After snowdrops now a lesser celandine – a little ragged and the only to be seen on the lane at the moment. Bright colours which lessen the darkness of winter mornings. Hazel catkins hanging in glorious mustard yellow tails against the darker greens of the woods and a thistle holding as much dew as it can in its open leaves. A bright start to January.
This time of year as the days become quickly shorter and the temperatures fall there is a different beauty. A beauty of change and decay. The lack of warm, sunny days has shocked George the cat who can no longer lounge for long periods in the field, hunting butterflies.
Leaves that a few months ago were green have now turned into deep reds and magentas, oranges and ochres and with rain they contrast with the the brilliant emerald greens of moss and grass. The shapes of the leaves, often the small ones are worth examining closely as their detail is exposed.
The weather has been very mixed here on the lane. We have had warm days with balmy breezes, warm enough to sit out in – in November! Heavy rain which has sent the peat brown water chuntering and growling down the mill stream, almost to overflowing followed by stillness. Short, sharp frosts which leave the fields with an ethereal lightness, as everything is caught in the moment and leaves, browning and decaying are shown in their beauty – the veins and shapes, subtle colours. There is a beauty in this decaying world.
The hedges on the field sides have recently been cut back and now the brambles and the ivy have been cleared away leaving the skeleton hedging looking rather self conscious with just a lace work of ivy holding the hedging together. If there is snow it will easily blow through the trees and hedging onto the lane. There are no bramble and ivy branches to hold it back and confuse it.
George the cat thought that he had ‘sorted out’ the neighbouring fields – tracked the birds and small creatures. Now he is annoyed as the spread of undergrowth has been chopped away. The fields have changed and he has to command order again. It may take him some time…
The light is so bright coming down the lane that it blinds. The low sun forces itself through the trees where leaves are now falling so thick and fast that Rosie the dog is quite disconcerted by them.
Although not raining there is a moistness, a leaf litter scent, grass and leaf fall, and fungi making a natural compost. Dark browns and golds and also vibrant red and orange leaf stalks among the mossy ground with broken rose hips spewing out their seeds.
There is a lot of ivy on the lane: over walls, up walls, around trees and hedging andI it is now in full flower with some flowers beginning the transformation into berries. The flowers are attracting a lot of interest from insects. I had never realised or perhaps had an interest in knowing, that the difference in the shape of ivy leaves related to their age. Now I can see it clearly. The mature ivy has oval or heart shaped leaves while the immature ivy has three lobed leaves. Both are a beautiful glossy green but only the mature plants will bear the flowers.
You would think with rain that everything would be a little cloudy, less sharp. But the sky this morning is that greyed brightness that almost hurts your eyes and all on the lane is in sharp focus and scents are held as though captured in the moisture. A feather lies softly on top of a leaf dropped on some flight path across the woods and fields – a fluffy under feather. Moss is building up on the lane and the stones giving it a bundled, winter warm look. While the rain drips onto the leaves and then falls onto the already mossy branches and then down to the grass it forces a focus on the ground. I had noticed one apple yesterday near the old mill and assumed that it had been dropped by someone but today I looked more closely. Apples everywhere – on the ground and still high on the tree. I hadn’t realised the beautiful moss and lichen covered tree leaning over across one of the tumbledown out buildings was a very old fruit tree.
Early morning and a blackbird sits on the ivy covered branch. There are still some blackberries left though they are smaller and less attractive looking when it comes to picking them.
In contrast the hedging of the fields are full of bright red rose hips and some of the smaller elderberry trees have branches weighed down with umbrellas of black and ripe berries.
There are several conversations going on in the mill stream this morning. There is the broader rush and flow moving the water across the wider reaches and down the hill and then there are the low sometimes light notes as the water is moved through moss covered rocks and overhanging branches now dipping into the stream. The stream quietens when it is corralled into the small, still pools before it is pushed, noisily, over the many tiny waterfalls, finally merging in the lower levels close to the main road.
The colours on the lane are changing generally as the glossy greens of the holly and ivy predominate. It is clear that we are moving swiftly towards the returning power of the Holly King.
Spiders’ webs catch on the spikes of the holly leaves like small fairy hammocks. The ivy flowers with their intricate structure are full of nectar – a great source for birds and insects at this time of year as can be seen with the wasp.
I know wasps get a bad press and they can be aggressive but they also hunt flies, aphids and caterpillars – all of which I want away from the garden.
While the greens are deep and glossy there are also the subtle, almost ‘unnatural’ colours of magenta on leaves and the bleached white creams. Occasionally there are beautiful combinations on leaves which seem to mimic exotic butterflies. It is all in an Autumn day.
The mill stream is now rushing down the hill, tumbling over itself in the rain in what seems like a race to get to the bottom where it reaches the Sligo road. It must then be carried under the road to allow it to continue its journey and around the area you can still find pieces of fossilised coral. There is something very different about this part of Fermanagh.
The sloes, now much more visible in the bushes are turning to a beautiful mauve colour. They still need to darken further when they will be picked and sloe gin made from them. The blackberries we’ve already picked have been turned into muffins, jam and blackberry liqueur. It’s always important to know what you are picking! There are the poisonous and inedible as well, lurking in the hedgerows. Honeysuckle berries, Tutsan and Snowberry being a few of them.
This is also the time of year for fern spores to disperse and on the lane in the darker, woody areas there are plenty of them, particularly in the steeply wooded area close to the top. The white petals of some bushy roses are still flowering valiantly even through the rain. They are not wild roses so were probably part of of an old garden, long since abandoned.
Spider webs woven low across the grasses and plants in the early morning look like a smokey mist in the strangely warm, wet morning. The rain drops are heavy. catching in the skeletal stems and seed heads while the leaves and petals shiver and shake as the drops land.
Sycamore leaves can now be seen covered in black spot. This is the month to notice it. This virus – tar spot – can cause premature leaf fall but not long term damage. It has always reminded me of R.L Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the black spots which were handed out to pirates when a verdict of guilty was pronounced. Something slightly disconcerting about the spots.
Along the path the leaves of the hazel, the ferns, sycamore and brambles are all turning towards the light, some parts of the lane are dark and it is as though they know the seasons are changing and they want to keep the light for as long as they can.
Blackberries are now full and just ready for picking. At home there is now a kilner jar of them mixed with sugar and vodka. By Christmas it will be a very pleasant liqueur! Blackberry muffins have also become another way of using this wild bounty.
I’m working on two paintings at the moment – one, a landscape is full of blues and greens, wild clouds and wind. The second is a portrait of a garden, a walled garden – with animals! Both have some way to go and walking up the lane helps me to work out different ideas for the canvases.
Today on the way back home an unusual creature was lurking in the hedge. George, the cat had been spying on our walk!
The heavy rain has made the mill stream begin to flow again, gurgling and gushing its way down the hill over the stone steps. There seem to be more and more hart’s tongue ferns in their livid green crowding the banks of the stream. The pigeons who come low over the water and the grasses are disturbed by Rosie, the dog and I as we walk up the hill. Their wings flap and make a cracking sound as they fly hurriedly through the low hanging branches into the wood.
The bramble stems now stretch out across from the hedgerow, reaching out their thorny arms to catch and hold anyone daring go past. Caught, I stop and look around while I disentangle myself. The boulder shaped stone which lies below the mill grain store looks like a fallen standing stone but I think it is just one of the boulders that were left behind thousands of years ago. It makes a good place to sit and look across towards the lough and the land beyond – a mysterious place.
Vetch seed pods now shine black and glossy in the hedgerow looking like highly polished nails while the haws are now turning to red amid the cerise of the willow herb. There will be more seed pods and fruit to look out for now.
The beautifully warm weather continues and we are busily putting up all sorts and sizes of water containers from tiny to dog bowl size to help any insect, bird – or bigger animal have a drink.
There are now some unrip, still green , hazelnuts on the ground which have obviously been opened. Apparently grey squirrels can digest unripe hazelnuts but woodpeckers, magpies and jays also like them – all of which live around here. However given the way the nuts have been cracked open it seems more likely to be squirrels.
Common ragwort is now flowering near the disused mill. It can provide food for bees, moths and other insects and I haven’t seen many plants of it on the lane so far. Lords- and-Ladies or ‘Cuckoo Pint’ now has its poisonous bright red berries on show and the snowberry bushes are beginning to create their snow white berries. It will be a while before they’re fully formed.
Yesterday everything on the lane was dry and thirsty. The sky was lowering and there was a breeze through the trees making the leaves quiver and suggesting rain. Birds were silent. But the rain did not come until night fall.
The rain has been soft, not violent and flower breaking as it could have been. Plants, trees and grass look refreshed and colours more vibrant. The bramble flowers have become a blushing rose pink in the clear, fresher air and the mill stream is filling again.
Rosebay willow herb is now showing itself in the field of meadowsweet. Evidently Rosebay willowherb was also known as Bombed as it grew in the bomb sites during the war. It is a plant that grows on disturbed land which has earned it the other name of Fireweed as it is found in areas where there has been a forest fire.
There are now hazel nuts appearing more frequently. I’ve been wondering how much the drought would affect the hazel nuts, berries and other fruit as most plants look stressed. This hazel ‘triquetra’ is beautiful. While it can be seen to symbolise the Holy Trinity the triquetra can also be seen as the three stages of life or the earth, sea and sky. In any case the hazel in Celtic mythology is a magical and protective tree or shrub – the tree of knowledge.