Friday, 29 May 2020

AM I A MURDERER?

Wasps' nest. 21st May 2020. About two inches wide and high.
Wasps' Nest. 21st May 2020. About two inches wide and two inches high.
Mostly, I try to take my breaths of outside air between three and five in the morning. I don't have a garden so I stand in the street. Either side of these times people are about.  It's surprising how many. First, those who cannot sleep. Later, from around five-thirty, people walking to work. Some call out 'hello'. Some might stop to talk. Apart from flu (I've had two anti-flu injections) I'm not immune to anything which means I have to be anti-social, Between three and five I choose a few moments to stand there alone.

But sometimes I sleep too long by mistake. Then I have to think. "Would it be better to go a day without air?" Generally speaking, no. Those two minutes outside, holding my arms wide and sucking in ten deep breaths - they set me up for the day. I risk it.

Looking down into wasps nest from where it had been joined to a stone lintel.
Looking down into the wasps nest from where it had been joined to a stone lintel.
Each layer the same only getting smaller and smaller.
On one of these rare, going-out-at-the-wrong time mornings (ten to six to be precise so it was already light) I noticed a little structure that had appeared on the lintel of a blocked up cellar doorway near my house. Too near my own front door!

A wasp's nest. At this point it was only two inches in its widest dimensions - but if left alone the wasps would make it bigger.

Wasps nest with the entrance showing.
Wasps nest with the entrance showing. 
I looked online. Almost everything said only experts should tackle wasps nests. Amateurs might be stung. So I phoned the council. Because of coronovirus, pest control people aren't there. I said "they won't have to come into my house. The nest is in the street!" But that was irrelevant. They just aren't there. They aren't even available to give advice. The woman who answered the phone said to wait for them to be killed by frosts. This flummoxed me. We shouldn't be having frosts till the autumn now - months away. Wasps are quite aggressive near their nests. This one wasn't even two metres from the pavement and it was near a corner so pedestrians could easily come round the edge of the building and walk into a cloud of them. She advised that if I couldn't wait for nature in the form of frosts, I should phone a commercial firm.

I did. 

The very centre of a small wasps' nest after the outer layers have been peeled away.
The very centre of a small wasps' nest after the outer layers have been peeled away.
A visit from an expert would cost a couple of hundred pounds. Not an option! So after a discussion during which I was given rather better advice (I think) I asked a friend to sort the nest for me. I provided her with a broom and instructions (we are now too far into the morning for me to be out of doors; I feel like some kind of vampire that can't take sunshine!). "Look around carefully," I said. Make sure no wasps are looking. (The expert woman had told me to be sure of this. "They won't like you destroying their nest," she said.) Knock the nest down with one swipe and run inside."

So she did. She said it felt much more substantial than she had expected.

A few days later I asked her to collect it for me. An astonishing opportunity. I could see where the wasps would go in and out. I unpeeled the layers. Several identical layers, each one smaller than the last with quite a substantial empty space between each one; and, in the middle, little capsules with little wasps in. Some capsules were empty. I don't know if this is because eggs had not yet been laid in them or because wasps had already left them or because wasps dropped out of them when the nest fell.

Baby wasp in its cell in its nest. The orange things are its folded down antennae.
Baby wasp in its cell in its nest.
The orange things are its folded down antennae.
I peeled back one of the white tissue-papery covers. And there, inside, was a wasp that has never lived. It has never had the chance to come out and buzz around. It's never had the opportunity to sting one of my neighbours. I keep gazing at its picture and think 'I killed this creature'.

I don't regret it. Wasp stings can be incredibly painful. Some people die if they are stung. The woman at the commercial pest control company told me wasps will abandon a broken nest and re-build somewhere else. (Hopefully at a distance from humans!) So by knocking down the nest when it was only small, the loss of wasp-life is kept to the minimum. But . . .

I once went to a talk about Buddhism. There a different kinds of Buddhism so I don't know how representative of Buddhists in general the speaker was. However . . . he said there's a big difference between unthinkingly swatting away a fly to kill it, and killing it thoughtfully and consciously and with a reason. It's one of the things I've thought about and thought about and never got much further with than thinking about it in circles. However, I do think about it - and I do think about the wasps I have caused to die. I will probably always think about them. Not usefully perhaps, but I will think about them frequently and in circles.

NATIONAL INSECT WEEK
2020
Next Monday will be June 1st. I will be joining in the The Wild Life Trusts' '30 Days Wild'. The idea is to do something nature-related every day in June and making a note of it. It might be something wildly scientific or it might be sitting in the sunshine having a cup of tea. Being aware. Looking around . . . matters. My original intention was to post about it on twitter each day . . . but maybe I'll post here too . . .  it's getting a bit close and I've yet to decide! Will you be joining in too? You can register for information on this link.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

TWIG

It's very windy here in Halifax (West Yorkshire). Trees battered. Blossom and leaves flying and falling . . . and this twig landed outside my front door. I brought it in to show you it. It's eight and three quarter inches long and 4mm wide. There are at least two kinds of lichen and several tiny threads on it. It's very dry and once you start looking you find differences in colours and texture, the amount of dust stuck to its various parts, and even what I think are tiny scale insect (too tiny to photograph indoors without extra light so you'll have to imagine them). (I'll come back to scale insect another day.)

The smaller something is, the more there is to see.

Twig with two kinds of lichen. Eight and three quarter inches long and 4mm wide.
To see better, click on the picture to enlarge it.
The twig. It's eight and three quarter inches long and 4mm wide. It may have come from a sycamore. It may have come from an apple tree. It might have come from further away from another tree entirely. Tree people . . . can you tell?


Twig and shadow with heightened brightness and contrast.


The twig and its shadow as an abstract.

The end of the twig where it has broken from another twig or branch.


Where the twig has broken free from a slightly bigger twig, or maybe from a branch. (If you peer or enlarge, you'll see one of the threads.)

Where a twiglet has broken from the twig.


Where the twig itself once had a twiglet - and another thread

Lichen on the twig.


One kind of lichen. (The little round satellite / cup-like structures are its 'fruiting bodies'.)

Another kind of lichen on the twig.


Another kind of lichen.

If I can find out for sure what these lichens are, I'll add that in later.

The other end of the twig - bark, wrinkles, colours, textures.


The other end of the twig.

I found this end particularly interesting. So many shapes, colours and textures in less than two inches.  I think the wrinkles may give a hint about years of growth . . . or is it where the twig has broken while still on the tree then continued to grow? If anyone can expound about this I would be grateful!





EXTRAS

1. New to the 'Identifying Things' tab, DUNG BEETLES UK MAPPING PROJECT - See the side column on the home page for 'Find, Identify and Record Dung Beetles'.

2. An interesting thread by Harriet Lambert on Twitter: by damaging leaves, bumblebees are making plants flower earlier than they would otherwise.

EVENTS IN JUNE: GET YOURSELVES READY!

30 DAYS WILD
1. 30 Days Wild (with the Wildlife Trusts). Can you think of something nature-related to do for every day in June? Everyone knows that everyone is more limited than usual when it come to looking around this year so it's an extra challenge - how much 'wild' can you explore from home? I'll be seeing what I can do / find and posting the results on twitter - @LucyCorrander. (I've tried in other years and have never managed 30 days yet but here's for another go!)

NATIONAL INSECT WEEK
2020
2. National Insect Week: 22nd - 28th June - an event organised jointly between The Royal Entomological Society and others. This year on-line. The site is gradually gearing up. For example, you can see a little cartoon video explaining what an insect is. (See if you can define an insect before watching it. er . . . um . . . ) Explore!

Linking to 'My Corner of the World'.
https://myworldthrumycameralens.blogspot.com/.
'My Corner of the World'
International Photographic 
Linkup

Sunday, 17 May 2020

A RAMBLE (TREE FOLLOWING)

Pea shoots on the window sill in the early morning ligh
Pea shoots on the window sill in the early morning light.
The house I live in was built in 1882 and faces east. It's made of stone; part of a back-to-back terrace and traditionally expected to be dark and poky (there are windows on only one side). But these windows are massive; light floods in and the view is filled with trees. Every tree now has its leaves and the leaves come in as silhouettes dancing across the rooms. If my laptop screen goes black, writing is replaced by their swaying reflections. When I shut my eyes, I see them. And when I sleep I find I am viewing their cousins - trees elsewhere; trees I wasn't even conscious of when I first saw them but somehow their images have imprinted themselves in my mind so I re-meet them unexpectedly in my dreams.

The trees are reflected in the glass of the window as a dandelion begins to open when the light arrives.
The trees are reflected in the glass of the window as a dandelion begins to open
when the light arrives. May 2nd 2020
This combination of trees and windows and light means I see trees whether I am looking outwards or in. When I nip outside to look at dandelions in the window boxes (cannot resist) I find I am looking at the trees behind me.

Being indoors all the time is dulling my daytime vision. The house may be alight with sunshine and leaf-shadows but I've started to squint when I go outside. It takes a few moments to adjust.

Sycamore blossom. May 5th 2020.
Sycamore blossom. May 5th 2020. (The right hand tree.)


When I said I would be 'following' sycamore trees, Phil Gates (at the Cabinet of Curiosities) replied by talking about greenfly. Greenfly like sycamores. I can't think how many greenfly there must be in these trees; millions and millions of them churning out honeydew . . . the sticky stuff ants like to eat, the stuff which makes leaves hang heavy, which sometimes makes them gloriously shiny and sometimes dulls them where dust and the millions of white-shed, empty aphid skins stick to it; the sticky which coats cars parked beneath so they get grubbier and grubbier. They are plastered with bits and bobs of grit and sycamore blossom all gunged in place with honeydew. Sitting unused during 'lockdown' they look as if they've been abandoned for at least five years. So this curtain of shimmering light . . . was thickened, enriched, by the gentle fall of honeydew and the bodies of aphids tumbling down through sunbeams.

Dandelion flower in window box. May 2nd 2020.
Dandelion flower in window box. May 2nd 2020.

I once watched a caterpillar turn into a chrysalis. It took several hours and however hard I tried, I couldn't work out what was happening. It looked painful. The caterpillar seemed to be turning inside out. Eventually, whatever was happening stopped. Months later, I walked into the kitchen and found a cabbage white fluttering about the kitchen.

Half a dandelion clock. May 2nd 2020.
Half a dandelion clock. May 2nd 2020.
Mysteries, every day mysteries, are going on all the time. Dandelions closed. Half-open. Open. However posed, they are different.

Then, all of a sudden, like from one day to the next, they are even more different. Instead of a yellow flower you have a clock of brown arrows with white flights stuck into a pale green cushion.

Dandelion after the seeds have flown.
Dandelion after the seeds have flown. May 2nd 2020.

And some time after that . . . the seeds start blowing away and you are down to the aphid that was there all along.

Aphid on the dandelion after the  seeds have blown away.
Aphid in the picture above on the dandelion
after the seeds have blown away.
For while you are looking at the dandelions, you find you are also looking at the aphids which have fallen on them from the trees. It's a greenfly landscape! 

Common Sycamore Aphids (Drepanosiphum plantanoides) 2nd May 2020
Common Sycamore Aphids
(Drepanosiphum plantanoides)
2nd May 2020







Did you notice too, below the flower in the earlier picture? See left. Common Sycamore Aphids.

Smooth Sow Thistle. (Sonchus oleraceus) 16th May 2020
Smooth Sow Thistle. (Sonchus oleraceus)
16th May 2020






On to something else . . . only not really . . . in front of my house is a tiny patch of earth. Before I got leukaemia I started to dig it over ready for something . . . can't remember what . . . but it was abandoned when I went into hospital. It's still abandoned - but not unoccupied. A Smooth Sow Thistle has moved in. Smooth Sow Thistles have pretty little yellow flowers, a bit like small dandelions; and like dandelions these flowers produce 'clocks' so the seeds can be taken by the wind. But I don't like them. There's something very unpleasant about their leaves. Sow thistles are taller than dandelions, and gangly (about eighteen inches?) and their leaves, (which stick out from the stems) are all different sizes. They can't decide. And the surface of the leaves is dull. It doesn't reflect light much. There's nothing enlivening about them. I can't justify the way I react to their leaves. It's not their fault. Nor is it their fault that a white mould or something is forming where the jolly old honeydew has landed.

Smooth Sow Thistle Leaf. (Sonchus oleraceus) 2nd May 2020
Smooth Sow Thistle Leaf. (Sonchus oleraceus)
2nd May 2020 - before the white mould began to form.

But in the spirit of investigate blogging (!) I photographed a leaf I didn't like. Then another miracle happened. When looking at plants, or anything really, you go through several stages of 'seeing'. In this case I 'see' a plant and don't like it. I re-'see' it when I put its picture on my laptop screen . . . . then I get tempted to fiddle. In theory I am trying to make the picture clearer. 






In practice I find I am making the leaf conform better to what I like in a leaf. The green gets a bit deeper. I change the light so more detail can be seen . . . and gradually, I notice good things about the leaf . . .  it has an interesting and elegant, jaggedy edge.



What if I heighten the contrast - oh wow! It's mind blowing!

I went back to take another look at the leaf - two weeks later. It's not as big as I had begun to remember it. It's quite inoffensive really. It can't help its bedraggled state. And all that detail, all the dips and ridges and edges are there even if my unaided eyes can't see them.

But wouldn't it have been nice if I could have shown you a sow-thistle clock? Earlier, there was one but all the seeds blew away.

Smooth Sow Thistle. (Sonchus oleraceus)  16th May 2020
Smooth Sow Thistle. (Sonchus oleraceus)
16th May 2020









There's a dead smooth sow thistle flower. Seeds are forming beneath its shrivelling petals. The miracle is taking place but not ready yet. Perhaps I should be dissecting some of these flowers to see what is happening? (Something I couldn't do to the caterpillar / chrysalis!)

I potter briefly in front of my front of my door, ready to dart inside if anyone comes. Along the pavement I have some pots and in one of them there is nothing . . . or not quite nothing, there's an unintended aquilegia.


Aquilegia are funny. They start off as bright flowers but after a few years of self-seeding their descendants loose their colour. This is one of these. Pale and a bit dreary (though standing erect) and it too is sticky with honeydew. Sticky with honeydew to which . . . . Smooth Sow Thistle seeds are stuck! (I think that's what they are!) And aren't the sticky stems beautiful with the light shining through them? Aren't they beautiful with the seeds stuck to them? I hadn't noticed before how hairy they are!

Smooth Sow Thistle seeds (probably)
caught on Aquilegia stems. 16th May 2020

Hurray for light! Hurray for trees! Hurray for Aphids! Hurray for honeydew! Hurray for dandelions, for stickiness, for seed clocks . . . for a few square feet by the front door where one can go for a ramble.
Notes and Links

About the Common Sycamore Aphid - 'Identification of Aphids' section of the 'Influential Points' site.
Identification of Aphids - lots of pictures - and links via the plants you find the aphid on in the left hand column. (Same site.)
                                                                                                       
     New to the 'Identifying Things' tab (below the header on Loose and Leafy)
Weevils - Mark Gurney's Album on flickr (beautiful to browse even when you don't have a weevil to ID!).

P.S. At the top of the aquilegia picture there are two little, yellow, sideways-vs on the stem. They are aphid legs.
P.P.S. There are more dandelions seeds on a post on my Dorset blog:- 'Sheer Indulgence'.

Linking to Nature Notes at Rambling Woods.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

THE INSIDE AND THE OUTSIDE

Scallopini Squash plant on windowsill. Trees beyond.
Scallopini Squash plant on windowsill. Trees beyond.
Since being stuck indoors (see previous post) I've become more aware of the continuity between what's inside and what's outside.

In the normal way of things, when I leave my house I feel I'm moving from one world to another, almost between states of being. I cut ties briefly with what's 'inside' and become someone else. But now, whenever I step onto my doorstep I feel as if a thick band of elastic is holding me in place, poising me between two realms; human, yet, in a way, wild - for I glance round quickly to make sure there's no-one anywhere near. Humans have come to mean 'danger'.

The trees have 'leafed up' since the 13th April.
The trees have 'leafed up' since I wrote about them on 13th April.
The best time for this peering out is when it's dark so I've become semi-nocturnal. In the very early hours of the morning, when the world is empty of people I can step forward and take ten deep, deep breaths and allow ten deep, deep, exhalations. I can move far enough from the door to look back over the roof to see if the moon is there. Even put rubbish in the bin! In the middle of last night I opened the front door and gazed straight into the eyes of a fox that had leapt onto a wall on the other side of the path. We paused. For a few seconds we stared. I was sort of 'inside'. The fox was definitely 'outside'. Yet there we were, together. And now, when I look at seedlings on my windowsill I am aware not only of them (inside) but of trees beyond; on the other side, the outside, of the glass.

Weed' in its own pot on the windowsill. Trees beyond.
Weed' in its own pot on the windowsill. Trees beyond.
In this new life, the line between 'domestic' and 'wild', always a bit blurred in my mind, has become very immediate. Not only have dandelions and sycamore seedlings taken up residence in the window boxes, a 'weed' managed to germinate itself along with the tomatoes and I mistakenly gave it a pot. I will let it stay and grow - on my inside windowsill, in front of, and sort of merged with, the trees.

I have been looking at web cams. These hold a much firmer line between the 'inside' and the 'outside' but can still connect us remarkably intimately with what's going on elsewhere. We sit comfortably and observe. There's a bald eagle with three babies in Iowa (the close ups are incredible). And a white stork in the Netherlands - also with three chicks.  I sit and watch the Northern Lights - live (which means they aren't always there). For several years I've watched Dorset Barn Owls in spring but I find them less engaging. They live in what looks more and more like a smelly mess and make terrible hissing sounds - like water trying to force its way down a semi-blocked drain or someone noisily sucking the last of a chocolate milkshake through a straw - over and over!

Pot of Pot Marigolds seedlings, germinating on doorstep.
Pot of Pot Marigolds seedlings, germinating on doorstep.
I've also come across a wonderful website of feathers - Featherbase. You might like it too. Here are the feather pages for the three birds I am following.
Barn Owls - oh! no. No barn owl!

And to round things off, at the gateway between the inside and the immediate outside - pot-marigolds germinating on my doorstep, kindly sent as seeds from Mike at Flightplot. A third dimension: inside, outside, internet. Merging.

Monday, 20 April 2020

THE MEANING OF LIFE?

Dandelion Leaf in My Window Box
April 20th 2020
An older friend, charming but prone to gloom, once told me the only difference between a long life and a short one is that you do the same things three times instead of once.

In 2019 intensive care 'outreach' came to my bedside three times to advise nurses how to look after me. My temperature raged. My blood pressure sank. They monitored carefully in case my organs decided to shut down.


Sycamore seedling in my window box.
Unfortunately this will have to be taken out but for the moment I can be pleased
 I am being visited by a tree.
April 20th 2020

In 2019 two rounds of pretty heavy chemo didn't work. Even after I'd had a stem cell transplant, the leukaemia was still there. The consultant advised me that things did not look good. But the new stem cells settled in and I was given a trial drug 'on compassionate grounds'. Result! the leukaemia is in retreat. If it is still here, it is here in such a small amount it cannot be detected. This, note, is not the same as a definite 'cure' but it's pretty good.



Dead Daffodil Flower
20th April 2020
Then along come the corono virus to disrupt all our lives. All the immunities bestowed by childhood illnesses and inoculations were swept away by the transplant and my ability to fight off infections is weakened by the anti-cancer drug. I am, to put it mildly, a bit vulnerable. The government has put me in the 'shielded' group. (It's even sent me a food parcel!) This is partly to save my life and partly to save the lives of others. If I land up in hospital I could be in the way of someone else who needs to be there. I can't leave the house for three months. Oh joy! Even more time to contemplate the purpose of existence.

Obviously, I haven't come up with any brilliant ideas. I can't even work out what I want to do with my own life let alone understand the purpose of  'life' in general. But I do keep thinking about my friend's idea that we merely repeat ourselves.

With all this going on, I've still not really 'moved in'. Others would have been more efficient but I still have things in boxes and in odd and 'wrong' places. It's quite entertaining. I don't really know what I still own and what I disposed of before moving from Dorset to Halifax. Things keep turning up. The other day I was looking for a missing memory stick when I came across a package of writing from when I was at Junior School.

In it, along with a little 'book' I'd written about the reign of the Stuarts and another about cats which included an incomplete chapter on 'Methods of Tiger Hunting' (!!!!!) was a short page and a half about wild flowers. I present it to you here for your entertainment. It's a sort of proto-type Loose and Leafy. I don't seem to have changed my mind or my ideas since I was . . . somewhere between seven and eleven years old. On the one hand it's a good find; good to discover one has been consistent, a current of interest over a lifetime. On the other . . . . maybe all I am doing is saying the same thing over and over. Is this what my life amounts to? What, I ask myself in the spirit of enquiry rather than negativity, is the point? If I had died aged twelve (not at the time an option) would I have contributed any less to the world than I've achieved in the decades since? Perhaps the answer is simply that there is a virtue in repetition. Perhaps some things are worth saying over and over? I don't know.

Certainly I'm currently experiencing the truth of something I am always advocating, only in reverse; that fresh air and exercise make the mind as well as the body lither, stronger and happier. Cut off from both I'm growing sluggish and dull. I feel queasy and faint really easily. I'm having to work at not being miserable. I've decided to be delighted in the small functionings of my brain. "Wow! I remembered something! How did I do that?!" I'm trying to persuade myself that walking up and down the three flights of stairs in my tall, thin house is a fair swap for hills and moors.

And perhaps I am truly having to settle with the idea that the sole purpose, the main aim, the highest and most worthy career goal of my life is to persuade everyone that dandelions are wonderful . . . and that this revelation is worth repeating endlessly; way more than my allocated three times!

* * * 


P.S.
Because I live in England I have been in the care of the NHS. On behalf of the country as a whole it has spent thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds on keeping me alive and never once has anyone asked me if I'm worth it. I am a citizen, therefore I am cared for and my treatment is free. I am not a patriotic kind of person but I am bewildered when I realise having a system like this is not the aspiration of every country in the world. Goodness, am I grateful! I am hoping someone in the NHS will think preserving the life of a repetitive dandelion advocate is truly commensurate with the expense.

P.P.S.
The stem cells which saved my life were donated anonymously through the Anthony Nolan Trust. If you are between 16 and 30 years old you too can become a donor and save someone's life. If you are over 30 you are still able to help save lives through financial donations. The link is to the UK site but it operates a shared register with other countries too. I'm not sure how many, Germany is certainly one of them.

P.P.P.S.
In case you aren't able to read the text in the photographs, I've copied it out here - preserving the spelling!

"Wild Flowers"

"Wild flowers are often just as beautifull as garden flowers. When a wild flower is caught trespassing in a garden, it is normally uprooted and thrown away, but when it is found otherwise, the same plant is praised, picked, and taken home to decorate the house. Nature is one of the wonders of science, going on year after year, giving us food and delight. Sometimes when the words Vegitation or Vegitable are mentioned, our minds imediatly think of things like carots or cabages, so it is a good idea to remember the game anamal, VEGITABLE, and mineral.

If you look hard, even in the busy streets there are wild flowers. Dandelions grow tucked away in a crack under a wall. Mosses, ferns, and grasses are here and there, sometimes moss grows in between the  paving stones, but the best place to look is in the country, there you don't need to look very hard, in winter it is not so good but nearly always the dead remains of plants can be found.

Different plants grow in different types of soil and climate, so before going out into the country to find any particular plant, it is best to check that you know where to find it."


* * *
Link
Anthony Nolan Trust