Friday, 22 January 2021

After another day in the natural world, I feel so happy, so alive

After another day in the natural world, I feel so happy, so alive

WE both wake up at about 5.30am. As I wash and dress, Rosemary takes an early morning cup of tea into the back garden.

She beckons me from downstairs and leads me outside to point out an extraordinary looking caterpillar that has just fallen on our wooden table, missing her head by a whisker. Rosemary tells me that it landed with a big bump.

I take a look and confirm her identification of a sycamore moth caterpillar (Acronicta aceris). The creature is bristling with long, yellow and orange fluffy hairs and has a row of white blotches with black edges along its back.

The moth’s main food plants are, of course, the sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and field maple (Acer campestre). This little beast has fallen out of our variegated Acer platanoides drummondii, which fits the bill.

The caterpillars tumble out of trees at this time of year to gain shelter under leaves to pupate.

Rosemary has named him “Hairy Harry” as he’s not dirty and takes him to a safe place under another one of our trees. He’s a fascinating little fellow and exquisite when viewed up close through a magnifying glass.

Typically, gorgeous-looking caterpillars will emerge as a colourless, dull-looking imago, just like this one, that will become a mixture of grey and white.

The weather is looking a bit threatening so we choose to take a hike close to home where we will not be far from the car.

We drive to Binfield Heath, park up near the Bottle and Glass pub and walk along Bones Lane. There is a great crop of blackberries and Rosemary eats them on the hoof. I don’t like the pips but I’m tempted to gather some and make her an apple and blackberry pie.

We pass a lovely old barn on our left with a corrugated iron roof. The field to our right is full of scented mayweed. On either side our path is lined with oak, ash and sycamore trees.

The oaks are producing a bumper crop of acorns this year — incalculable. There are also some fit-looking English elms along our way, which I wish luck. Some are dead and bear yellow lichen. Creeping thistle grows to either side with bittersweet.

We enter Bones Wood and Rosemary is quite taken with its beauty, so snaps away furiously. Full of beech, oak, cherry and the occasional whitebeam, it does have a good feel.

We find some blue-green lichen on fallen branches. This is a sign of good air quality.

Our path, which rolls up and down, is stony but nicely dry. We meet a few folk walking friendly dogs. Does it get better than this?

There is a huge dip on our way to the valley bottom. I presume that, like others I have encountered, it was probably dug for flint extraction. I’ll have to quiz an archaeologist friend to find out.

Alongside the cavernous dip, we come across a beech tree that soars skywards with white spots dotted randomly all along its strong trunk. I’ll have to investigate what and why this is.

We skirt the side of Crowsley Park. Some of the original iron fencing has been ripped out and patched up with nasty barbed wire. I don’t see the point; what is the purpose?

We come across a little dead fox tangled up in the abomination. We are both upset as it must have died through exhaustion, unable to free itself and dehydrated, poor animal. So cruel.

While in Spain, Poland, Russia, Canada and Portugal, I never encountered any kind of metallic barrier.

Later, I discuss this with our friend Dave Kenny who reminds me that on his recent visit to Finland there was a complete absence of wire and no delineation of property. This is how the world should be with no “Keep out, private” signs.

The BBC owns Crowsley Park so whoever you are at the corporation, hang your head in shame. I worked for you, as did my parents. This is unacceptable.

Our path is lined on one side by some clay-soil loving hornbeams. Spindle is scattered about.

Incidentally, people like Rosemary and I respect the countryside. We are so lucky to have access to so many places and leave only our footprints. Our pal Dave carries on his litter-picking crusade of the roadsides, collecting rubbish thrown out of car windows.

We walk up to some old Douglas firs in Gilsmithers Wood. Many are obviously old. They are not native trees but they can be very handsome when given room to grow. They also exude a rather pleasant scent when caressed by the sun. Speckled wood butterflies jostle in sunlit glades. We love them.

We find a sign that states “No horses”, which is odd.

A fallen oak lies on the woodland floor and is now host to bright green mosses.

As we descend to the road that runs between Crowsley Park and Harpsden Bottom there are some stately silver birch trees, one with a crown gall that is the result of a bacterial infection on a wound to the trunk, most probably Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

Bracken grows below. We turn right heading east and see the woods to our right are full of large male ferns and woodland grasses. A stack of logs pokes out of the undergrowth.

To our left the gently sloping ground is full of meadow flowers. Mag’s Wood is deep green on the crest and several giant oaks line the roadside. It is lovely down here, cool and verdant.

The odd commercial vehicle flies past at speed but we’ve room to find safety.

After a short while we find the path that will take us back and onwards to home. It is a great one, full of tree roots, winding and quite steep. We observe badger and deer paths all over. I wonder what it is like here at night. Most interesting, I suspect. We are astonished to find a tiny froglet. Where did he come from?

After passing some drifts of enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) and common figwort (Scrophularia nodosa), we emerge in a charming grove of silver birch trees. Sunlight shimmers off their boughs. Simply beautiful. We spot a female, green-veined white butterfly, so delicate.

Driving home, we almost strike a red kite that is tucking into some roadkill.

When we arrive home we sit outside as usual to view the gradual setting of the sun with our small pussycat. We do love her so.

We take a brief walk around the garden. Rosemary points out a large web that is being constructed by a rather large garden spider (Araneus diadematus). She has named her “Big Bertha”. The spider is rather pretty in an arachnid kind of way.

We have three oak trees that all seem to be doing well. One in the darkest depths is from an acorn gathered from Windsor Great Park, the others just arrived unannounced, most probably through the forgetfulness of jays as they bury acorns that they plan to dig up for sustenance come the winter months but can’t remember where they’ve concealed them.

This is a very important relationship between the two disparate species.

Our largest oak is infested with common spangle galls that are created by the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. I study them through my microscope. The galls have something akin to a pimple in the middle with soft looking reddish hairs around them. Looking at them this closely, the beauty of nature is revealed.

Many other plants are springing up from nowhere but we love them anyway. Some people would consider what we cherish as weeds but, no, everything has its niche and fills a welcome space in nature’s plan.

We have teasel, chicory, red campion and dark mullein that all seem to have found their way into a sunlit clearing. Bravo to all of them.

The raven is croaking again and we can see him now atop a tree in a neighbouring garden. Fortunately, Rosemary has her camera and takes a few pictures. We hear him regularly so it is fabulous to confirm his presence by sight. He’s dark, big-beaked, brooding and clever.

Our rare Wollemi pine is fruiting so we are sharing the seeds far and wide and hope that we can raise some little ones which would be quite spectacular.

Before supper we both take in the wonder of it all and hope to see a display of the stars later on. I lack a telescope but I’ll fix that.

I play a song by Neil Young called Harvest Moon. I love the lyrics, which seem to sum up how I feel.

Come a little closer
Hear what I have to say
Just like children sleeping
We could dream this night away
But there’s a full moon rising
Let’s go dancing in the light
We know where the music’s playing
Let’s go out and feel the night.

I admit that I have never been so happy. Life is worth living.

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