Gradually the garden climbs out of winter but I am much preoccupied by the coming and going of the first hints of spring and the progress of the snowdrops. The new life draws me out more and more into the garden but I am very aware of human interventions because of the scaffolding going up around the garden and the various detritus which comes over the wall. At the very end of the month at Peregrine appears. Next year to Peregrine will be around with a mate for a month and we think that it is going to nest in the church spire, but in the end it doesn't. Maybe in 2012 it will.
1 FebruaryIt is a beautiful day, cold and bright and the garden is full of song. A goldfinch was belting its heart out high up in the ash tree and I saw two collared doves in the mulberry tree. They are pretty, delicate birds, so very different from wood pigeons who always seem permanently overweight. Today I looked more closely at the mulberry tree. It is an extraordinary beast. The original trunk has bent right over towards the centre of the lawn, stretching and splintering as it falls. But where it plunges back into the ground, new life erupts so that it seems like some great behemoth lolopping over the green sea of the lawn. Its progress has now been interrupted by stakes which lift its tentacles above the nurturing ground, leaving its twigs flailing in the bright air.
It is a dark day. The clouds are grey and low and rain is
almost but not quite here. From the
flats where they have been scaffolding for the past week a high pitched
grinding fills the entire space and as I plod along the sodden grass I see that
over the wall a water bottle, a McDonald’s drink carton and another nondescript
bottle have been thrown. The suicide
month has come.
The scaffolders were at it again this morning, but this time on the opposite side of the garden. I can still hear them clanging even while I’m inside. There is a distinctive timbre to the work of scaffolders, it must come from the resonance of those hollow pipes. This scaffolding was a much less serious affair, just a temporary structure for some brief work to the housing association flats which are on the other side of the alley. They do not overlook the garden in the same way but they are the major source of noise pollution in the summer.
In the garden itself the snowdrops are coming into full bloom, although this does seem strange language to use of snowdrops, even in large drifts they are distinctly self effacing. Bluebells have no such reticence and their green leaves are now sprouting all over the garden, in parts they have to battle with encroaching bramble and ivy but I daresay they will again put on a splendid show this year.
I came back from a walk round the park and when I opened the gate into the garden there was a great whirring of wings as about 12 wood pigeons were flushed up into the surrounding trees and scaffolding. Then as I walked into the garden the squirrels scattered everywhere. This time it was me who was the intruder into the oasis.
Snow again today and very cold. At first tiny specks of white as if it is smoke from an industrial chimney and then hard swirling white sheets of cold flakes filling the air. It was too brief to settle but it feels very wintry again. I showed a friend round the garden today who is a permaculturalist and we talked about how you might turn the wilderness at the bottom of the garden into a permacultural garden. Apparently the trees are in the wrong place, they need to be to the north of the garden so as not to create shade. He, like me, is of the opinion that sycamores are weeds, although I heard recently that they are the third best, after a oak and willow, for supporting wildlife in Britain. Not bad for an immigrant.
Wood pigeons seem to have taken up residence. Every time I go into the garden there is the same commotion of wings and fat birds disappearing in every direction. There must be something for them to eat here, I wonder what it is. Meanwhile the snowdrops continued to grow, pushing up and letting drop the gentle white blossoms, and all around them new white petals beginning to peep out from green leaves. They are speckled here and there with the yellow flowers of celandine. In the park crocuses are beginning to appear but they are sadly lacking from the garden.
The wren has been much in evidence recently. Apparently it is the most common bird in Britain but its habit of skulking in the undergrowth means that most people never notice it. Not that it does really skulk in the undergrowth. It always strikes me as a very busy bird, its pert energy perfectly illustrated by its erect and enthusiastic tail. You can see why it was hunted at Christmas time, even if such traditions do seem rather distasteful to us nowadays, its energy would provide a significant challenge but its troglodyte tendencies mean that it is always in reach of us earth bound humans.
It has rained all day. Not that the snowdrops mind, they are looking very bright and cheerful, but everything else is wet and weary. The gate has now become sodden and will not shut properly and the lawn wavers uneasily between grass and mud.
Yesterday rain. Today spring. The sun is shining gently, the snowdrops look green and serene and a robin is singing with all the energy of love. I wasn’t, however, so keen on him at 2.00 am when he was also singing as if his life depended on it. Such are the bizarre consequences of floodlighting. But it really does feel like spring today and the garden has a completely different feel about it, it is as if all the rain yesterday has finally washed the snow and winter away. It is also Ash Wednesday, which although definitely not Easter is certainly the beginning of the beginning of the season. But the thing which really clinched it for me was that for the first time in months I saw some insects: midge like creatures dancing their strange jigging dance above the lawn.
Winter has returned. But not exactly winter, the sunshine, the insects have disappeared, yet there is no hint of snow just a low heavy mist as if we were living surrounded by marsh and you could hear the boom of the bittern echoing over the land. But there are no bitterns, of course, just the low throb of machinery and traffic.
I should have mentioned that the scaffolding has been removed. It took them about three days altogether. What perplexes me is that I never saw any work being done using the scaffolding. It went up, it came down but nothing else seemed to happen.
Days have been alternating sunshine and rain but today there is a warm sunshine and it seems like spring is taking hold. The daffodils, which are dotted around the garden, are beginning to push out their buds and I saw in the lawn that we do in fact have a few crocuses beginning to emerge. But in sheltered places there was still visible the white skein of ground frost. We are in the in-between times.
The blue sky of these early spring days seems to raise my eyes upwards and I have been paying more attention to the trees in the garden. The tallest of these are three beech trees which overlook the GP’s surgery, they are of considerable size but are heavily encumbered with ivy. Attempts have been made to cut this back but I doubt if this is of any value to the trees, whilst it can swamp the smaller trees, they only use trees as a climbing frame, and do no damage to such sturdy specimens. Or so I have been led to believe, and I do not doubt it. The other trees are ash trees and sycamores and I hope to pay more attention to them in coming days.
We have had new arrivals in the garden. Two CDs winged their way over the wall, together with a satnav box including the carry case and USB connector but without the satnav itself. There are also a couple of letters concerning Jobseekers Allowance ripped up into large pieces. The CDs, as I suspected, were varieties of hip hop, although the exact species I do not have enough knowledge to identify. One of the songs was very keen that I should show the singer the money, whilst the other was desirous that his work should not be distributed. The Jobseekers Allowance letter seemed to be about a fine which the recipient had to pay to Staffordshire magistrates’ court at the rate of £5/ week. He still had £380 to pay.
I found another CD in the garden, but have not yet explored its contents. My attention, however, was diverted by the squirrels. Although squirrels are very cheerful and intriguing creatures the word which comes to mind when thinking about them in the garden is infestation. They are attracted by the church rubbish bins in which they are often to be found rummaging and a few minutes in the garden will almost always afford you a site of these restless creatures. Today there was a streak of grey lightning and it looked as if some enormous stoat was emerging at great speed from the undergrowth, but in fact it was two squirrels nose to tail chasing and being chased, or so it seemed. Then a few seconds later a another pair emerged, these two were heading straight for me before they realise their predicament, stopped and scattered into the undergrowth. Whilst they was recovering the original pair reemerged and disappeared off in tandem at great speed. What exactly they are up to, I don’t know. It looked, more than anything, like play, but maybe it is just the hijinks of spring. Spring, incidentally, seems as far off as ever. The days are dark and there is a real edge of snow in the wind.
The great tits seem to have become very noisy recently. One was sitting in the mulberry tree, on the robins’s normal perch and making a great racket. I always think that of all British birds the great tits two tone tweet is the easiest to identify. Perhaps they are heralding spring. Another sign of spring is the telltale signs of the reemergence of slugs: the flower heads of all the crocuses in the garden have been neatly removed and consumed.
The early snowdrops are now beginning to fade. Ironically this seems like a real indication of spring, for the continuing waves of life to unfold, the old must die. The crocuses continue their struggle with the slugs, none have yet blossomed but I noticed a single solitary bud hiding by our low wooden fence. Maybe that will survive.
This evening flying round the church a peregrine falcon. I first heard the screech and looking up saw the pointed wings in silhouette, circling the spire. Strange to think that I. have now seen more peregrine falcons here than house sparrows.
Perhaps, they are heralding springPerhaps life is growing
Perhaps in the earth
hidden from sight
a new thing is stretching and writhing
a new thing is and waking and groaning
a new thing is and breaking from sleep
a new thing is and breaking and death
a new thing is and breaking and the old things
Maybe this shoot, yellow and soft and vibrant
Perhaps this tree, still and stiff and silent
Or, perhaps, it is the old circle
the same but new
the new but same
Which promises the old struggles
and the old death