knowledge

Nature Notes: Regular Ramblings

It’s September in England, seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness, and its colours are beginning to show. Here’s a beech tree, but you probably knew that. They are so numerous around our woods, it wouldn’t surprise me to find it’s our county tree.

You know, we’ve been in our new home almost seven months and I haven’t explored the local area that much. Now that I’m not working (again), I ought to get out some more, so I put on my boots this afternoon to go for a little stroll in the trees…

Along the way, I had this idea that I might do something regular to improve my nature knowledge. I don’t know if this’ll work out or peter out but I’ll give it a try. Each outing, I’m going to focus on a few things and see if I can work out what they are.

I ought to dig out a decent camera for the job. I have four but haven’t used them for years (one, an analogue 35mm SLR, I haven’t used at all – it’s mint! – but I’ll not be using that). For this trip, I had to use my phone – it’s all I had – it’s more hit and miss than point and shoot, as the bee photo below shows. Click the images for a better view.

First up is a bit of flora and fauna combo. The plant has the wonderful common name of Meadowsweet. It took a little bit of searching but the leaves gave it away. Its scent gives it away too, apparently reminiscent of germaline, but like a numpty I didn’t think to sniff it – I’m still a novice at this game. It’s medicinal too. It contains salicylic acid which was synthesised in 1897, called acetylsalicylic acid, and sold in pill form as “Anadin”.

The handsome fly feeding on its nectar probably didn’t have a headache but it wasn’t so easy to ID. I hadn’t realised there were so many hoverflies around. I think it’s Meliscaeva cinctella, and what’s more, she’s female. She really ought to have a common name to easily remember her by but maybe she’s too good for one.

Now why is it so difficult snapping a bumblebee? The leaves are more or less in focus but try as I might – and I did – the bees were a blur. What caught my eye was the striking mustard coloured thorax. I think they are Tree Bumblebees (bombus hypnorum), and not at all rare. Yet they were only first discovered in the UK as recently as 2001, and now they’re everywhere, except on the Isle of Man. Coming soon, Manxies! It’s an extraordinary bucking of the trend for beekind populations, a positive story.

Here’s a better image of one I swiped off the internet (credit: Stephen Falk).

By the way, my lot were sampling the sparse flowers over clumps of Comfrey. These were also known in olden times as “knitbone” and used in poultices to heal sprains, bruises and painful joints. However, it contains an alkaloid toxin which, absorbed through the skin over time, can possibly wreck your liver.

More next week…

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Going on a Safari, almost

Today’s google safari begins with the word,

Caudle

I discovered this word from an online article about historical birth rituals and customs for our queens and nobility. The article went through some rum goings on. Unbelievably, royal births were not considered private affairs. This apparent tradition lasted until our present Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to Charles. The Home Office minister’s presence was usually required but she put a stop to that nonsense. Earlier years saw a free-for-all when ‘The obstetrician yelled out,

‘The Queen is going to give birth!’ – at which point hundreds of courtiers poured into the room”.

Jaw dropping! However, Caudle, a spiced and alcoholic oatmeal gruel, was once prescribed post partum to queens as a restorative. The word caught my attention specifically because there is a village near here called Caudle Green, and I wonder if there’s a connection (could it be like Soylent Green or possibly drinking it made one feel queasy? But seriously, there may be a reasonable connection).

Royal Birth Traditions: from drinking caudle to audiences of 200

image: detail of a portrait by Franz Winterhalter of Victoria holding Arthur, and probably not being offered caudle, and probably not by the Home Secretary.


Miserden to Caudle Green and Brimpsfield round

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far with finding the origin of the naming of Caudle Green and became fed up flicking through all the property sales and airbnb adverts in the village. Incidentally, there’s a quaint little Tudor cottage in the village, if you like that kind of thing, but it’s not for sale; I noticed it while out walking some years back.

So, I’m distracted by a google result which happens to be for a detailed 9.6 mile walk taking in Caudle Green. The website turns out to be a true labour of dedication to long walks around the British countryside; there appears to be hundreds of them, from Scotland to Cornwall. Each of the ones I viewed are accompanied by an informative and well-written introduction, then a detailed description of the walk itself, a little map and some useful information on OS maps, parking, refreshment stops etc. What more could you need?

Well, it goes further. Not only are the photos exceptionally well produced but some of the walks have associated videos (via youtube). I suppose if I were to be unnecessarily picky, I might suggest some link to GPS navigation but maybe the authors are old school, like me.

It’s called Walking with the Taxi Driver which I think is intentionally funny-ironic. It looks a great site and I’ll be back.


Walk to Caudle Green

Look at this painting by artist, Janet James, which came up in the search under “images”. It makes me want to put my boots on and walk. I love James’ style with paint: uncomplicated yet evocative. I feel as if I know the subject.

There are many more wonderful paintings at Janet James.co.uk

Google safaris don’t usually end after three items but blog posts do. Well, mine do anyway. Maybe more safari another day.

Everything I know about black holes and a lot more that I don’t and made up anyway

a writing prompt challenge

When is a hole not a hole? When it is a Black Hole.

It’s a misnomer but what ought it to be called? A Black Attraction. A black hole, hypothetically, is where everything that’s lost in the Universe might end up: A rogue planet; the Death Star; Voyager I; the boy with the face on the milk carton; Lord Lucan; last Tuesday; and your car keys, but don’t go thinking that’s the last place to look for your lost car keys because black holes are so literally massive, not only will your insignificant keys remain lost, even if you luckily found them, you would find it impossible to return to where you left your car. You would, in essence, be lost too.

The Black Nowhere? They say that even light cannot escape a black hole but what do they say about time? Time will not escape a black hole. You can lose your watch in a black hole and what would it matter?

The Black Nowhen? I have no idea whether these things move through space or whether they’re so big they stay put, not at all influenced by anything around them. What if two black holes came close to each other, would they battle it out? Maybe all the lost stuff in the lesser would get sucked out by the greater. Freedom! Maybe not. I wouldn’t want to risk it.

(231 words)


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge prompt #82 – “Black Holes”

image: black hole at the centre of galaxy, “M87”, 55 million light years from Earth, taken from data amassed by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – not a telescope exactly but an array of many radio telescopes covering the whole Earth.

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.


Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

Flash Fiction Challenge: A Bucket of Water

Looking into the bucket, I imagine the water as molecules; an impossible vision. We’re told the space inside an atom is greater than its matter, which implies that if we could remove all that space from the water, it’d leave just a sheen of matter at the bottom.

“Why is water wet, and snow dry?”, Gail asks, having watched a documentary on polar bears. Whenever polar bears leave the sea, they roll in the snow to dry themselves. It’s essential to stay warm in the Arctic.

“I don’t know”, I say. There’s more to this than meets the eye.

(99 words)


written for The Carrot Ranch Literary Community writing prompt – “A Bucket of Water”

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a bucket of water. What is the condition of the water and what is the bucket for? Drop deep into the well and draw from where the prompt leads!”

image via The Carrot Ranch.

Rude Talk Now

Sapio-sexual (n). a person who is sexually aroused by, or sexually attracted to, intelligence.

Humanity is so kinky on the fringes, I could easily see living amongst us a subset of folk who get off on pure intelligence. They probably consult each other on The Times Crossword as foreplay. I’m trying myself to be conscious of whether I ever find intelligence arousing, in a sexual context, and I’m afraid I’m not getting the glow.

Sapiosexual is a new word (I always look these words up, even if I’m sure I know the meaning already. Sometimes it surprises me that I don’t, but it’s an education). I also find, from the same search, the word, Pragmasexual, and I feel that may be more my line.

To be honest, when it comes to sexual arousal, I find that sexual potential is all it requires. It’s like when you’re hungry, or just peckish, you’re probably not thinking about Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey, and three michelin star restaurants inside five star hotels; you’re really thinking about Mum’s shepherds pie or Nan’s beef rendang. Of course, the analogy ends there for legal and ethical reasons, but yeah, nothing arouses sexuality more than the thought of sex itself. And for that you don’t need too much intelligence.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #75 – “Sapio-sexual”

Learning the Language of Literature

I think this is an interesting post on Lit Hub, I blog I follow. It’s an excerpt from a book by copy editor, Benjamin Dreyer, an “utterly correct guide to clarity and style”. How many of the bad habits he cites do you make?

(Hey, I initially typed how many of his bad habits do you make?)

As bloggers, I don’t suppose we have to worry too much about correct style and grammar, though clarity is still important. Blogging is more about social media, less about literature. Yet I always maintain the old saw that if a thing is thought worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

I honestly don’t know how well I’m doing but I do try. Notwithstanding that I went to school – a grammar school, to boot – my confidence in my English is frail. I’m not in possession of an extensive vocabulary, my spelling can be atrocious and lessons in grammar have for the most part been informal.

One thing I tend to do now which I never did when I started writing is edit with intent. This can correct many of the silly mistakes and run a sanity check – or clarity check – on the piece, but also it makes me question what I’ve done with grammar, especially tense. Man, I have a real concern with tenses. It’s like operating a machine without a manual, it seems to work but is it working the way it’s intended to?

Also, I’m learning to tighten things up. My venture into flash fiction prompts with word count limits has made me aware of this. The irrelevances, the tautologies and repetition, the pointless adverbs, the inconsequential detail. A rose smells sweet but if there isn’t a nose to appreciate this, why mention it?

The Naming of Things

Imagine the sun rising, an bright, early dawn, in the garden at Eden. Adam rolling to his right side to lean on one elbow, the back of the hand on his other arm coming up to rub the sleepy dust from his eyes, blinking towards the divine yellow light. In a moment, he jumps up.

“Eve, where are my clean fig leaves?”

Eve, already in the midst of making the first brew, calls back,

“In the airing cupboard, dear!”

It’s another big day ahead, another commission of naming things. It’s hopelessly random; up until yesterday, Adam had to confront Eve with a mime for fig leaf. Leaf turned out to be a cinch but fig, for some reason, caused much hilarity which reduced Eve to tears, entirely down to the fruit’s similarity to the parts of Adam which differentiated him from her. And so fig and leaf had to be summarily named.

Today, for a change, he would name some of the things which stayed put: immobile, stationary, inanimate, and inert. Of course, such words as those would be as alien to him as discombobulation would be to a child, but the sense of it is understood. Intellect precedes language. In fact, were it not for Eve, he needn’t bother with the task of naming stuff at all; he knew what he meant without words, and a leaf is a leaf is a leaf.

(234 words)


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt.

I was also inspired by the following quote,

“Finding the words is another step in learning to see”

This is from an article in Brain Pickings on the book, Gathering Moss, by bryologist, Robin Wall Kimmerer and on how she believes naming confers dignity upon life.

“Bryologist” was a word unknown to me and the significance for me is that as a young child, mosses fascinated me. I used to collect them and study their forms under a small optical microscope I had asked Father Christmas for. All that time and I hadn’t known there was a name for what I could have become had it not been for the distractions of teen culture and girls.

The resemblance of the fruit of the fig to both man and woman body parts is a well established one, I believe.

Metaphors

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble, or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

This is Sir Isaac Newton reflecting on his life’s work. The great ocean of truth is a fairly good metaphor something which to my observation is as rare as a hen’s teeth. Mostly metaphors are employed to exaggerate or embellish the fact, occasionally playing it down as in the simile of the boy-like Newton playing on the beach. He didn’t see himself as struggling with mathematical and scientific problems. Of course, he believed he had help,

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

The metaphor of human intellectual progress being viewed as dwarves standing on giants, implicitly themselves standing on bigger giants, and so on all the way down to ground zero, is attributed to Bernard de Chartres, a 12th Century French scholar and a man of some intellectual standing, I imagine.

And so what of the poor soul carrying the burden of the whole world on their shoulders? Should they imagine themselves as the mightiest giant of all rather than the smallest of dwarfs? Either way, it’s likely to be a metaphoric exaggeration.


See, these two metaphors walk into a bar and the one says to the other,

I feel this bar reflects our world, the drinks on offer are our opportunities; we must drink sensibly but also show an adventurous spirit in our choices. Shall we try an ouzo from that bottle at the back of the shelf?

The other metaphor peers at the dusty, grey, half-empty bottle and after short consideration replies,

Nah, I’ll just have my usual – and a packet of dry roasted mixed nuts.


A guy walks into the bar and asks, Do you serve metaphors?

Sure!, says the barman, What’ll it be?

The guy looks at the the row of bottles and finally says, What’s that one like?

The barman says, Sorry, that’s a simile.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #55 – Metaphors

A Dabbler’s Education

I had been thinking about those little GIF cartoons I attempted some years ago, and then how and why I came to blog, and it’s probably right that I self-identify as a bit of a dabbler. If you can’t be a Master at any one thing then at least try to be a Jack of all things. This I believe.

If I see something I like, I’m interested to find out how it works and what better way than to have a go at it yourself? That way you get an understanding and a better appreciation of the thing, and, by extension, the whole world. Or at least as much of the world as you can cram into a single lifetime.

This education began with my Mum and Dad. They were, and still are, the most self-reliant people I know. For them, I think it was partly out of necessity, not having a lot of money, but they are practical people too, in spirit.

So throughout my adult life, it’s astonished me how many times I’ve heard men say, with undisguised pride, how they “got in a man” to fix something that any fully functioning and reasonably intelligent person could do for themselves in no time. Seriously, I have known men who don’t even possess a screwdriver. It’s just bizarre if you consider how man is identified as a user of tools, a thing that sets us apart from most other animals, and yet there are examples here amongst us without a basic tool, the screwdriver – in a world of screws! And don’t get me started on men who (again, proudly claiming) don’t know their way around a kitchen…!

But back to education. It’s a source of dismay to me how it is in our co-called civilisation that educational support seems to shudder to a halt in adulthood and thereafter is only a real option for the wealthy and privileged. Not that it appears many of them take it up beyond the necessity in getting the right qualification to begin a career – normally a very straight and narrow path to the end.

Ignorance abounds, and it seems as if we’re proud to be dumb. Ironically, we are also very opinionated, and adamantly so. Though, to me, this is likely a symptom of the malaise. I believe it’s true that the more you learn, and the broader your learning is, paradoxically the more there is remaining to be understood.

This dabbler’s education is a work in progress.