Preserving Leaves

Preserving Leaves was my first post ever on this blog!
Now the season is right for preserving leaves, I thought I’d re-blog it to fill up a terrible gap in my posting which I’m aware I’ve created with my negligence. I have a post almost finished, though, and I will try to put it up soon.

Copper Beech School

Many times in Autumn I have strolled out along the wet grass and found blown into the hedge a single perfect leaf, in which a sensational mixture of beautiful reds, golds, and browns, flow into each other. It makes you sad to think that in few days, that gorgeous leaf may be tattered, sodden and ragged, rotting away into the mud. But there is a way of saving such perfect specimens of autumn leaves from this melancholy fate.

Leaf preserving is great fun; you can gather the beautiful red and gold leaves while the sun shines and the garden is radiant with gold, and then when one of those cold and windy autumn days was playing outside is out of question comes along, you can do the preserving part.

We tried two ways of preserving leaves but the only really successful one involved glycerine, which is thick liquid that comes…

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Autumn: Warm Sunlight, Cold Air

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day

 And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

From Keats,

To Autumn

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Out of our French-doors I can see the spread of the garden – the leaves of the little wild cherry in the foreground glowing powerfully golden-green in the fast dying magic of the late sunshine, and behind it, after the sweep of the green lawn, thinly spotted with the first fallen leaves, the same golden light kindles the branches of the huge Copper Beach, the glorious framing backdrop of our garden.

Only now and then, the light falls so that a string of spider’s web, streaming out in the gentle breeze, becomes visible, shining like a fairy-rope, and likewise the gauze wings of the flying insects that float, dreaming in the beams.

The feeling of the evening is warm and drowsy, so much so that, lulled with the golden light, I am startled by the feeling of the air as I step out onto the warm-coloured stone, patterned with the long shadows of grasses.

For me, the first sign of autumn is the change in the air. Many times, when officially it is still summer, and the leaves cling still to the branch, and look still fresh and green, I only have known that beneath the blanket Autumn stirs.

Because the pastel-soft warmth of the air has changed to a clean-cut, earthy crispness, a well recognized, but yet, I think, under-expressed smell, a smell that, like so many smells, brings back a rush of memories.

Today I have smelt it.

Today I salute Autumn.

How can I wait? How can I wait for Halloween and leaf-fall and the Autumn magic?

Home Again

 

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Me and my brother at the pillars

Hello Everybody,

I am so sorry for the terrible lack of posting during the last few months. I have some excuse – I have been on holiday in Sardinia for a couple of weeks – though that does not really excuse my not posting for a month or so before that.

It does mean, however, that my posts about the holiday – the white sand, rich turquoise water beaches where we spent most of our time, the dry pine forests and green romantic crags, the flapping palms, views of a silver sea, and my being stung by a Mauve Stinger jellyfish! – will now be coming thick and fast.

Today, I am posting about a twilight swim I went on on a beach  next to a roman granite quarry. As the ancient romans loaded the pillars and things they’d carved out of the quarry onto the ship to be taken to Rome, they’d sort them through, and if they found one they’d got wrong they’d just dump it on the beach, so there’s loads of Roman columns just hanging about on the beach!

 

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Those tremendous blocks will never stand on end, tall, tall, as the pillars of heaven, as they were meant to do, never watch the sacrificial service, or hear the bleating cry of the goat killed on the altar, their fate determined by one slip of the sculpture’s hand. Now the years pass by and by, and Rome no longer needs their service, no longer wants their strength, to uphold the great and gilded roof.

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Now, themselves half sunken into waters still and glassy as a temple’s polished floor, rings round them, echoing off again and again from the granite, not hymns to Neptune, but Neptune’s own music, lapping, lapping, forever lapping. No priestess’s skirt shall swish against their hardness, only water, water, ever water.

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It was that hour of evening that goes on from just before sundown, and then from between sundown and dark-fall, when laughter and wind and noise all melt down into a hush.

As the fiery blaze of radiance, seared by the setting sun, subsides to a tender pink in the sky, the elements fall silent, as we fall silent just after something glorious has passed before us.

Whatever the cause, there is a gentleness, subtle but firm, in the air at twilight, and we mortals feel it, and cease our laughter and play in awe. Certainly, I do.

This evening, the sea had fallen still as lake-water about the great blocks of white solidity, so that their reflections are clear as crystal; fallen still over the granite sea-bottom, changing now to fine sand as I come out of the rocks and pillars onto the main beach, smooth and reflective almost as the water where the waves had dampened it, but ruffled beyond by the tracks of the people, nearly all gone now, leaving the beach. Though they were in dry sand and would have been easily smoothed into nothing by one gust of wind, they looked strangely permanent in the stillness of the hour. Yet nothing made by man is permanent – not even those great, forgotten granite pillars. Already the sea is ever wearing them away. Only the awe that they inspire in our hearts is permanent.

As I walked by the last pillar, I broke the mirror-reflection into ripples, rising to catch colour from the pink glow in the sky. There was no sound but the slow, calm liquid noise of my wading. Then, instead of walking along the beach, I began to walk out to see, and, eyes of the last of the pillars, plunged softly into the water, and swam away, the pillars fading into the haze of evening calm.

 

 

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(Note: I just created a new page: My (winning) entry for the Alan Garner Writing Competition of 2016)

Owlet and Rose Photos

 

My mother saw it first. It must have been quite a shock; just glancing out of the window – my gosh! –

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There it was, a blinking, fuzzy old fluff ball, looking rather grumpy but so sweet! It was sitting less than a room’s length (be it not a very tiny room) from our french doors, on the raised part of the garden surrounded by a gravel drive-way that we call the island.

Perhaps I ought to explain a little more. For a long while, our garden has been inhabited by two great tawny owls – gifts of Athene, the protectress of those animals –  or so I have always thought.

Day after day, we would look up and see them, sitting side by side on the branch, looking down with their wide, burning, searching eyes gazing questingly into yours, and their great heads swivelling amazingly far round.

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Many times we have found what are almost defiantly the feathers of young owls about the garden; but we have never seen the babies before. It was a great excitement, then, as you may imagine, when we found a tawny owlet sitting on the island.

After the first shocks of delighted amazement, we began to consider what to do. We did not know at all whether the owlet was supposed to be on the ground – it looked considerably out of place there, almost like some incredible creature from another world suddenly set down in our garden. We are surrounded by different  neighbours, nearly all of whom have cats who not uncommonly venture into our garden – and we have even occasionally been know to have dogs enter from under the gate. We were therefore rather worried that some of these animals would prove predators to the baby owl.

I set to work googling, and found that

Hand rearing an owlet and releasing it later is not the best thing for it. Unless there is something definitely wrong with the bird, it is far better off remaining ‘in the wild’… It is important to note that young Tawny Owls usually leave the nest long before they are ready to fly and there is actually no point in placing such birds back in the nest. From approx. ½ to ¾ grown (around 120-220mm tall), Tawny owlets go through a phase called ‘branching’, when they walk, climb, jump and flutter around in the trees at night. The adults locate them by their contact calls and will feed them anywhere. It is not at all uncommon for owlets to spend time on the ground during this phase and they are surprisingly good at climbing back up again. It is very likely that the owlet you have is perfectly okay and if it is left where it is, or returned to the same spot, it will be fed by the adults and will be able to climb to safety.

and

“Tawny Owl babies are often seen on the ground in summer, where you should leave them alone! They are able to call their parents and even climb trees to safety. Adult Tawny Owls can attack and severely injure humans. Beware!”

We decided, then, to let it stay where it was; we could frighten away any cats that came if the parent did not. It was comforting to know that it was still under the parent’s guardianship, and had not been turned out of the nest. Incredible as it seemed that such an immobile looking fluff-ball could climb a tree, we trusted the websites, for all of them said the same.

So, everybody, that is what to do it you are lucky enough to ever see this amazing spectacle.

Note: This note is written a few days after I wrote the first part of this – I kept it un-posted as Jane Austen characters do with their letters so as to add more later. We have continued to see the owlet about the garden; sometimes it tries to fly, and makes a ridiculous spectacle, rather like a struggling bear with wings. It is clear that it can move about the garden much faster than you might have thought, and the parents regularly feed it. We are not as yet sure whether having seen the babies, as we have not done previous years, means that they are nesting in the garden, instead of in a nearby hollow chestnut as we before thought. 

Also, it was Thomas Hardy’s birthday on the 2nd of June.

And finally, here’s a slideshow of some pictures of the Incense Rose I took the other day:

And here’s a poem I wrote about it years ago:

I open with the sun –
The gentle sun of spring,
I overflow with joyous light
Oh, what the year may bring!
My dainty buds were forming
When the earth was bare and stark;
My ferny leaves made patterns
On my stems so rich and dark.
My leaves they are scented
Of incense do they smell,
Like a church as dark as winter
But of sweet spring sun as well.
I am no double rose,
Nor fit for any ball,
But I’m sure my simple beauty
Will please and charm you all.

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Ways to enjoy your garden/surrounding countryside

Five minute ways to relax in warm weather 

  1. Lie down upon a patch of warm moss, or dry grass if there is none, and shut your eyes, turning your face to the sun. Listen to the sound of the birds sining, and the trees rustling – even the swish of cars on a road can become a sweet sound while you lie in the sun. Then sniff – sniff in a huge draught of air, and see what it reminds you of. You may recall all the other Spring days, and sweeten and sober your mind with memories. It can be sad to remember, sometimes, but always sweet too. Doing it always reminds me of the  William Allingham ‘Four ducks on a pond, a grass bank beyond, a blue sky of Spring, white clouds on the wing; what a little thing to remember for years – to remember with tears.’
  2. Sit on a swing, close your eyes, and imagine you are a bird flitting through the blue sky, or a fish through the blue sea. Open your eyes and throw your head back, so that you see the world spin and turn below you. It is a wonderful feeling and vision.
  3. Make a daisy chain. It is a very simple thing to do, but it is a lovely spring or summer occupation. If you don’t know how, I will tell you – pick  daisy, and slit a loop in the stalk with your thumb nail. Then thread another through that slit, and slit the stem of the one thread through the slit in turn, and so on. Deck yourself out in daisies – make a daisy bracelet, a daisy necklace, a daisy crown, even daisy belt or hairband, or a little rings of daisies to hang round your ears.
  4. Climb a tree. It is so lovely to see the sunlight shining through the leaves like stain glass, and falling in golden splashes on the trunk. Try to reach the very top – it is such a wonderful feeling to emerge from the leafy canopy into empty air with the blue sky above, with the wind blowing in your face. The view is also always grand from the tops of trees.
  5. This is an occupation mostly for late Summer, or early if the weather has been especially warm. Go into the garden, and gather the petals of the over-blown roses as you hand them into the basket. You can also gather sweet smelling herbs,and throw in some tangerine peel, and them put the mixture in a pretty pot in your house to scent the room.
  6. Make a salad out of the herbs in your garden. I have written about this and will be posting it soon – after I have done so I will add a link on this post to that.

 

A little bit more ambitious

  1. If you don’t have a swing to use for  idea 2, try making one out of a straight stick and some ropes. They can often swing straighter than bought swings.
  2. Try keeping a nature diary. Get a blank exercise-book/notebook/clutch of paper or anything else of the sort, and keep a dairy of the garden wildlife and plants. Even ordinary things can be written down, like the sighting of a frog, interesting lady-bird, especially fat bumble-bee, or the first butterfly of the year. I put a few lines of poetry describing the day at the beginning of each entry.
  3. Have a little flower bed to yourself. Buy a packet of seeds, or transplant some flowers not wanted in the other beds of the garden into a little hidden away patch, and steal some soil from the compost or another bed, and plant them in it.
  4. Eat breakfast in the garden. See my post about it Here.

Invisible

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She walked, feeling the soothing touch of the smooth, silken waves as they slipped full and gently past her ankles – a blurred dusk-colour in the half-light of evening, dappled with soft shadows. She felt as though she would like to walk on and on and on and on for eternity, basking in the soft feeling; slipping her soul into the rhythm of the waves, until, maybe one day, she would reach the silver-blue tissue-paper layers of the mist-dream mountains, and live there.

And then thoughts began to flood into her mind that perplexed her.

“How wide and endless the sea is; it makes visible an invisible eternity – and the thought of it, stretching on, and on forever, is almost more than I can bear; it is so great a thought. How many millions and millions of people – as many as there are waves lapping past my legs, perhaps – in all of history, must have dipped their hands in the sea. And the water they dipped them in is still here, will always be here. Nelson’s ship has touched this water, and maybe, all those many, many, many years ago, Odysseus’s. Maybe, some time, another little girl will walk here, and will not know that I did the same, all those years ago. There must be one who did it before, and I know nothing of her.

I wonder who now – for in all the wide world there must be somebody – is walking out into the sea just in step with me? I wonder what she or he is like? Child or adult? I’m going to be an adult before too long. What an odd thought – and I’m not altogether sure I want to be.”

She murmured, softly; “Waves, will you keep my childhood? I know that you will always, always be here, and so then my childhood will always, always be here. And when I am an adult, and I come to the sea, I will remember. I will remember; I will. And I can come and find myself, as I am now – I will find myself dancing with you, waves.”

 Twenty years later, a lady walks out to the sea upon the same beach, and by her side a little girl with laughing eyes and glossy curls. Both lady and child look a little like the girl who, years ago, had felt the same waves and looked out upon the same beach – but neither look exactly like. The lady picks up the little girl and kisses her, and laughs. 

‘So, you are the little girl who I knew, sometime in the future, would walk out feeling the sea upon her as I did, once. I thought then that I would rather not grow up; but how can I say that now I have you? I am very, very happy being grown-up – and I think I will give you a gift – something very precious to me which I no longer need, for you have replaced it. Take it from the waves – my childhood. It was a very happy childhood, and I hope yours will be as happy.’

 

Sweet In Her Green Dell the Flower of Beauty Slumbers

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Song

‘Sweet in her green dell the flower of beauty slumbers,
   Lull’d by the faint breezes sighing through her hair;
Sleeps she and hears not the melancholy numbers
   Breathed to my sad lute ’mid the lonely air.
Down from the high cliffs the rivulet is teeming
   To wind round the willow banks that lure him from above:
O that in tears, from my rocky prison streaming,
   I too could glide to the bower of my love!
Ah! where the woodbines with sleepy arms have wound her,
   Opes she her eyelids at the dream of my lay,
Listening, like the dove, while the fountains echo round her,
   To her lost mate’s call in the forests far away.
Come then, my bird! For the peace thou ever bearest,
   Still Heaven’s messenger of comfort to me—
Come—this fond bosom, O faithfullest and fairest,
   Bleeds with its death-wound, its wound of love for thee!’ 

Darley

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I have, in my garden, a certain ‘green dell’ (though as to whether I am the ‘flower of beauty’ I don’t know). Down at the bottom of the lawn, the ground falls, leaving a wide ditch between the grass and the fence. This place we have transformed from a muddy nettle ditch edged with scrabby leylandii (I realise scrabby is not a real word and would not use it in any book, but it is the best I can think of to describe them), to a paradise of fruit trees and foliage.

I found myself a little clearing, edged on one side with an arch of raspberries, and placing a chair therein, sat down to read some poetry.

A blossom fell from a bough above and alighted on my book, pure white with with a gentle cheek-pink leaking into it, and fluff-pollen yellow in the centre.

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The Smell of Woodbine

She reclined, conscious of nothing but the springy turf under her, the golden sunlight as it streamed through the glowing green foliage and fell dappled about – the molten gold joy of the fairies. She had watched them arise each morning, clad in the pale skirts of the dew b’pearled primrose, with wings like the Chrysopa perla and scatter it, the happiness, the content.

She could smell – or at least she knew the smell was there, and was conscious of it as much as she was conscious of anything – the heavy, dream scent of the woodbine, and feel how its sleepy arms had wound her, wrapping her round with the feel and the smell of it like a blanket round a child. And she lay, lull’d by the sound of the faint breezes sighing through her hair. 

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And then she thought something came to her, breaking through the soft muffle of scents and sounds; pulling it aside, as the blanket might, when morning came, be pulled off the child, so that it lay exposed to the chill air of morning; a sound, or a feeling, she could not quite tell, for in this place two were as mingled as sunlight and shade, and blurry as dusk sky. And she remembered something, something which she ought not to have remembered; it was coming back to her, as a dream comes back to a waker, though here dream and waking were reversed, flashes of memory appearing for a minute in her lulled mind, and disappearing before she could identify them.

But she was dimly conscious, through the woodbine smell, that she was not so happy as she had thought she had been; that Life lay behind her, like a forgotten path through the wood newly uncovered; that there was one walking down it who longed for her to turn and re-trace her steps to join him. Would she? Could she?

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That which I just wrote made me feel rather odd. I am happy I can enjoy sitting under the arching boughs without ‘Life’ behind me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My stay in ‘Mona’

Hello!

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while – but luckily it means that there is a series of especially good posts to come – as the reason for it is that I have been on holiday to Anglesey with my parents for a few days, there collecting descriptions for my first proper novel, Speedwell, which is set on Anglesey. I hope soon to create a page on my blog where you can read it. This entry, though, is an account of something which happened on Anglesey.

Eased Heart 

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The untouched sand is dazzlingly smooth – whiter than the sand of the beach behind it, and shaped by the wind unto gentle ripples reflecting the waves of the sea. Somewhere, a sky-lark was singing – and the sound echoed gurgling round the smooth sandhills, seeming all-about and everywhere.

A figure, outlined delicately against the bright paleness of the sand was walking past, her bare feet leaving faint imprints on the light-smoothness. She felt as if, in that moment, she had passed into another unknown world, vast in it curiosities. She stoops to put on her shoes, in readiness for climbing the huge dune that rises ahead – and is not soft with sand, wind-swept, but now unearthly still, like the others, but all a’green with marram grass, and sheets of herb and weed. And the ground about it is green too, for some little space. And all amid the greenery there peeps out a clump of one, two, three little heartsease, smiling up with their little bright faces at the girl. She smiles back, delighted, and stoops to pick one of the heartsease. She then notices other clumps are scattered all about. Some of the laughing, smiling little flowers are of many different shades of yellow – others different shades of blue or of purple, some are of purple, blue and yellow together, arranged in a different way on each flower. There were some that were yellow with a dapple dark purple splash upon each petal. 

She climbs on, panting, up the green slopes of the dune, till she comes to the top, and looks down at a world of dryness, dappled with greenness and patches of sand, marvelling at the whole. The marram grass gave way a little here, baring a crumbling, winding precipice of loose sand on the other side. She flung herself down it, rolling and tumbling amongst the sand, came to a stop at the bottom, and lay looking at the sky, in which floated by, soft and pure white as swan’s down. She felt bright and cheerful – but not as bright and cheerful as the smiling heartsease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faded Silk

She rose up, and walked, with a tear-stained face toward the cabinet. She lent against it, closing her eyes and letting out long, quavering breaths. Then she ceased to lean, and stood, trembling, while she pulled out a drawer of the cabinet. She reached in, and drew it out, springs of thyme and other herbs falling away as she did so. It was a dress – long and silken, of colours that had clearly once been bright and shimmering – changing in the different lights from green to turquoise to blue – but now it was very faded. She smoothed the folds of silk and felt the gown, reverently, against her cheek. Then she took off her white nightgown, and, as though indulging in a great pleasure, slipped into the faded gown. It was of a soft silk balmy on the skin, and it fitted her perfectly – or almost perfectly – it was perhaps a shade small. The sleeves made her slender arms and waist seem slenderer still, and it hung down in graceful waves from the latter.

She took the band off her soft dark hair so it fell about her, and stepped out into the light of the early morning. The air was cool and dewy, and balmy as the silk of the gown, and her misery was soothed a little by its calmness.

The dew was still upon the shrubs – and she shook some drops onto her hand – dipped a finger in it and spread it, sparingly, upon her face as though it was some rich perfume. She thought of the countless mornings when, as a child, she had risen at about this time or earlier, and come into the garden to bathe her face in the dew and gain beauty for the coming year. She considered how little beauty would do for her now – and thought her child-self foolish in wanting to attain it. Beauty was a poisonous thing – she knew that now. Again she sighed – and little stronger than she had done earlier. Perhaps she would not do what she had come out to do – or not yet.

 

This entry was inspired by the Tennyson poem, Enid – especially the lines;

‘Then she bethought her of a faded silk,

A faded mantle and a faded veil,

And moving toward cedarn cabinet,

Wherein she kept them folded reverently,

With springs of Summer laid between the folds,

She took them, and array’d herself therein,

Remembering when first he came on her,

Dress in that dress, and how he loved her in it … ‘

 

– and also a detail of a picture in my copy of the book.

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Breaking Sorrow 

 

She sat, her legs tucked under her, wrapping her cream-coloured cashmere blanket tightly about her. The trees branched over her, dark in the shadows, but glinting white with frost when a beam of moonlight fell from behind the many enclosing clouds. Tears, inside which seemed to lie worlds – worlds of silver and dark reflected from the real world, but looking different when they lay in those tiny shining drops, fell from behind her closed eye-lids, pale as the frost. Her hair fell in soft waves of shadow about her shoulders and trailed down her back. She sobbed – quietly, but audibly because of the softness all about. She idly picked up a pebble from the ground, and threw it, bitterly, into the pond or small lake the banks of which she was sitting upon. The surface of the water was stilled by shining ice, cold and brittle as the girl’s heart – it cracked into pieces, with a sharp sound that echoed round the clearing and came back to her again. ‘Good, you are broken.’ said the girl ‘Like me.’ she added, softly, lying her head upon the ground with the shivers running through her and looking up at the sky. Clouds hid the moon, and most of the stars likewise – the sky was an abyss of darkness – rarely broken up by any beam of light. She closed her eyes once more, and once more, cried.

The girl awoke to a peculiar yet familiar feeling of – happiness. She opened her eyes – the sunlight was dancing on a surface of  water rippled by a gentle breeze. The air was chill and bracing, but clear. A swan, with soft, pure plumage of a far happier white than the night’s silver frost, by now all gone from the trees, glowed in the brightness. Brightness. Brightness was all around, it filled her soul, her heart – nature’s beauty, nature’s joy – it can put happiness into those most forlorn, most forgotten. She looked about her at the dancing sunlight, at the few pale green leaves that had come on the bare branches of the trees, through which the light shined like stain glass. She had sensed it was the right thing to do, to go out on that night, and to stay there till morning. She was proved right.