In and out the garden

20180531_161831As we write this, the sparrows outside the spare bedroom window are shouting away, full of beans, their home in the martins’ nest alive with the sound of babies and their proud parents’ calls. At last, after the most protracted and disconcerting few months of uncertainty, things have settled down and all the creatures are getting on with life. Everything seems to have been compressed into the last few weeks but having said that, even now – ten days into June – our new oak has only recently come into leaf, the last of our trees to feel secure enough about sunlight and warmth to begin to burgeon forth. 20180512_072525After a good fifteen years of development, first in a planter at the other end of the country, latterly facing south in the garden soil not far from Uncle Johnny’s grave, the wonderful wisteria has relaxed and, in a minor way, let rip, several floral cascades complementing its lush foliage.

The two nearby firs have responded with bright green tips all over and, along from them, the Huw the Yew, planted just before the ‘Beast from the East’ hit everything for six, seems optimistic in its new growth. They say that yew trees flourish where good things thrive, so let us pray for this one’s continued health. No sooner was it in the ground when the snow fell and clung to its cold feet for days on end, apparently doing it no harm other than a bit of brown. These are trees that have seen everything, having endured as individuals often for many centuries, reputedly a thousand. It is humbling to plant a mature specimen and hope that it will honour us with its mysterious gaze for many many years. Perhaps most of all, because we ourselves will not be here to see it.

20180512_072636.jpgEven the humble bay, long one of us and also previously for many years in a planter, has never looked anything as glorious as it did when this spring finally arrived. Imperfectly cropped into a vague ball-shape over the years, its thick, dark green leaves generated lovely bunches of creamy, fragrant blossoms in which it was completely covered.  Ours is essentially a green garden, probably with more than forty shades as well. Looking across the range, you notice especially the sharp lime-yellow of the maple, nestling near the Lincoln-green of the hazel – both big trees now, after several years left to their own devices – and, in between them, the motley holly, which breathes better in the winter when the other two are asleep.

20180512_072441Near the oak, Johnny-Crab-Apple produced a promising crop of blossom in this his first season with us, presaging a little harvest for later in the year. The sweet chestnut has also grown well since being planted last autumn. Lots of new trees; lots of new greens: acts of faith, for the long-term pleasure of man and beast alike. The spiders, beetles, mice, frogs, toads and birds of all kinds speak the language of these (to them) leafy labyrinths and find under and about and within them the wherewithal to sustain their lives. In the black elder, our beloved collared dove has at last settled on her spindly nest of twigs to warm her new-laid eggs. She is patient and trusting, never moving when we stand beneath and talk to her. She knows what she does. And what we mean. The noisy sparrow children will soon fledge and, we hope, feeling secure about the plenty surrounding them, their parents will sit tight and start another family. The more, the merrier.

The end of the beginning?

20180508_150721‘Now is the month of May-ing’ . . .

. . . and – at long, long last – as if by magic, the wintry scene has shifted, the sky has cleared, the wind dropped, the sun is out and all natural things are on the move.  All this time, as we mourned the loss of light and life, the divinity which shapes our ends has been quietly at work and with this weekend’s gloriously hot weather, which curiously coincided with a national holiday, the fruits of those labours were gloriously made manifest.

Only last week migrant birds were still a rarity:  since sighting the first few sand martins in mid-April, the rest of the usual crowd were nowhere to be seen as we looked up day by day towards their nest holes in the dunes, entrances now obscured by the winter storms.  Only last Friday, there were but four pairs of house martins at Bamburgh dunes and none had flown over our house. Though the church swallows had safely returned to their roost inside the porch of St Aidan’s in Bamburgh, across the fields generally the usual laughter was missing. Such a long-delayed Spring made everyone sad and sorry. Every day for the last 20180430_070254month we have carefully checked the natterjack toad pool for signs of spawning, and every day we found nothing except a dead adult male a couple of weeks ago; and so we passed on and waited. Instead, the beach was strewn with plastic detritus and dead creatures, like this poor dolphin, washed up having half-delivered its calf – an eloquent image of time out of joint. Thus it was that April passed into May, and nothing much changed, except the daily to and fro of rain and chill and mist and murk.

20180508_064739But, at last, the Spring ‘clad all in gladness’ has indeed burst upon us and ours are the riches. As if by magic, the brackish toad pool was early this morning chock full of tadpoles and by the afternoon the sky above the dunes swirled with an ever-increasing number of martins, feeding furiously and staking their claim on last year’s mud nests under the sewage works eaves. Our faith is awakened: no matter how dreary our routine seemed, Spring has indeed banished Winter’s sadness and, even though we know the clouds will gather and the showers intervene, for all things must pass, there’s no denying this tremendous step-change in the seasons. No matter how transient life’s joys, it is in recognizing them that we are blessedly human, as Touchstone knows and Jacques cannot admit. Indeed, this is a moment for unalloyed celebration, an As You Like It moment, and here expressed so simply and so optimistically, with music by Thomas Morley, in Shakespeare’s song from that glorious pastoral comedy. Sweet indeed are the uses of adversity:

 

 

 

 

A bit of radiant joy

20180119_081934Early Saturday morning, we were met at the end of our run by a bonny seal pup, resting on the beach between fishing expeditions. As the unaccompanied Kemo Sabe approached him, he turned and snorted, then returned to his laborious struggle towards the unhelpfully wave-less sea. Even when the water kissed his nose, he was reluctant to take to it, but there was no doubting he would be safer at sea than on land once the sun was up and the number of curious and interfering dogs running on the beach increased. Recent news reports from around the British coast have highlighted the plight of record numbers of seal pups – brought ashore by the wintry storms – where they’ve been troubled by the public and their pets. This has all too frequently resulted in pups being abandoned by their mothers.

20180119_082246.jpgDay by day we up here are unsure which season we are meant to be in, even though country-wide – and not too far south of us, either – the winter has been making its presence felt. On the ground here, in our little corner of north Northumberland, we were until yesterday afternoon’s bit of a blizzard snow-free, and all that excitement had completely disappeared by evening. Mostly, despite varying wind strength and direction, things remain calm, though every day is different and, prevailing over us, is Jack Frost. The intensity of the cold varies from day to day; it has been bitter here but, more often, the brightness of the sun is a joy and, this coming Wednesday, we are once again in for temperatures in double figures. And so the days rumble by, giving us a bit more light as they do so.

20180113_092949A few days ago on an undistinguished morning – certainly un-spring-like, the sky grey, a bearable chill in the air – one of our local blue tits stopped his back and forth from the nuts and fat balls and flew across to the nest box in which he was born. He sat at its entrance, comforted perhaps by happy thoughts, and pulled at a few tufts of retriever fur which Kemo Sabe had stuffed inside on top of last year’s bedding. He then paused for several minutes on his perch, poking his little head inside a couple more times.  There, in the depth of Winter, it was as if one tiny creature among countless others  could contemplate something distant yet fateful which we cannot begin to comprehend. Some glimmer of a future back and forth; as though rehearsing a part for which he is as yet un-cast. Truly, ‘the world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper,’ as someone famous once said.

Signify this to the doctor

20171021_091654Tiny Nico’s skin problem is still very much under investigation, which has kept everyone busy over the last few weeks. Quite apart from regular visits to the vet (who calls this business a saga) to see the effect on his symptoms of different antibiotics, and subsequent medications, everything we eat has come under scrutiny and, as a result, we seem to have waited extra long for the bowls to be served up.  Feeding time is always complicated in our house, but it has become  still more deliberative now that sensitivity to something or other  – and it may well be food-related – is affecting Nico’s health.

20171021_091754.jpgAs far as the little fellow himself is concerned, he is as cheerful and full of beans as ever, though the return of the odd sore spot to the back of a paw means he is no longer with us on the morning beach trundle until we get to the bottom of all this. Now Autumn is here, he’s missing the excitement of completing our run entirely in darkness, but we greet him and Uncle NuNu at the end when we are all reunited, swathed in our fluorescent suits of lights, illuminated by Kemo Sabe’s head-torch. Apart from seeing one very pleasant holidaying husky a couple of times this week, we see nobody else at all, only the curlews crying at the shoreline, and we see them only with our ears, as it were.

20171021_091923 (3)What to give us dogs to eat has become a hot topic in the last few years and one on which Kemo Sabe finds herself frequently consulted, whether it’s about avoiding allergies, preventing weight gain or whatever. Innovative dog food manufacturers have cheerfully joined the grain/wheat/gluten-free/raw-food band-wagon  (perm any one from whatever angle you like) and many dog owners – perhaps most – now think seriously about what they put on our plates. Over all the many decades Kemo Sabe has been feeding dogs, only the great and original Newman Noggs ever suffered from a skin complaint, and that only temporarily as a young pup and it was easily treated. The Dickens Dogs have eaten widely and well. Every day we are given a variety of food; a mix of dry and wet; cooked and raw meat; complemented by raw and cooked vegetables – it’s quite a palaver! Now we are getting supplements as well: fish oils and sardines, things to keep our joints as well as our coats happy, too.

20171021_091638Nico is off the medication now and we all are curious to see what might flare up and when. For three years he has been perfectly well, without so much as a hint of allergy, but he this week had a skin test which will tell us much more about any allergens he has taken a dislike to. For what it’s worth, we all tend to think this is something to do with the summer flowering plants on the heath behind the castle. We await results: if infection isn’t involved, there has to be another way forward. In the meantime, it is almost lunch preparation time and I can barely control my anticipation. As she writes, I gaze up at the one I love most in all the world knowing she really does everything she can to keep us all on an even, healthy keel. Now, where’s my dinner?

Comings and goings

20170920_065540.jpgNicholas, three next Monday, has been really unwell lately and has made three visits to the vet on account of a mysterious skin condition which, tests reveal, is caused by two bacterial infections. Worrying as this has been for all of us, apart from this Monday –  when his demeanour nose-dived as a (thankfully short-lived) depression developed – he has been his usual buoyant self. That day the vet found he also had an ear infection, and a temperature of 103 degrees, which must have made him very miserable indeed but, once he started treatment for that, his old indomitable character returned and, by bedtime, he was full of beans once more. Another couple of antibiotics to go and then, we hope, his irritating patches and sore pads will, we hope, gradually fade forever.

20170920_064806It has been a challenging and mysterious syndrome, which has intrigued the vet and will lead to allergy testing once he is fully fit. Most striking of all is the resilience shown by this tiny creature as his feet have borne blisters and his beautiful conker-brown coat has lost fur in tiny round patches. Despite everything, he has remained a very shiny sausage and, thank heavens, a hungry one: surely nothing is so worrying to those who love us as when we cannot bear to eat. My brush with that awful abscess early this year rendered me wholly unlike myself, unable to think of food as the pain and sickness racked my overheated little body. We are lucky that our human loved ones read us so well and, speaking the wordless language of love, intervene in time to bring us careful help. Every time we see a rainbow – like this extraordinary one, which recently accompanied the most amazing sunrise – we are reminded of the covenant between us.

20170908_162416All the swallows and martins are now well on their way south. We said goodbye and bon voyage to this last family, who remained a while after their fellow nesters had left, braving some miserable days in order to give the little ones extra flying and feeding practice around Bamburgh.  We wonder how they are, and the local swallows who gave us such a splendid aerial display only the day before they too disappeared. A bientot! And welcome pink-footed geese, crying as they traverse our coast and settle on the stubble, even as I write this.

When God closes a door  . . .

 

 

 

 

Winter and rough weather

20170910_153823Soon we will look up and there will be no more left – the house martins and the swallows –  though it’s true that already there are fewer now than there were until quite recently. The migration has indeed begun:  the sand martins moved off a couple of weeks ago and so once again their sandy summer home, with its line of nesting holes, stands silent and forlorn. We pass beneath every day, aware of an eerie emptiness, filled now by the curlews’ cry. The air is sad; the vacancy almost palpable. Other hirundines remain – the ones with late broods – taking every opportunity a break in the weather offers to dodge the rain and winds in order to fly high and bring home the insects. The nests near Bamburgh Castle dunes still house several families, posing patiently as afternoon by afternoon Kemo Sabe records their presence in our midst. One afternoon soon, they too will have gone . . .

20170908_162414In one way, saying hello to the autumn is easier because our own family house martins did not return to their nest on the south wall this year, so the pain of absence is less keenly felt because less immediate. But when the martins and the swallows marshall on the wires each morning, or wheel about across the sky each evening – their lovely inescapable routines – we cannot but pause and ponder on what their loss will mean and what we must endure before we are blessed with their return to us next spring. Despite erratic, frequently wet days, our cheerful visitors have graced the skies whenever given the chance and, like hope, have so far yet to abandon us.

Our winds on the north east coast, though notable within our own country, are but breezes compared to the mighty hurricanes of terrible ferocity which currently shake the peoples and places of the Caribbean, Texas and Florida.  We pray for all those affected so far, and those sheltering in fear of what nature has in store; the loss of livelihoods, homes and, indeed, everything.  At this time of the year, which we always think of as the natural beginning of a new year, things change very markedly. Good will and gentleness seem to be in short supply as the blooms buckle and the leaves fall, the stoves lit, the hatches battened and the sun retreats. What were sprinklings of sparrows gather into ubiquities, as the season stirs them to gather in every-increasing numbers. Their evolutionary task accomplished for this year, they fare forward, safe in the knowledge that they have a home and a ready supply of food. Thousands of miles separate the hirundines from their destination and us from our neighbours watching and waiting for the Angel of Death to pass. But we hold them all close to our hearts: ‘Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind/ Cannot bear very much reality’.

 

 

Castles in the sand

20170815_060754A simple sight to record today:  nothing more. A bevy of beautiful castles greeted us on Bamburgh beach this sunny morning at six. Untouched by the tide, so high and so difficult to negotiate for the last few days, these lovely creations are a credit to a particularly British habit of holiday competitiveness. King Oswald’s fortress smiled above them, benignly.

20170815_063233It is one of those days when the best came early. Bright sunshine, an empty beach – only two ‘people’ and Jackie seen on our run – no dogs; fantastic fun. We even saw our first curlew –  though failed to capture it clearly on this photo – newly returned from the high ground inland, ready to reclaim the beach for the winter months. August is indeed weary. When we spotted him, he was silhouetted against the sea, at the edge of the rocks and he is still there – somewhere, like Oswald, whose feast day we recently celebrated.

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