Tuesday, January 31, 2012

...journey to the centre of the earth...

I like people who challenge my view of everyday things. Take this rock for example. I see cold, hard rock but the brilliant Liz Etheridge manages to paint a picture of...
 deep time,
     immense pressure,
         unimaginable heat and
             constant constant change.

Liz and I met for a chat in a local cafe and took this rock with us.
Ignoring the sideways glances from other cafe-goers, we stared at the rock, pointed at its tiny crystals and tried to figure out how it had come to be.
I left the cafe that afternoon on a journey down into the Earth's crust. I stopped to look around magma chambers; watched as millennia sped by in front of my eyes; beaches, mountains, deserts, tropical reef and cold, dark ,deep oceans.
Liz talks as if she's seen it all, and I believe her.

If you need a metaphor for coping in difficult times, look at the garnet in this photo (the red blob at the top). This is a semi-precious stone forged deep in the earth's crust. It was once a lump of clay, but it met difficult times; stress, hardship, heat and pressure. Instead of giving up, the tiny individual molecules in the clay rearranged themselves, braced themselves and adapted to cope with their new situation. The result is harder, sharper and quietly beautiful.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

...John Muir...

Once or twice a year, I spend a day with fully grown adults, making homes for plastic zebras.
It's hard work. We discuss the approach, design and logisitcs. Do the zebras need a waterside view? How do they deter the pesky lions and where's the shelter from the southwest wind?
The end results are thoughtful, well placed and elegant in their design. It's a day well spent.
The real aim? I train people on helping others reconnect with nature, and homes for zebras is a perfect way in. By the end of the day, even the most mud-shy squeamish are down on their hands and knees, sniffing earth, checking wind direction and handling wildlife with the confidence of a boy scout. It's a laugh too. To be honest, if making a home for a toy zebra is taken too seriously then the day becomes a tad weird.
The participants on this course are training to become John Muir Award leaders. John Muir would have loved to build a home for a zebra, in fact, I think he would have started a movement to create a national park for them.
It's all about the disappearing art of connecting with nature, something that John Muir was incredibly good at doing. Anyone can follow Muir's ethos - go stargazing, write your name in the sand, make a leaf angel or just sit in a wild place and soak it all up. Play, sing, scribble and giggle. John Muir Awards recognise your time spent outdoors going a bit wild. They are free, nationally recognised awards and they are just right for our time.

John Muir Awards and how to take part:

Try a few simple pleasures:

(with thanks to Toby from the John Muir Award office for the link)

...creating zebra homes is serious business...

Friday, January 27, 2012

...hint of spring...

...Winter Aconite...

...h and I discovered a patch of these brave yellow flowers today, poking their heads above ground, despite the cold wind and rain. They're called Winter Aconite, and will flower in the harshest conditions. How is it that these and snowdrops are the first to flower each year? What do they gain by flowering in January when there's so few insects around and such a risk of damaging frosts? I'm still looking for answers, but discovered this story by Hans Christian Andersen during my search, and some great ideas for spring crafts from Patricia at kindergarten-lessons. Hope you enjoy them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

...splash of colour...

The garden is looking so grey and unloved that I really want to give it a makeover. Been looking at some gorgeous books for ideas, including this one by Clare Matthews and Clive Nichols.
I can't wait to get outside now, and create a pond in a pot (there's a nice one at scentedsweetpeas).
I'd also never thought about vertical gardening until I saw Lauren's MRGP strawberry bucket towers.
Living on a farm there's plenty of old tyres lying about, so I'll use some to grow potatoes.
How about a den made from runner beans, living fences, toad sanctuaries, bird boxes, baths, gruffalo trails....(phew!)
To start the makeover with a funky splash of colour, I found these garden sticks on sweet thing(s) blog and had a go at making smaller versions today. Something for the garden, and a winter blues-busting treat!

...Sycamore sticks...

Scrape off the bark (sycamore's a gorgeous white underneath)

...Get painting..(with strawberry snacks to help the job go smoothly)...

..the finished item ready to brighten up the garden...
..love those colours...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

...rainbow chips...

..I've been getting ready to lead a school workshop in Birmingham. It's not until March, but I'm also planning the Darwin Festival in February, so before time races ahead, I thought I'd make a start.
Rainbow chips are my favourite tools. They make you look in detail at matching colours in natural objects.
We seldom notice, but sycamore seeds are neon pink, King Alfred's Cakes are tar-like black and pigeon feathers are the colour of faded denim.

The easiest way to make a set of rainbow chips is to fill a small box with cut up paint swatches. It does the job, but it's not as lush as this slightly more challenging method...

I recently took part in an Outback2Basics felting course and was taught how to make bags. I'm now totally addicted.
This afternoon, with the rain pouring down and H making a lego robot-owl at my feet, it was the perfect chance to practice my new craft and...felt! 
Out came the cardboard, bubblewrap and bags of red and green wool.
One hour later, the kitchen was covered with wool and soapy water and I had a beautiful red felt bag, plus a second (forest green) pouch drying slowly on the rack.

Now for the rainbow chips.
I used Fimo (a polymer clay), broke each small block into 6 smaller blobs, rolled each blob into a ball and then squashed it between my thumb and forefinger.
H came to help me, so we got some great shapes. We arranged them in colourful rows on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for a few minutes to harden.

I'm really pleased with the results. There's a story that goes with the chips that I'll tell another time, but essentially, I have a broken rainbow in my bag.

...more rainbow chips...
...rainbow chips in action...

...a woodland rainbow...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

...mystery bug...

Last week, someone gave me a mystery bug in a jar. Happy Days!!!
I love mystery bugs and this one was gorgeous.
The poor creature had been stuck in a jam jar since the previous Thursday and was looking a bit fed up.
I couldn't spot it in any of my bug books, so I took a few photos and uploaded them to iSpot.org.uk to see if anyone else could help.
Within 20 minutes I had a reply and the mystery bug had a name...(drum roll please)....
It was a Rhopalid bug (Corizus hyoscyami).
I can tell you're impressed.

Think about it though; iSpot is genius. It's so simple.
Social media and natural history have joined forces to enable millions to watch wildlife, photograph it and most importantly, make it count.
Citizen Science in action.

I'm proud to say that my Rhopalid bug record is a first for this area of the UK and, if more are found, may be further evidence of species spreading out across the country as habitats and climates change.

One bug, one jar and one website. Go on, join in.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

...new jumper...

H has a new jumper. It's the first time nana has knitted anything big and she's learnt how to do it as she's gone along. It's beautiful. It has a hood, wooden buttons and is made from the softest  sea- blue wool. H loves it too and took this picture. Clever nana. x

Monday, January 09, 2012

...Ancient Hollies...

Back in November 2011, I took part in a Radio 4 interview about some of Europe's oldest Holly trees. These strange, ancient trees can be found growing on the north eastern slopes of The Stiperstones, managed by Natural England in Shropshire.
There are between 200 and 300 of these gnarled, twisted old characters that research has suggested may be upto 400 years old. A unique achievement for Holly trees?
What are they doing there? How have they hung on for so long, despite hundreds of years of wind, rain, snow and sun? The answer may be quite suprising- neglect.
It's by simple virtue of the fact that they have been ignored for generations that their survival has been ensured.
My favourite theory is that they were once part of a woodland, surrounded by oak, birch, rowan and ash, but locals used the more useful timber first and ignored the poorer Holly. Holly wood shouldn't be burnt either, as it gives off toxic, headache-inducing smoke.
This fact alone may have been enough to spark many superstitious stories about bad luck befalling anyone who dares to cut these Hollies down. Stories were, and still are the short cut to educating a new generation in an entertaining and memorable way.
It seems the only use for these trees was as a last ditch food for livestock during harsh upland winters. Small boys were often sent up the trees to collect the less prickly leaves growing above grazing height. Pruning of trees in this way is called pollarding and has a long tradition in woodland management.

If you are ever in the area, be sure to visit this strange and beautiful location, owned and managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust. There's so many unanswered questions about these trees that anyone with research, stories or theories of their own will always have something to add to the debate.

Listen to the Radio 4 Living World interview here.

Find out more about the Hollies nature reserve here

Read Martin Harvey's (Kitenet) "Extreme Entomology at the Hollies" post here.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

...Sun Salutation...

I'm not a morning person, but I've been crawling from my bed at 5am to show solidarity for my hard- working partner, J. He gets up at 5am every morning to cycle 6 miles to work in the dark, in all weather, packing fruit and veg at a wholesalers.
This new emergence time gives me three extra hours to wake slowly, write, drink coffee and prepare breakfast for our three year old son when he wakes.
I practice yoga. A clumsy, shuffling sun salutation, then I sit down to check my emails and write. This morning I checked Twitter. "Go outside- heads up for a meteor shower in the northeast sky" tweets the beautifully named Tristan Gooley, the Natural Navigator.
I dutifully head outside and look up at a clear, starlit, pre-dawn sky.
"I'll give it a couple of minutes, then head in" I thought, already getting a crick in my neck and violent shivers in the January air.

Whoosh! There! One, two... another... and more lights streak across the sky and I'm beaming.
Not only shooting stars but satellites, the ISS and planes blinking and gliding; more meteors. What a show! I pick out constellations, Orion, Taurus and Seven Sisters. It's truly beautiful.

The first hint of dawn behind me tints the whole sky above a strange sort of peach melba, then a clearer blue. The stars slowly fade as the new day reaches up and over my head, then down over the western horizon.
Perspective and a free light show, all before breakfast. I head inside to say hello to my waking son.

Look up!

Find out more about the Quadrantid Meteor Shower.