All nature has a feeling

20170716_101125[1]Everywhere we look are remarkable things. At the bottom of the front garden, in the black elder tree, right at Kemo Sabe’s eye-level, a perfectly pinkish-grey collared dove sits patiently on her nest, flattened against discovery. The hebe beneath the study window has burst into white spears in FB_IMG_1499806190300today’s full sun; the front sparrows – as we call them – use its protective labyrinth all year, to chat and shelter in. Solitary and honey bees search among its blooms, pondering where its scent is strongest. The tiny fir we moved to a sunnier spot beside the gooseberry; a specimen which once served as a Charlie Brown tree, one Christmas when we had little room for anything bigger – is sprouting nicely, now it has room to breathe and be itself at last, having emerged from the dark beneath the elder where only ferns and ground geraniums flourish. The rhubarb –  always a prodigious provider – is bold and brash, pulled regularly in order to keep the neighbours supplied with crumbles, puddings and pies. The blackcurrant bushes bend with fruit, bowl-fulls picked repeatedly but just as quickly replenished from Nature’s store. On the heath behind the FB_IMG_1499927845621castle, all kinds of wild flowers flourish: orchids and oxlips, cranesbill and such. Magical mushrooms burst into fluffy pompoms, perhaps teasingly concealing the danger which lurks within. We cannot name them, only admire. Across the mere, young herons gather as is their custom. They speak but little to each other, their silent stillness resonating with reflection on their solitary lives to come.  All around, the green life of change is visible. On days like today we can easily agree with Isaiah when he says:

the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Just one of those days

20170710_064337This morning, trundling along the beach (so far, so routine), it felt different. It was just one of those days: magic, despite evidence being to the contrary. Rather grey and utterly still; the sea quiet, and almost indistinguishable from the sky. A tide drawing ever nearer (by the end of the week, we’ll be watching our step), but plenty of sand still stretched ahead of us, and the waters themselves touched the shore tentatively, gently. Looking about, you might expect it to be chilly, were it not 14 degrees and so a good five more than yesterday, when the sun was bright and clear. Obviously, the clouds were on our side. The unexpected nature of perfection can surprise us; it is true that – often – we get what we need.

20170710_064625.jpgIt seems months, and probably is, since we left the dark morning runs and Kemo Sabe’s vital head-torch behind. It will be several months until they resume. Meanwhile we sustain an ever-growing number of holiday-makers for whom a morning such as today’s, and the deterioration in conditions which followed it, is usually a disappointment, deterring all but the weather-hardened from the beach, and crowding the coastal castles, their galleries, gardens, grounds and tea-rooms instead.

20170510_074634On such a morning, there’s a kind of hush, as though a great juggernaut has just past by, as visitors sigh and rest a while longer on their pillows, gathering their thoughts and changing their plans in the face of the weather forecast, while the locals quietly look about them, the veil lifted in the peace.  Above the kitchen window, some resident sparrows  – who’ve already raised one brood (pictured here) in their house-martin box – decide to mate again, committing themselves to each other for more weeks of tireless work, placing their faith in something bigger, and another day. Part of the joy of this area of England is the changeability of the weather, sometimes from hour to hour. Only this Saturday, it was sweltering and the place was full of folk. But this morning was magic and then the rain came, and the birds took to the mere, bringing the bird-watchers joy. ‘The Poet sees!/ He can behold’, as Longfellow writes:

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!
The sick man from his chamber looks
At the twisted brooks;
He can feel the cool
Breath of each little pool;
His fevered brain
Grows calm again,
And he breathes a blessing on the rain.
From the neighboring school
Come the boys,
With more than their wonted noise
And commotion;
And down the wet streets
Sail their mimic fleets,
Till the treacherous pool
Engulfs them in its whirling
And turbulent ocean.
In the country, on every side,
Where far and wide,
Like a leopard’s tawny and spotted hide,
Stretches the plain,
To the dry grass and the drier grain
How welcome is the rain!
In the furrowed land
The toilsome and patient oxen stand;
Lifting the yoke encumbered head,
With their dilated nostrils spread,
They silently inhale
The clover-scented gale,
And the vapors that arise
From the well-watered and smoking soil.
For this rest in the furrow after toil
Their large and lustrous eyes
Seem to thank the Lord,
More than man’s spoken word.
Near at hand,
From under the sheltering trees,
The farmer sees
His pastures, and his fields of grain,
As they bend their tops
To the numberless beating drops
Of the incessant rain.
He counts it as no sin
That he sees therein
Only his own thrift and gain.
These, and far more than these,
The Poet sees!
He can behold
Aquarius old
Walking the fenceless fields of air;
And from each ample fold
Of the clouds about him rolled
Scattering everywhere
The showery rain,
As the farmer scatters his grain.
He can behold
Things manifold
That have not yet been wholly told,–
Have not been wholly sung nor said.
For his thought, that never stops,
Follows the water-drops
Down to the graves of the dead,
Down through chasms and gulfs profound,
To the dreary fountain-head
Of lakes and rivers under ground;
And sees them, when the rain is done,
On the bridge of colors seven
Climbing up once more to heaven,
Opposite the setting sun.
Thus the Seer,
With vision clear,
Sees forms appear and disappear,
In the perpetual round of strange,
Mysterious change
From birth to death, from death to birth,
From earth to heaven, from heaven to earth;
Till glimpses more sublime
Of things, unseen before,
Unto his wondering eyes reveal
The Universe, as an immeasurable wheel
Turning forevermore
In the rapid and rushing river of Time.

‘Out of this wood do not desire to go . . . ‘

20170618_174941.jpgTiny achievements and homely happiness have done their best to counterbalance the awful uncertainty from which this country as a whole has suffered over the past several weeks.  When we learnt that young Frederick had won his class at the Border Union Championship Dog Show (beating his own breeder’s splendid young dachshund to boot); that the very next hannah rccday at the same show our dear Dalmatian friend, Hannah (Buffrey Hanky Panky by Dalleaf) had won her class, having only recently won the reserve Dalmatian Bitch CC and Best Puppy at the Scottish Kennel Club Championship Show; that our blue tits have, as we suspected from the silence surrounding their now-abandoned box, successfully fledged – a deep feathery mattress being all they’ve left behind; that Kemo Sabe has decorated the 20170401_105338circumference of our pond with fossil-encrusted swirls, and paved under the garden bench and made the composter more approachable as a result; that we are, as of now, all well and free from medication (a daily benison – good health – and we thank God for it); when we catch sight of the soaring martins chasing dreams across the whitewashed walls, gobbits of mud in their beaks, charged by the sun’s intense rays to build something and build it now, now that their tummies are full and the time is ripe; when we welcome friends and laugh with them, and choose 20170618_174857.jpgnew tiling and consider floors; close the new shutters against the beating afternoon sunshine, and cut the fragrant roses, pale and creamy, for beside the bed; feed Hammy spindly pea shoots and fresh basil, which he dips into day long. All these things and many, many more. Well then the strife, the discord, the amazement of recent events begin to diminish in intensity, becoming merely part of what there is, the ‘remote continents of pain’, as someone famous once said. So, you that way, we this way. Remember: I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee.

 

Solomon in all his glory

IMG_20170507_150455Yesterday, as we put on our winter woollies for another outing, we heard that the west of England was bathed in sumptuous sunshine. Well, we weren’t up here! Winter, or at least a kind of winter, had returned, with strong northerly winds and persistently grey skies.  Days and days of relentlessly depressing cold beset us and our dogged avian friends – all smiles and nestlings one minute; brooding in the east wind the next. What, we wondered, do they make of it, the magnificent little blue tits (‘I was born in that box!’), dutifully prising individual strands from clumps of Barnaby’s discarded pelt? Undeterred by the vicissitudes of the weather, they hunker down and warm each other in the shelters our demesne affords them, in sure and certain hope that all things will eventually change and that they’ll soon find comfort again, even if only in a rare bit of watery sun. On the beach the sand martins that arrived a few weeks ago had already developed additional nest holes in the dunes, suggesting that their numbers will be even  greater this year. Every morning we try to count them; an idle but compulsive activity to which we look forward, wondering what difference the awful weather would make to their plans to replenish themselves after a three-week flight. We saw nothing of them at all when the wind was at its worst, terribly cold and fierce. Such resilient creatures must have shrugged at such little local difficulties after the dangerous journey they’d made successfully from the south. Huddled safely within their shelters, they must have laughed at our concern, for their spirit – and their faith – are stronger than ours.

And they were right to lean hard, and hold on; for, by this morning, the wind had dropped and, by lunchtime, was coming from the south-east. As if by magic, the first local house martins appeared in the sky above our lane, chuckling with pleasure at the insect life awakening all around them. The nest from which ‘our’ family of martins moved on last June has been commandeered by sparrows, the chirping of whose babes within can be clearly heard from the study window. Yes, we hold the ones who stay very close to us indeed. Other sparrow families have moved in to the man-made martin nests installed last autumn, and a loquacious starling brood is living on a ledge under the guttering above a bay window; rattling calls alert us to the delivery of a new worm, every so often, as the parent tucks itself under and in to the nursery.

Last Sunday, BBC Radio 4 celebrated International Dawn Chorus day with a unique broadcast in which radio stations across Europe joined forces to track the rising sun across the continent from Moscow to Dublin, relaying the aural landscape of birdsong as the creatures woke and staked their claim on the day. This ambitious project resulted in a moving and humbling symphony of sound, to which the wild birds of Europe freely contributed out of sheer joy.  You will find access to the broadcast and episodes from it here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08pdfyw

 

 

 

A week of sun and sausages

120px-Sand_Martin_(Riparia_riparia)_(14)The sand martins have begun to return to the nesting holes! Joy unconfined! Proof, if proof were needed, that life is gathering speed in our midst and that we – the watchers and the waiters – are worth the candle.  The wind-blown nesting places which have lain forlorn – and indeed unseen – as we passed beneath them on the 20160425_073658darkest mornings, are now alive with the chattering of the creatures which, with miraculous accuracy, have located them as home for yet another breeding season.  As of today there are at least four pairs, but, when the wind turns southerly again, numbers will shoot up and soon the dawn will be full of their gossiping voices.

20170331_125642Around and about our home itself, our friendly neighbourhood bird life is busy, too. Any returning house martins will be terribly disappointed to find that the boxes erected especially to attract them to our eaves have one and all been commandeered by our fat little sparrows, most numerous of ‘the ones who stayed’. Even the two natural clay martin nests are now providing bed and board to chatty couples, late risers though they be; unlike the sand martins they never celebrate the early morning sun or greet us on our return home after the run. But the dawn chorus of blackbird, robin and the rest is intensifying day by day and the dawn obliterates the moon ever earlier. Our jackdaws have kept an eye on their chimney throughout the winter, and now look set to get cracking with a brood. The feeders are kept full, so starlings newly returned to them can have a mouthful, too and, to the box in which they successfully raised their clutch last spring, have returned our blue tits, busy all day, every day, and so conveniently near the nuts and fat balls.

20170401_141432But if the birds know what they are about, that is more than can be said for the sausages. It says it all about the serendipity which characterises our little posse that a family get-together last Saturday at the Scottish Dachshund Club Championship Show, ended with both Nicholas and his sister, Tiggy, having qualified for next year’s Crufts. Having achieved second place in their respective classes, the terrible twosome will now be heading Birmingham-wards next March, ‘for the experience’, as they say. This picture captures all the chaos of the aftermath, 20170401_120107both from the confused disposition of the certificates (which, in a way, says it all) to the restlessness of pup Frederick, their tiny nephew, whose intervention displaced the intended line up. We are grateful to the friendly judge who found Tiggy and Nico worthy: it was a lovely surprise. Who knows, once he reaches six months young Fred will probably honour the ring with his presence and may even qualify as well!

The vicissitudes of life

 

20170221_130308A week of ups and downs; of Freddie Frankfurter and ‘Doris’ Day. Kemo Sabe laid low with illness; the weather swinging wildly between winter and summer, throwing everything at the country on one mad day; an enchanting encounter with our newest relative and me, your gentle author, in pain once again. What a week it is proving to be.

20170219_072818At first it was so extraordinarily mild. 16 degrees and still only February, we thought! Daily, the eggy dawn illuminated our morning run reliably once again. Truly, we have turned winter’s worst corner, we thought for, whatever the storms to come – whether rain or snow – might throw at us, we have regained the early morning light and our hearts swell to be united with it once again. Our high-vis vests and Kemo Sabe’s head torch have been stowed away until the depths of next winter. Leaving the house first thing takes a good ten minutes less than it used and, except for the muzzles, we are free to bounce on dunes we can see and clamber over rocks without fear. The wind careered forcefully, but warmly, from the west and we looked around and were pleased. That is, until I injured myself in that mysterious way of mine which nobody has ever witnessed and, hors de combat, I was left alone, at home, while the others got on with things. It is depressing and, indeed, I look very depressed by my incapacity. What is there to enjoy for a spaniel like me If I cannot run free and enjoy trundling again with the boys?

20170221_130429All of this happened after we said goodbye to our tiny nephew, Freddie, with whom I think it’s fair to say that we are all smitten. Maybe I pulled something playing with the fearless little chap on the floor. Nico couldn’t get enough of him,  latching on to his writhing form and arching his back with delight as the childish one gazed in admiration, fascinated at his size and similarity. The siblings and their little nephew have such a lot in common and look like a family. Beloved sister Tiggy watched on in dignified silence – utterly ignored – as did I, at the furious and fearless antics as Freddie and Nico rolled and darted and squirmed and chased about, their eyes only for each other. Come back soon, we say.

img_3tet8wStorm ‘Doris’ threatened us with snow but, in the end merely chucked a day of rain at us and some moderately high winds – miserable certainly but nothing terribly dramatic, unlike other locations, particularly to the west. The next day, by contrast, the sea had settled and the sun was out, crisp and clear the air. Our garden birds, as hungry and ever, waited for refills in the feeders, nyger seed providing the veritable flock of goldfinches we now entertain on a daily basis the sustenance they need to see them through.  Their plumage is wondrously bright, new minted, one could say. How wonderful to look and feel so well.  As for my poorly shoulder, or whatever it is, I will leave it in Kemo Sabe’s prudent hands, as it were. I have enjoyed some lovely meaty meals today, and extra biscuits, too, hand fed by her, as I lay prone and disinclined to put any weight on my left front leg. Perhaps another couple of days’ enforced rest will ease things up; if not, it’s the vet’s again, I suppose, and who knows what after that. How we long for ordinary times again.

 

 

Crufts around the corner

fb_img_1486239315855Sometimes the frustrations of life in a family can be overwhelming, the delicate balance lost between the demands of dogs and the requirements of our owners. Kemo Sabe certainly has a lot to put up with! It’s easy to get annoyed at Newman, what with him eating everything in sight – or trying to, if he possible can – and especially seaweed, of course. It’s all too easy when you’re on the phone to get annoyed with Barnaby, for clinging so close you think you’re going to burst with claustrophobia, or indeed with yours truly when I tumble downstairs and jump over the handset, risking a cut-off, mid-call. It’s really easy to get completely sick of Nico’s barking as he alerts us all to the arrival of our friendly delivery persons or runs yapping straight at the heels of male joggers on the beach. Oh, and I can see that it would be entirely understandable to have had enough of my hyperactivity,  always on tenter-hooks as I am for the next exciting event in our daily routine, whining like mad with anticipation, rushing around from one room to another as the tension mounts, urging everyone else to join in the mayhem. Yes, all of us – apart from Hammy Bumble, whose chubby patience and simple needs humble us all – are really very irritating indeed. Fortunately, however, along comes Crufts and, as if by magic, everyone sees the light, as they gaze at the wonder which is the dog and ponder on the qualities which make us the world’s favourite companion animal. Only a couple of weeks to go now, and it’s well worth the wait for the reflected kudos it brings us all.

20170212_120857For our part, we boys probably take much more from those we love than what we give back.  We are the centre of their lives, running our families ragged with our constant focus on the fun to come. Life is such a hoot, after all ! Why won’t everyone join in? What is the point of holding up the walk in order to comb out the clumps in Barnaby’s coat? Why must I go to Donna-Marie’s for a serious haircut to keep the curls out of my eyes and ears. And all those booster injections, what’s all that about? We have nothing other than fun and frolic to think about; nothing other than dinner once breakfast is over and bedtime snacks once the afternoon walk is done. They, on the other hand, have other of our interests at heart; time-consuming tasks often costing considerable sums, designed to keep us looking and feeling our best. Training to do; discipline to keep; puppies to educate for safe, long and happy lives.

Next Tuesday when we welcome young Frederick – pictured above with Nico’s sister, Tiggy  – we’ll be able to see how he’s getting to grips with the politics of family life.  He will be accompanying her to Crufts, for which she qualified some months ago. More anon, as I always say. Apparently, he has wheedled his way into her affections, which isn’t surprising, and she – apparently – puts up with a lot from him. As everyone in this house would surely chorus: don’t we all?

 

 

 

Ordinary times

20170129_215121

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

It’s a funny time of year; neither here nor there, if you like. Recent early morning temperatures have been all over the place. Over the weekend, crossing the rocks in the dark was utterly treacherous, requiring slow, deliberate and precise footwork, especially for Kemo Sabe who is two-legs-down on the rest of us and has Uncle NuNu on the lead (for reasons which will be obvious to readers of this blog). But on those icy days, crisp and clear, it was wonderfully bright daylight all the way from Bamburgh.

20170130_120334By contrast, this morning and last the leaden sky and drizzly darkness before grudging dawn were back again and, by midday, mist had swamped us.  After lunch, the sea  became increasingly tempestuous and had begun to swell, sending a beautiful red ball on to the sand where – being muzzled – I could do nothing about it. I guarded it as long as I could in the hope that Kemo Sabe would help me to add it to our collection but, for some reason, there was nothing for it but run to catch up the others. One of her regular kindnesses is to put these strange treasures in her pocket so we can play with them later at home; our favourite thing about storms is that in the aftermath we find the beach strewn with the lost and discarded playthings of so many dogs, but there are also other, greater wonders, like this lovely, sunny star whose remarkability, you might say, leads us on through the gloom to something out of reach.

20170118_154207Here we are on the second day of February, the Feast of Candlemas, which marks the formal end of the celebration of the birth of  Christ, in the ordinary time leading up to the next big penitential season. This is the day which commemorates the meeting of the old and the new in the Temple of Jerusalem long, long ago.  Today we stood before dawn at the foot of the sand-martins’ cliff, the rising tide pushing us against the rocks beneath their empty and cheerless holes. Empty and cheerless – for now. We  – who have lost another member of our human family this week but are shortly to welcome little Frederick on his first visit here – are blessed that the routine days stretch before us in this ordinary time as we watch and wait, live and breathe. And, if you seek some comfort, wherever you are reading this consider the weather on this day  and then consider the proverbial words above.

For further reassurance at this ordinary time of year, here is ‘The Charm’ by Rudyard Kipling:

Take of English earth as much

As either hand may rightly clutch.

In the taking of it breathe

Prayer for all who lie beneath.

Not the great nor well-bespoke,

But the mere uncounted folk

Of whose life and death is none

Report or lamentation.

 Lay that earth upon thy heart,

 And thy sickness shall depart!

It shall sweeten and make whole

Fevered breath and festered soul.

It shall mightily restrain

Over-busied hand and brain.

It shall ease thy mortal strife

‘Gainst the immortal woe of life,

Till thyself, restored, shall prove

By what grace the Heavens do move.

Take of English flowers these —

Spring’s full-faced primroses,

Summer’s wild wide-hearted rose,

Autumn’s wall-flower of the close,

And, thy darkness to illume,

Winter’s bee-thronged ivy-bloom.

Seek and serve them where they bide

From Candlemas to Christmas-tide,

 For these simples, used aright,

 Can restore a failing sight.

These shall cleanse and purify

Webbed and inward-turning eye;

These shall show thee treasure hid,

Thy familiar fields amid;

And reveal (which is thy need)

Every man a King indeed!

 

A new year and a new boy in town

andrews-boat-in-2017-storm

The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.

                                                                                  from T S Eliot, ‘The Dry Salvages’ Four Quartets

It’s been an event-crammed couple of weeks, since we turned the page over to the new year. A lot has occurred but there’s been less time than ever to ponder on it properly.  No sooner had the festivities ended than I mysteriously pulled something in my right front leg (something I’ve done twice before) dodging about the dunes, as I habitually do each morning. I’m a brave little soul, not given to creating imaginary mountains where only molehills exist so, when I was unable to bear my own weight, no matter how I tried, Kemo Sabe  – at some physical cost  – came to the rescue and carried me to the car and then, when a day’s rest had made no difference, to the vet. It was the same old story, x-rays and painkillers, and indeed the same diagnosis: nothing broken or fractured; nothing that a few more days’ confined to barracks wouldn’t cure. And so it proved. Normal routines were resumed within a week but more drama was soon to come. Last weekend a potentially catastrophic tidal surge threatened the entire east coast of the country, bringing high tides which tore at the dunes, rearranging the sand and dragging rocks  – long since hidden – back up into view. Much further down the coast, in Suffolk and Essex, folk were expecting and preparing for the worst, abandoning low-lying coastal communities and taking shelter against potential flooding in schools and sports centres. Even here, cottages around Seahouses harbour were warned to expect an inundation. The wind we battled on the beach that Saturday was from the north-west but, though strong enough to streamline the ears, we’ve known it far worse. Nevertheless, one outing was enough  – at low tide – on the day of the surge. Despite all this, though, no harm was done, as Prospero well knew.

img_0874The northern blasts did, however, herald another kind of transformation in the person of the young miniature dachshund called Freddie. Lokmadi Frederick is one of Nico’s relatives and also has the look of him; he has gone to Edinburgh to befriend Nico’s sister, Tiggy, who lost her dear Pupkin just before Christmas. The joy of his arrival does so much to banish the sadness of Pupkin’s loss, without ever diminishing the reality of his existence. Like the storm which sweeps through, leaving scars upon the landscape, the presence of the lost endures. Freddie has much to learn and we have much to learn of him, this ‘baby figure of the giant mass /Of things to come at large’. We thank providence divine that the tempest abated in time for him to be brought north in safety. Another miracle: welcome little friend.facebook_1485027703455

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Somewhere out there – soaring with the birds

20160920_070433-2Sometime earlier this year, at the height of the summer when our sky was filled with the life and light of the bustling birds, when hope was heavenly, when flowers curled around the stems, toads multiplied and martins chattered in the eaves, I listened to and wrote about Mahler’s music as I pondered their comings and goings. Now, at the end of a year, when we pass in the darkness before dawn  beneath the cliff with its empty sand martin nest-holes, when wind chases our heels as we run and whips our friends from our lives; now – in the depths of winter, and as storm after alphabetical storm tears across the sky, when nightmares haunt closed eyes and sleep eludes open ones; when everything is temptingly sour to the soul – it is time to listen and to be encouraged again.

Hearken to William Walton’s First Symphony, which is readily available online, if you do not have it at home. Listen to the questions posed, the answers given, the intensity without sentiment, and then imagine where are soaring the ones who’ve gone  – the singers of the songs, the little dogs who ran alongside us (two lost this week alone), the friends of yesteryear – and all that lies before us as we struggle on, as we must, to honour all those we have loved and lost this year. So very many, until it seems we can bear no more. But we must. For us there is only the trying, as someone famous once said.

You can find one excellent recording by the London Symphony orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, at this site: