Double vision blog: Lambs and Lions and Birds
Spring has skipped in gently as a lamb this year; flowers and leaves unfolded with elegance and charm but progress into Summer is looking like a bedraggled wet lion: in England we’re still patiently wishing for a ‘flaming June’ to roar in and we might easily find ourselves still waiting with frustration until next year or the the year after.
My Ukrainian friend emailed and asked if our summer has arrived; Ha! hot days and balmy nights do not often ‘arrive’ but pass through for a few days and are gone for another 12 months amid cynical jokes.
The phrase “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” is apt and maybe it has shaped our infamous “reserve” so we have learned not to gush with enthusiasm and are wary of disappointment.
No doubt that’s why we’re so obsessed with talking about the weather. I can count the warm summers we’ve had during my lifetime on two hands.
The few hot days of weather we are having at the moment and the huge media reportage is a fine example of how obsessed and also how excited we get when it is above 26* C and many people are already bemoaning it as uncomforatable.
Ukraine may suffer bitter winter temperatures that last for months but the huge landmass gives settled periods of weather whilst on our little island we might plan a picnic in the morning, have to cancel it by lunchtime and re-instate it in the afternoon, cook it under an umbrella wearing waterproofs and wellingtons and go inside to eat it.
Lighting the wood burning stove during summer in my sitting room as a howling gale and sideways rain sheets through the valley in soaking waves is common. They lift themselves like cross country race horses leaping hedges filled with hawthorn blossom and young elderflower to land on the other side and gallop away to the next thorny, green obstacle.
In late May and early June on dry, breezy days with sunshine I head off to the local moorland to collect young birch leaves and catkins to make birch tea and try new birch recipes in my work shop.
On Haddon Hill it’s still wild enough countryside to hear a rare cuckoo calling from a dense tangle of birch woodland and undergrowth. They have drastically declined in number to the point of being a childhood memory or a lovely surprise.
When I woke up on my first morning a few weeks ago in the datcha in my friend’s village and there were several singing in cheerful competition nearby; it made the perfect start to the holiday.
Later in the dusk as my friend and I sat outside chatting quietly and finishing the last of the red wine, we heard a nightingale’s song start up and drift over from the other side of the river. Other than the slight sound of water sliding between the river banks; the nightingale’s song was interrupted only by silence.
When I’m working, if I’m doing something challenging I tend to keep going rather than retiring to bed as I like to resolve problems and then sleep on the answers.
My electricity is cheaper from 1am - 7am too, so I spent all night in my workshop trying to extract essential oil from birch catkins and leaf buds with frustrating results: 2 litres of pulverised material only yielded half a teaspoon of essential oil! I clearly have a lot more to learn.
When I emerged to cross the yard to the cottage and go to bed, dawn was just breaking. The birds were rustling and chirruping but were not yet out and about.
I decided to put bird food out for them as I knew I wouldn’t be up for several hours - well past their breakfast time and went upstairs to my bedroom.
I have a little ritual before I get into bed that is to open my window (whatever the time of year and weather) and sit on the sill. (Presumably this is not something you do in January in Ukraine)
I usually wait until my eyes have adjusted to the dark and look out at the hills and trees, moon and stars and listen for the water flowing in the small river running in the valley below if the wind isn’t too loud. I like to remind myself that however difficult my day has been I am lucky to be in such an unspoilt and peaceful environment. - sort of ‘counting my lucky stars’.
As I sat on the window sill in the emerging dawn, the short cut grass lawn below looked like a dimly lit empty stage. The flower beds around it were the audience waiting for the show to begin. Lots of orchestral chattering and tweeting sounds of birds tuning up in the shadows.
A couple of blackbirds came in from the wings and ran about, checking, looking and pecking before running off to the wings on the other side. Then a solo male with orange beak.
Next a crowd of little sparrows; noisy and jostling each other; on their way to the bird bath and a communal splash.
Over the next twenty minutes various robins, thrushes, finches and blue tits arrived and greeted the day. Pigeons cooed and crows circled. The lights came up and the rowdy performance began, meanwhile I gratefully sank into my bed and the land of nod.
Ukrainian version of this blog readhere.