not end up studying geology, but in later life I did do a geology course with Tel-Aviv University and I loved it. At the time we were living in Gozo and all my research was done on the geology of the Maltese islands. I’m retaking this course in September but doing my research around West Cork. That’s the plan.

I always said that I would label all my rock samples when I retired, but to date, and after several years, this has not happened, that is until a few days ago when I had to move all the samples out of an old glass press in order to redecorate the living room. So, they are all spread out in the conservatory and now demand my attention totally. Some of my smaller samples I brought back from India, Mauritius, New England, Spain, Gozo, France, Uk, Portugal and Naxos. And of course I have some very interesting samples of Ireland itself. Among my many samples are limestone, basalt, quartz, marble, malachite, soapstone, etc.

A little sample of copper ore in quartz, from the ancient disused copper mines in Ballydehob.
Not too sure if this is actually weathered corral or rock?

Over a life time I found more fossils too, and I found crystals, as it’s not only rocks I’m interested in. It is a fascinating subject to be sure and there’s always plenty of rocks and fossils around. When we were in Gozo, I found the most beautiful citrine crystals, but I left them where I found them, like wild plants I don’t think I should indiscriminately just take away natural treasures from wherever I go. But I always take photos of course.

Our earth sure is a fascinating place and I mean to enjoy another bit of what it has to offer so freely, for us to admire and examine, study and enjoy.

Part of the collection of samples