Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Wendy's Croft in May

The extract I've chosen from Wendy Wood's book From a Highland Croft, written in the 1950s, for May is interesting because she writes about things that having fallen out of favour back then, are now right back in the mainstream - at least in part. She had been cutting rushes to use as bedding for the cattle, and then...
"After cutting rushes I turned to a tougher job, for, lacking my pony, I had to creel the seaweed on my own back. The weed lay on the shore in a rough semi-circle like a rusty scimitar. It was in that half-decayed condition which is so good for the fields yet is unpleasant to touch. I could have put on rubber gloves, but the weed is the very best of hand softeners, and I found the under layers warm. The loch water was so crystal clear that it almost tempted me in for a swim, but the appearance was sufficient, for a test with the pinkie nearly paralysed me.

Big farmers sometimes regard crofters as being behind the times, but with no more than lime or shell sand, seaweed and dung, we are enriching our land, while they with chemical fertilisers, will ultimately impoverish theirs beyond retrieving. I have tasted some of the produce grown by "medicine" and whether it is grass for beast or cabbages for humans, I think it is responsible for some of the diseases of man and beast. The forced production of eggs is spoiling the hens, and the unnatural milk yield is spoiling the cows. In my grandmother's day the cures for human ills were such as sea water, horn broth and elm bark, and folk lived actively to a great age. The cattle had no more when ill than boiled seaweed or home-made cod liver oil, and half the diseases that keep vets busy today were unknown."

I'm not sure I agree with absolutely everything she says but, as ever with this wonderful little book, we are given a glimpse of an older, more balanced, and possibly wiser age.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Brimstone and Toads

The daily walks with my old dog are very slow these days. I may not be getting the brisk workout that I used to get, but now that I have a fab new camera phone, I get to take photographs of interesting things that we see as we crawl along. I was thrilled today to see a new (to me) moth sitting low amongst the grass. A gorgeous sulphur yellow, I was thus not surprised to identify it later as a Brimstone moth.

I had my phone with me while digging in the garden too, and a lucky thing too. I disturbed this gorgeous toad and, before I had my phone, I'd have had to dash indoors for the digital camera, by which time Toady would no doubt have hidden himself again.

Just look at that fabulous camouflage. You can barely see where the toad ends and the soil begins. I was relieved that I had done no damage with the spade - all his limbs were still there and I enjoyed carrying him (in my gloved hands) to a safer green spot. Toads seem so ancient and wise somehow - much more so than frogs...or is that just me?

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Horsetails in a Hurry

It's the damndest thing. In the winter, when there's nothing to blog about, you have all the time in the world to do it; Spring arrives, there is life everywhere, but you are too busy out there working in it and watching it to blog about it. That passes as an excuse for not posting here for a couple of weeks, despite having loads to report.

I still don't have time to write much but I was very excited yesterday to find a new (to me) plant while walking my old dog very slowly up the hill (she now walks so slowly that I have plenty of time to spot new plants and to photograph them, so there are compensations in everything.)

And here it is - it's a horsetail - Equisetum sylvaticum, I think. It took ages to identify it because it is not in any book of wild flowers. That's because it's actually related to ferns, and so does not count as a flowering plant. It propagates by spores, as ferns do.

It's a fabulously exotic looking thing, I think, and it made a (very) slow walk well worth the effort.