Monday, 17 January 2022

We must nurture our relationship with our big, beautiful friends

We must nurture our relationship with our big, beautiful friends

ANOTHER cold morning, another slight frost, yet as I step outside there is a beautiful brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) flitting about — a true herald of spring.

It seems to like my holly bush and then investigates its surroundings before gliding off in the early sunlight. I am always happy to witness such a milestone event in nature’s calendar.

These sulphuric coloured insects (the males yellow, the females greenish) lay their eggs on alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) or common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica).

There are none of these bushes close by, the only examples that I know being in the Hemdean valley on the outskirts of Caversham so the butterfly I saw must be a pioneer or a robust flyer.

Talking of the common buckthorn, I remember reading that its berries were once used as a laxative or purgative, which makes me think how much folkloric and (possibly) medical knowledge that we have lost over the centuries.

Just as I step outside, a blackcap bursts into song. It is so melodious that it stops me in my tracks. This little warbler must have over-wintered. It is a handsome bird, robin-sized and slender but what a voice.

I’m looking forward to see the bird find a mate, build a nest, rear young and grace the summer months with its soft and gentle notes.

On my way to a friend’s house I pause to have a good look round. I have made my way from Emmer Green along Balmore towards Caversham and sit down on a very welcome bench for a minute. I’m happy to have done so as a pair of tiny long-tailed tits forage in the Corsican pines above.

A healthy looking nuthatch scampers around one of the tree trunks and gobbles up a spider that it has found in the bark. Two red kites soar high above.

As I stand up to make my way across the daisy-covered sward, a wren rattles off a warning note. I have never understood how such a very small bird can possess such a powerful voice.

February is concluding. What unseasonal weather we have had. My hope is that these past few weeks have not fooled nature into kicking off too soon.

My friend Dave Kenny and I have decided to check what is happening locally so we make a brief foray into one of our local woodlands.

The first thing we notice is the proliferation of mosses that cover the ground. Old woodland boundaries and the bases of tree trunks are cloaked with their quiet but insidious momentum.

Song thrushes announce themselves with their repetitive but soulful cadences. Buds are emerging on privet and hazel. The dainty little flowers of wych elm (Ulmus glabra), with its delicate red anthers, reveal the onset of a new season.

Primroses are now in flower and as we stop in admiration we disturb a female pheasant that makes a racket in indignation.

A female roe deer scampers away at pace on our approach. To all intents and purposes, she resembles a tree nymph, part of a long-lost past.

I always find it odd that we never seem to meet many people on our excursions for I love being out in the midst of nature. Looking at the forest floor, it is obvious that everything is about to burst into life.

Among the boisterous carpet of emerging bluebells, the leaves of wood anemones are fighting their way through. We are in for a treat in a few weeks’ time.

Looking at some of the older trees here, it is possible to read their past. Some are as straight as a die, true stalwarts, others exhibit wounds.

A broken bough here or there, maybe caused by a powerful gale, pollarding by our ancestors for building materials or simple coppicing to create posts, sticks and chair legs.

Our (human) interaction with trees is as old as the hills but somehow this ancient connection seems to have lapsed. I for one have not lost faith in our co-existence and have a strong sense that our relationship with our big, tall and beautiful friends will soon be renewed.

Vincent Ruane

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