Outdoor Girl

 

Watership Down 58 miles from London
Findhorn 600 miles from London

I was born and raised in the suburbs of London.  It was Surrey then and is South West London now, less than a dozen miles from the city centre.  We lived on a busy main road in Park Villas, salubriously titled in honour of the local authority recreation ground which our long skinny garden backed on to, and which we called ‘the rec’.

As kids we spent hours in the rec, playing in the playground, kicking a ball about, playing mini golf or messing about with a racket and variously annoying the park keeper. If we weren’t in the rec, we were in the garden, playing with the animals, in the Wendy house, on the swing, or when we were older, doing a bit of pretend gardening.

Most of my childhood memories are outdoors: we’d cycled to Richmond Park as a family, and when I was older I cycled there with friends. We got 2 buses to the outdoor pool in Richmond in the summer, completely unsupervised. We played pitch and putt on summer evenings and went to the coast – Angmering-on-Sea, Littlehampton, Bournemouth – on summer weekends. We picked blackberries in the late summer and early autumn. We walked, cycled and swam in the open. Sitting indoors was reserved for winter and really wet days.  TV was an evening only activity, and restricted at that.

So, a city girl living in the far north of Scotland is more at home than you might think. I enjoy being close to nature and the seasons.  Living on a farm means time passes by the things that happen outside: ploughing, planting, lambing, hay-making, harvesting; passing the year through nature’s rhythms.

Life is less frenetic here.  It’s easier to take time to walk, to chat to people.  A lot of children walk to school, and get the opportunity to play outside, although I suspect far less than did a few decades ago.  Nowhere, however remote, is immune from the spread of technology in day-to-day life: the phones, games, pads, music, laptops and Macs.  The gadgets that keep kids, and adults too, locked indoors in bedrooms and lounges across the country.  Electro tech’ that’s deemed so vital, yet keeps a generation of children from accessing what really is vital – a connection to nature; enjoying the great outdoors.

We can’t go back in time to those halcyon days, which we remember as more idyllic than they probably were, but we can teach our children and grandchildren that there is joy to be found in fresh air and countryside by encouraging them to engage in outdoor activity from an early age. Being stuck indoors with a piece of tech should be the less interesting option.  I’m not demonising technology, simply suggesting that children need to reconnect to with the natural world.  We need a generation of caretakers for the earth, and sitting inside watching nature programmes is less likely to spawn one than being outside connecting with nature.

My life-long love of the natural world was kindled by being outdoors, by bringing all sorts of creatures home – rabbits, birds, tortoise, cats, fish, crabs – strays of all descriptions.  My tolerant parents encouraged me to be outside if I was moping about and that always energised me in ways I didn’t understand.  This still holds true today.  A brisk walk, a stroll along the beach, a short run, they all blow the metaphorical cobwebs away and re-charge us in inexplicable ways.

I’m lucky to have arguably the greatest outdoor destination in the country on my doorstep, but whether you’re in the city or another part of the country you’re never far from somewhere outdoors where you can rejuvenate your spirit.  Make being outside a part of your week and I promise you’ll feel better.

Island Resilience

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve often written about travelling to the Scottish islands – Harris, Lewis, Mull, the Orkney Isles, Shetland – remote outposts of the far north of our own island home.  My perspective is usually that of holidaymaker, traveller and visitor.  Perhaps not your typical tourist, if such a thing exists, but certainly my visits are not much more than a dalliance with island life.

 My trip to the Outer Hebrides this year was to a part of Harris I hadn’t been before, the bays area, along the so called Golden Road (so named for how much it cost to build).  It is a bleak landscape; treeless, rocky, full of lochans and peat bogs, similar in some ways to the flow country in Caithness.  It is wild and beautiful and full of life, but it is a harsh and unforgiving landscape.

The ruggedness and remoteness clearly encourages creativity.  In a 2 miles stretch there are 3 art galleries, a ceramic artist and photographer, and that’s in one small area.  The road is dotted with artists and artisans drawing inspiration from their surroundings.  It’s a tough place to make a living and a tough place to live; people have to be self-sufficient, resilient.

I have never met anyone more resilient than Eddie.  He and his wife owned the holiday cottage we were renting for our stay.  I don’t know how old he was, almost certainly retired, but it was clear that he had some illness which affected his speech and his core strength.  It later transpired that he was living with late-stage Parkinson’s.  This didn’t seem to hold him back: he cycled most days, did jobs about the house, gardened, and cooked.  We learned that in 2015 he had undertaken a charity bike ride up the spine of the Uists and headed all the way up to Stornoway.  Physically this should have been impossible, but he has grit and determination which seems to make up for some of the physical challenges he must face daily.  Eddie is not a native islander, but he has certainly adapted to island living and displays those characteristics – both flexibility and toughness – which make the difficulties he faces wholly surmountable.

He also makes an awesome Key-Lime Pie!

Secret Life of Mammals

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We found a shrew on the drive the other day.  Sadly, it was dead, though recently so.  It looked slightly dented around the middle, fur a little ruffled, like something might have had it in its jaws, though there were no bite marks.  I felt a pang of sorrow for its lost little  life, such a perfect and gorgeous creature.  I stroked its velvet fur a few times before we laid it to rest.

The shrew has secrets I didn’t know about: toxic saliva, -deadly enough to kill a rabbit- and powerful scent glands that give off an unpleasant odour, enough to cause a cat or fox to drop it, though sadly in this case, not saving its life.  Apparently birds have little or no sense of smell, so birds of prey will be undeterred by this evolutionary defence mechanism.

The SPCA recently found an abandoned pine marten quite close to where we live, and a few weeks ago we saw a badger trundle across the road. I feel very privileged to live in a part of the country where these sightings are not uncommon. It’s easy to be impressed with these large, ‘sexy’ mammals, but we also get lots of little mammals in the garden: shrews, voles, mice and weasels, and I am equally impressed with their wile, and I am sure I will be impressed by the things about them I have yet to find out.

If you want to find out more about wildlife and share what wildlife you have seen look at ‘The Wild Outside‘ .  The Scottish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals can be found by clicking this link.  See BBC Nature for additional information.

 

photo from BBC archives

 

 

60 Degrees North

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A similar latitude to Moscow, and closer to Norway than London, Shetland is a collaboration of about 100 islands, only 16 of which are inhabited.  Described as a ‘subarctic archipelago’ of Scotland, it’s as far north as you can go, and still be in the UK.   In reality it is a world apart from the UK, Europe, and even Scotland.  The ferry crossing is 12 hours from Aberdeen to Lerwick, and can often be rough.  It gives you plenty of time to adjust to a holiday in such a remote location, surrounded by sea and nothing else.

I think Turner, the artist, would have liked Shetland: a place of light, and water, always changing.  It’s one of the charms of the north of Scotland, and is particularly applicable to Shetland where the light, and the sea, can change from one minute to the next.  Stunning beaches and wide open skies characterise the landscape.  There are hardly any trees, and the wild scarcely populated places can seem by turns both barren and captivating.

I was hooked the first time I visited.  A long weekend, and a whistle-stop tour of some of the key visitor attractions, persuaded me I needed longer there, and finally, last September, I went back.  I felt in-tune with the place instantly.  The weather was stunning, and gave me plenty of opportunity to take advantage of the many spectacular sandy beaches, accessed from a rugged coastline.  Nowhere in Shetland is more than 3 miles from the sea, and if you’re a water-baby, like me, that’s a joyous statistic.  The beaches are often described as ‘empty’, though that’s not strictly true.  Wildlife, particularly birdlife, is abundant in the Shetlands Isles, and it’s difficult to go anywhere without experiencing something of that richness of life.  Birdwatchers are in their element with puffins, bonxies -the local name for great skuas- and gannets evident in larger numbers than anywhere else in the UK. Even if you’re not a bird watcher, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the scale of some of the colonies.  Noss is home to 150,000 gannets in the height of the breeding season, and a spectacular sight at any time, with birds clamouring for cliff space, or diving for food.  Puffins are riotous little birds, with their own charm and character.  I watched them for ages, and I’m no ‘twitcher’!

The shore is home to seals a-plenty, and it’s not difficult to get reasonable shots, if you’re a photographer, or even if you’re not.  Shetland is also the place to see otters.  The islands are one of the otter’s main strongholds in the UK, with numbers up to about a thousand.  You can see them during the daytime here, helped by the extra hours of daylight in the summer.

Further out at sea you might see dolphins, and even whales.  One of the main whale migration routes is 40 miles west, out on the edge of the continental shelf, and it’s possible to charter a boat to this area, although chance sightings of whales are possible on any boat trip, and I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of a breach on one such trip.

There’s plenty of impressive coastline to see, if you’re sea legs aren’t great, and Eashaness, on the northwest tip of the mainland is the result of crashing waves making their mark with saw-toothed stacks and a jagged coastline.  Dramatic scenery like this is not uncommon in this part of the world.  There are more soothing coastlines, and quiet sandy beaches, Meal Beach on Burra, is one such place where I spent a pleasant morning in the sunshine, seeing 2 dogs and 4 people in the whole time I was there.

Another are of the coastline worth exploring is the tombola at St Ninians Isle.  Reputedly the most spectacular example in Britain.  I hadn’t seen one before, didn’t even know what one was.  It was strange walking across the strip of sand and shell, sea pressing on either side.

If wildlife and coastline isn’t your thing, then perhaps Shetland isn’t the destination for you, although there is plenty of history, and, my other main interest, food.  Shetlanders have to be pretty self-sufficient, and seafood and grass-fed animals are very evident on menus.  There are plenty of local delicacies and some excellent cafes and restaurants.  I stayed on an organic sheep farm, and both their wool and meat could be bought locally.  On a trip to Yell and Unst, we were offered lobsters for our tea, by a local fisherman who we met on the ferry.  He refused to take anything for the catch.

The friendliness of Shetlanders should be legendary.  Despite the TV programme ‘Shetland’ giving the impression that a murder is committed every week on the islands, in reality, there’s little crime.  People know each other, and there’s a genuine sense of community.  People will still speak to you, visitor, or islander, and even children waved at us as we drove past in the car!

It is not an idyllic place to live, I’m sure.  The weather can be harsh as Atlantic storms batter the coastline, especially in the winter.  In spite of the oil industry, employment is an issue, especially for young people.  All the difficulties of rural life are multiplied ten-fold on an island.

There’s lots more to be said about Shetland, I’ve not even touched on the crafts, or the baking, or the Vikings, for example.  You can find out more on the Visit Shetland website http://visit.shetland.org/]

For me, Shetland is about wildness, the elements and particularly the sea, and I’m sure I will be returning to immerse myself in its enchantments again before too long.P9250223P9250223

Growing Japanese

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When Debbie and I were talking about what might make a good choice of guest post topic for her blog, she mentioned her current interest in Japanese cookery. It’s a part of the world I am interested in, too, although my understanding of Japanese cuisine is in its infancy. But a lot of the plants we grow in the UK originally came from the temperate regions of the Far East, and so I thought it might be fun to look at some of the plants we can grow that have ‘Japanese’ in their common names. It might not be that they all originate from Japan; the naming of plants (with their common names, at least) is a murky business full of intrigue and confusion. Welsh onions, for example, don’t come from Wales, although they will happily grow in gardens there.

In the early days of my garden I planted Japanese onions. Some of the varieties of Japanese onions have Japanese-style names; others don’t. The difference between Japanese onions and regular onions is the time at which they’re planted. I chose them because it was autumn and I wanted to plant something in my garden. Japanese onion sets are put in the ground in the autumn, overwinter and produce bulbs slightly earlier in the year than their spring-planted relatives. There’s some suggestions that they don’t store as well as maincrop onions, but I’ve never had a problem with that. It’s quite hard to grow as many onions as you need in a year, unless you have an allotment or a very large garden. Some gardeners grow Japanese onions for an early crop, but give the majority of their space over to maincrop onions. Both can be grown from seed, as well as sets, and are readily available from seed catalogues and garden centres.

A plant that isn’t as well-known as is should be is the Japanese wineberry. It grows like a raspberry, and its berries are very similar, but until they are fully ripe they are encased in a calyx (like a shell) that keeps the birds from pilfering your harvest. The plants are very pretty, with dark green leaves on their scrambling stems, white flowers and their bright red fruit. They are quite bristly though, so don’t plant them right next to the garden path. Assuming any of your harvest makes it back to the kitchen (and one day I will grow enough to make that happen!) then you can use them in the same ways as raspberries, but they have a delightful flavour all of their own.

When people talk about growing quinces, they’re normally talking about Cydonia oblonga, a small tree that grows large, yellow fruits that are as hard as rocks. They’re sought after by foodies for making quince jellies and jams, or including in pies. Most people who grow the Japanese quince (Chaenomelesspecies) grow them for their ornamental qualities – they produce stunning blossom in the spring time. They’re also smaller plants, suitable for smaller gardens. A lot of people don’t know that they also produce edible fruit. One of the tastiest is said to be the popular variety ‘Crimson and gold’, and you can probably guess what colour show it puts on for you!

You’ve probably heard of the dreaded Japanese knotweed, a plant that was introduced for its ornamental value but has rapidly become invasive in the UK. If you’ve got it in the garden you need to be careful how you remove it – improper disposal of Japanese knotweed is illegal, and one of the ways in which it is spreading to new territory. Enquire of your local council what facilities they have for safe disposal, but there are people who go foraging for it to eat like rhubarb, so you could always try eating it into submission.

One you may not be familiar with is the Japanese prickly ash, which is one of the Zanthoxylum species used to grow Szechuan pepper. It’s a small, fragrant tree – and yes, it is prickly. Just one would give you more Szechuan peppercorns than a family could use in a year, even if you’re very big fans of Chinese 5-spice (for which it is one of the main ingredients). Not only does it give you the opportunity to grow one of your own spices, you can use it to play tricks on unsuspecting guests. One quick nibble of a Szechuan peppercorn will set your mouth vibrating for quite some time. It’s not unpleasant, but it is unexpected!

Other less familiar plants include Japanese parsley, or mitsuba – an annual herb that’s easy to grow, and for which seeds are readily available. Japanese ginger, mioga, is a little harder to track down (try Poyntzfield Herbs) but is a hardy plant that grows outside in the UK. It’s the flower shoots that are used (rather than the roots of regular ginger), and you do have to be wary of slugs, who find it just as delicious as we do. Japanese horseradish is wasabi, and you can grow that here too, although most of the wasabi we buy in shops is (apparently) regular old horseradish with a bit of green food dye. And, of course, there’s Japanese burdock, or gobo, which is a plant with impossibly long, edible roots.

I’m sure there’s plenty more I’ve forgotten, so if you can think of one you can add it in the comments!

 

Many thanks to Debbie for hosting a stop on my virtual book tour. Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is my new ebook about unusual edible plants and the people who choose to grow them. You can find out more on the book’s homepage (http://emmacooper.org/jade-pearls-alien-eyeballs) and read a preview at Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/414476). The book is being published on 1stMay, costs $2.99, and will be available in a wide range of ebook formats.

 Jade Pearls

 

My Virtual Reality, Reality

Virtual book TourWith most things in my life, I have been a late starter -the exception was reading- and I am certainly a later-comer to digital, social media, and e-pubs.  I have only owned a Kindle for 12 months, and have been tweeting and blogging for a little over 24.  Late to the party though I may be, I am making up for it now!  It’s not that I don’t have a life, or that I have loads of free time, but rather I have seen the benefits, and potential benefits of being ‘connected’.

In my short time on Twitter I have connected with like-minded people about writing, gardening, organics and the natural world.  I have signed petitions and joined campaigns.  I have had lots of questions answered, and found out lots of information, particularly about gardening.

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had never heard of a ‘virtual book tour’.  The lovely Emma Cooper posted an invitation on Twitter for people to host her, on her virtual reality book tour of the UK, and my interest was piqued immediately.  For people that don’t know Emma, she is a freelance writer, photographer, blogger, podcaster, master composter and very keen gardener.  She is the author of three gardening titles already, and the aforementioned tour is set to show case her fourth book, ‘Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs’.  What intrigues me about this approach to marketing a publication is that the virtual reality translates into something tangible:  in this case a fascinating read, from someone who is passionate about sharing their knowledge, and encouraging other people to grow food and experiment.

A virtual book tour is a fabulous way of reaching an audience with a shared interest, without humping a ton of books around the country, and creating a massive carbon-footprint in the process.  There is no doubt that people like book signings from commercially successful authors, but this is a far remove from the quiet, steady plod of relatively unknown authors who must graft continually to make a trickle of income from their writing.  Perhaps this tour will be a new model for independent authors; I hope so.

So, the important information:  Emma will be featuring as a guest blogger on April 15th from 10 am onwards, when you lucky readers will be treated to her expert knowledge on an exciting topic from her latest work.  No spoilers here though!

Although behind the curve as usual – Emma is my first guest blogger- I’m right on the case with the virtual book tour, so watch this space, and don’t forget to flag the date in your diary.  Emma welcomes comments, and I’m sure she would be happy to respond to any questions.

The Long Commute

View to end of Caledonian Canal into Beaul;y Firth Ben Wyvis distance smallMy current commute is longer than some, not as long as others.  I don’t relish the 5am starts to get into the city, but the journey is quite lovely, and I suspect, quite unlike most other journeys from suburb to city.

I live on a hill overlooking the Cromarty Firth (the hill to be exact, is the North Sutor, and the Moray Firth runs alongside), 10 miles from the nearest train station, and even further from the bus route.  Although the drive into town takes about the same time as the train, on the train I get to look at the changing scenery rather than someone elses bumper.  It’s true that in the winter the journey is dark, and the train is often delayed or cancelled, and when it does turn up the heating is very often broken, but for nine months of the year commuting is a joy!

I don’t commute to Edinburgh or Glasgow – a four hour jaunt at a ridiculously early time of the morning- but into Inverness, the highland capital.  The rail line, mostly single track, traces the peninsulas from the Cromarty Firth, across the Black Isle, and up through the Beauly Firth into Inverness.  The Kessock bridge, spanning the Beauly and Moray Firths, was only built relatively recently, in 1982, and the Conon Bridge, across the Cromarty Firth in 1969.  The line was active long before both bridges were opened, although if the Beeching Report had been acted upon it would have been closed in 1963, and there would have been no rail services north of Inverness.  Thank goodness for the protestors who put pressure on politicians of the day to keep the line open.

The line follows the east coast, along the Moray Firth for much of the way north, and at times runs very close to the shore.  Along the Firths, from Invergordon to Dingwall and Beauly into Inverness, the carriages feel more like sea-faring vessels, so close does the track run to the water’s edge.  It gives a fantastic view of the sunrises and sunsets across the water, at the relevant times of year and day, as well as spectacular views of wildlife, especially migrant birds, herons, oyster catchers, cormorants, northern divers, and common seals:  the colony at Foulis can often be seen when the tide is right, hauled out on the shore, or banana-shaped, relaxing on partially submerged rocks.  Buzzards are a common sight, and red kites are often seen on the Black-Isle stretch.  In the summer evenings, and autumn mornings, deer – both red and roe- are a common sight along the route, and the ubiquitous sheep are everywhere.  The route also boasts some goats, donkeys, and the iconic red-haired highland cow.

Whatever the weather, the scenery is stunning: Struy Hill, Fyrish, Mount Gerald, Mount Eagle, and the Ben Wyvis range, ever present, brooding over the market town of Dingwall; visible at various points on the journey, and covered in snow for part of the year.

Michael Portillo travelled the route, from Invergordon to John O’Groats, in Series 4 of his Great British Railway Journeys, and my fellow commuters recall the filming.  It may not be classed as the most spectacular rail journey in Scotland -Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, I believe has that honour- but it is certainly up there with the best of them.

I won’t be travelling by train into the city after the end of next month, and although I won’t miss the 5am starts, in many ways I will miss my long commute.  Apart from the scenery and wildlife, there’s the conviviality and banter, often absent from the silent, impersonal commuter trains of the UK’s capital city.  Instead I will have a short drive to the cathedral town of Dornoch to look forward to, and although I’m sure there will still be plenty to see, I’ll need to keep my eyes on the road, and not on the scenery!

Photo Credit D Ruppenthal, all rights reserved.  View to end of the Caledonian Canal and into the Beauly Firth, Ben Wyvis in the distance, taken from the train.

A Thing About Trees

IMGP1446I was going to begin with the line ‘I’m not a tree-hugger’ as if it were some kind of criticism, but actually, I am, and it isn’t!  I am not your classic eco-warrior, protesting about trees being destroyed for roads, although sometimes I wish I had a bit more courage!  I do have a ‘thing’ about trees though, and I think always have had.  I was a tom-boy when I was younger (a lot younger) and climbing trees was one of my favourite things to do, partly because it was viewed as something slightly daring and ill-advised by my parents, but also because I liked the scuff of bark and branches, and the different perspective that height gave. 

We had a huge garden at home, but sadly there were no trees.  My mum was, and still is, intimidated by large growing things.  I’m not quite sure why, but I think it’s partly a control thing.  Like our Victorian forebears, she has a need to control nature, to make it conform to what she needs and wants from it, perhaps because there is so little else she controls in her life.

As a species we have a history of exploiting the natural world for our own gain.  Scotland’s barren landscape is testament to that.  The ancient forests may have been decimated before warfare took its toll, but the desolation is still manmade.  There have been moves in recent decades at restoration, and education, and all to the good.  I can’t help feeling that having more of a love of our natural world, in general, and trees in particular, might do more good.  ‘Project Wild Thing’ is tackling one of the fundamental issues – our lack of connection with the natural world-and is encouraging young people in particular to engage with nature: to get muddy, to climb trees, to look in ponds, to realise that there is much more to life than an illuminated display and keyboard.  Simply being outside is good for our health, and conversely, there is a good deal of research that now suggests the disconnect we have with our natural world is actually damaging our health.

I was at a workshop at the weekend, entitled ‘words for health’.  Lapidus, the organisation running the event, believes that creative writing promotes mental well-being, and as a writer and artist, I would agree.  The weekend workshop was about their new project ‘writing place’ which embraces writing where we are, and has real connections for those of us who live in the stunning scenery of the highlands.  A sense of place has always been evident in highland writing, and the landscape informs our creativity in an elemental way.  We did a lot of writing this weekend, and much of it was inspired by the stunning venue, Anam Cara, high above Inverness, set on the edge of forest.  We were lucky to have a real ‘tree lady’ taking one of the workshops!  Mandy Haggith is a writer based in Assynt, in the north-west highlands of Scotland. Her current project is ‘ A-B-Tree’and celebrates the link between trees and writing.  It was an interesting and energising day, encouraging us to engage more with ‘outside’ and the words, and health, that being there promotes.

Currently about 13 million hectares of forest are cut down each year 1.  Although there is some re-forestation, the net loss is massive, and includes some of the world’s remaining unique and pristine habitats: the five countries with the largest annual net loss of forest area in the period 2000-2005 were Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Myanmar (Burma)  and Zambia.  These forests cannot be replaced, and the systems they support are likely to be lost.

 Even in the UK, the rate of loss is greater than the rate or replanting, and the truth is even we need more trees.  We all know intrinsically that trees are good for us. Their leaves improve the air we breathe by trapping particles and releasing oxygen. Their roots help water travel deep into the soil, capturing pollutants and reducing flooding. By planting more trees we can capture more carbon and help species move in response to climate change.  The world’s forests have been described as the ‘lungs of the world’, and I think that description aptly conveys their importance to life on earth.  Without them we cannot survive long term.

 OK, you may not want to go and hug a tree – though personally I would recommend it, it’s a life-affirming experience- but you could certainly plant a tree, or support one of the organisations who are currently engaged in replanting schemes.  Wherever you live, your environment will benefit from a tree or two.  I would also encourage you to get out there into the outside. Whether you live in a town, city or the countryside, there are green spaces where you can re-engage with your natural environment.  Getting out of the office at lunchtime is a lot more beneficial to your well-being than playing Angry Birds, or updating Facebook! If you really can’t spare a few minutes, then make a point of getting out at the weekend with your family and appreciating the natural world.  Trees are amazing natural sculptures, and some of them have been around for centuries.  I guarantee you will be enriched by your experience.

 If you want to be more involved with re-forestry, or need an excuse to get outside, there are lots of organisations who would welcome you as a volunteer.  The Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission, and Trees for Life all have schemes you can get involved in.

 For more information on Mandy’s project see her website: http://mandyhaggith.worldforests.org/a-b-tree.asp?pageid=336781

 If you want to find out more about Lapidus, their website can be found here: http://www.lapidus.org.uk/  look at their ‘regional networks’ section for more information about what’s going on in your local area.

 If you want to be inspired by some tree images, take a look at my pinboard: http://www.pinterest.com/drnaturegirl/trees/  and http://onebigphoto.com/worlds-most-beautiful-trees-photography/

 Happy Tree hugging!

 

References#

1 United Nations Environment Programme ‘Forests’ http://www.unep.org/forests/

 

Being Human

SockfluffI have an insane fear of fluff.  Not any old fluff you understand, just the sort of fluff that gets left on the carpet, mostly of the sock variety.  Thankfully most of my floors are covered in vinyl and laminate, rather than carpet, so it’s not reached the peak of ‘phobia’ just yet.  It’s the fear of the ‘unknown’, I think; dark uncertain objects lurking on -or worse in– my carpet.  It could be anything! Not anything hideous or harmful, but some unspecified ‘creepy-crawly’ : slaters, silver fish, carpet beetles, larder beetles, fur beetles, biscuit beetles, mutant bed bugs, all marvellously innocuous sounding.  The point is, they are creatures from ‘out there’ and should not, to my mind, be ‘in here’!

I’m not arachnaphobic – if it’s a spider I’m very happy.  I like spiders.  Spiders kill flies (I HATE flies).  Spiders may require relocating from the bedroom carpet, but they’re fine elsewhere, doing their spidery stuff.  Other unspecified creatures I don’t have as much truck with.  They need to go.  They don’t have to have their life extinguished for the benefit of my irrational dislike of their choice of habitat, but they do need to be somewhere other than my boudoir floor; the space under my feet where I can tread on them at night, when I can’t see what I’m treading on…

Mostly I’m pleased to say, the unspecified objects are indeed sock fluff: dark threads, sinister blobs and bubbles masquerading as the dreaded arthropods.  It can look amazingly life-like, animated even, by the light of a 15 watt energy-saving bulb at 10pm, believe me!

Of course the definition of a phobia is an irrational fear. Our caveman selves probably had very rational fears of what was ‘out there’ – the things that they had to share their lives with that they understood and feared because they might actually get them!

We are still sharing our lives with all manner of things, albeit less and less variety of creatures each year, and very few in this country likely to get us.  We are still competing for food and territory, although we have a better understanding of our fragile eco-system, our necessarily shared resources.  Or do we, protected as we are by manmade constructs, with only bugs on the carpet to fear?  And there’s always that hoover in the cupboard…

Why I‘m Not Mourning the End of Summer

Woodburner smallI work in a sector where the colder days and dark nights are a cause of dread.  If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or depression of any sort, the cold gloomy days ahead can seem interminable, and the fact that we’ve had a good summer this year seems to make it worse, by highlighting the contrast.

I’m the last person who would trivialise peoples’ anxiety about winter, especially those who have mental health issues, but I’m one of those people who are lucky enough not to suffer from SAD, and can see the benefits that the cooler days bring. 

For a start, I love the autumn colour: Glen Affric in the autumn is a delight, particularly if you get one of those cold bright days, which we sometimes do.  Who doesn’t like crunching about in autumn leaves and collecting conkers?

Admittedly I don’t like the cold – not one bit- so living in the northern most part of the British mainland may seem like an odd choice, but as Billy Connelly said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing’, so as long as I can wrap up and keep warm I’m happy to engage with the colder weather on my own terms!  I love putting on my winter woollies, which my mum knits, and walking on a deserted beach; I actually really like seeing the first snow fall on the mountains, and watching Ben Wyvis, which I can see from my utility room, turn white at the summit.  I even love crunching the white stuff underfoot and building snowmen (well, snow pigs in my case, but the point is the same).  Also, I am in love with my wood burner.  There I’ve said it!  I will be delighted with the new opportunities this season presents to stoke up the fire.  There’s something magical about being toastie-warm in front of a real fire, whilst it’s blowing a gale outside.

There are many other seasonal benefits to be had – the darker night skies provide much better opportunities for stargazing, and if like me, you’re lucky enough to live in a ‘dark sky’ environment you’ll appreciate the clear night skies at this time of year.  The northern lights (Aurora Borealis) are also only really visible in the autumn and winter months, and although I’ve not yet had the privilege of seeing them, the north is one of the best spots in the UK to do so.

Food is always a pet subject of mine, and at this time of year there are plenty of seasonal delights from blackberries and other hedgerow food, to chestnuts, game and stews.  Gone are the summer salads, in is hearty, wholesome, warming grub in extra big portions to give me energy for keeping warm: steaming piles of fluffy creamed potatoes, soups of every kind, stodgy puddings, and back on board are the lovely shellfish too.

I enjoy getting out and about, but the cold short days are also a good excuse to curl up on the sofa, in front of the fire, with a good book, or a good film, and not feel guilty.  I do miss the exercise I get in the summer from gardening, but I can sit inside smug in the knowledge that all the tending has been done and my sprouts are doing their thing in time for Christmas.

I said the ‘C’ word.  I’m aware it’s not something that sets everyone’s heart alight, but I do love Christmas and all the traditions associated with it:  Candlelit carols, wrapping presents, sending cards, visiting friends and family, and all the food sights and smells that go with this time of year –the Christmas cakes, pickles, hams, cheeses, mulled wine, and all the Christmas spices.  And let’s not forget the start of the citrus season too!

There are lots of things to enjoy as we move towards cooler weather, and of course, there’s always the spring to look forward too!  Would we appreciate it as much, do you think if we didn’t have autumn and winter?