Tadpole update

Mass of emerged tadpoles

I thought anyone who follows my blog might like to know that the tadpoles are all wriggling about the pond…

The first ones ‘hatched’ after 2 weeks, with more emerging each day over the next week and creating a very dark mass of wrigglers in the centre of the two clumps of frogspawn. Finally they seem to have eaten the remains of their ‘egg sacks’ and the first ones broke free to pastures new, being seen around the plants and nibbling algae of rocks – particularly later in the day as the sun warms them. I may have a cleaner, clearer pond very soon!

Tadpole off exploring

Frog Spawn

Frog spawn apparently ‘appears’ between January and February or March, in any pond where there are frogs. I have had various people asking if we had any over the past few weeks, but had to keep saying no, the pond was less than a year old and I didn’t know if we would this first year.

Frogspawn

First Frogspawn, a few hours old. (Click to enlarge.)

And then to our great excitement a large clump of spawn appeared last Sunday.

Given it was full moon that day, I spent some time in the garden in the evening and for the first time in my life had the joy of listening to the gentle sound of frogs croaking. After about 20 minutes there was a splash, then silence. A second clump of frogspawn had appeared – so close to the first I almost missed it in the dark.

Two clumps of frogspawn. (Click to enlarge.)

So now I am keeping an eye for changes, and making sure nothing damages the spawn. However, I was fascinated one morning to discover just how well it looks after itself. Some beech leaves had blown in from the nearby hedge, which I remove most days at this time of year, and one had landed on the spawn. I was surprised to find it was slightly stuck to the spawn and then worried about damaging them as I pulled it off – until I realised that it had a series of circular holes and arcs cut into it. (Afterwards I wished I had kept hold of the leaf, as I couldn’t find it again later to take a photograph.) I can only assume that the coating on the spawn had dissolved the leaf wherever it touched, so that it was no longer blocking the light. This seems to me some feat to achieve in less than a day on a crispy tough beech leaf!

Frogspawn photographed from underwater

Meanwhile my photography took a new turn as I began writing this post, as I managed to find the waterproof case we used to use with our old camera when canoeing. I have a lot to learn still about lighting and focal distances underwater – I obviously cannot see what is in the viewfinder, nor can I check the resulting images very well while they are in the waterproof case, and it needs to dry before I can open it giving little chance for a repeat attempt.

7 day old frogspawn, photographed from underwater.


Surprisingly for a camera that is rubbish at macro, it was the closest pictures that came out most in focus, just showing the start of tails developing. Hopefully with this knowledge and a bit more time to experiment, I will improve before the tadpoles emerge!

Frogs in the Rain Pond

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) on Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in our pond. (Click to enlarge)

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) on Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in our pond.
(Click to enlarge)

This is the first week that a frog has been spotted in our pond. Swimming, and looking happy.

There were two animals I really hoped to attract when building the pond – one was frogs, the other was dragonflies. From all I have read, importing animals or frogspawn is a bad idea; nature will usually turn up when conditions are right.

I have not written here about planting the pond, beyond designing a pot lifter to move the pots around in deep water. (See ‘Planting the Rain Pond’, 17 April 2016.) It has been an interesting learning curve for me, starting with the basics of understanding water plants, how many and what types are needed, what depths they like, and how to actually plant them when they arrive as bare-rooted specimens. General advice I could find was to avoid anything remotely invasive, put in more plants than you might expect, and allow time for a balance to be reached.

So I dowsed with my trusty pendulum to find out which plants would like to be in my pond, bought one of everything that said it would, three of each of the oxygenating plants that get planted in bunches, and then spent the best part of a day fitting the whole lot into pots. The weather promptly turned cold with snow, growth was at a minimum, and virtually nothing happened. It then got hot, algae grew and, with virtually no plant cover on the surface yet, the pond needed frequent topping up from water butts. Algae continued to grow, and most of the plants disappeared from view, and I feared would never be seen again…

There are probably more plants that absolutely necessary, but it has been fascinating to me to watch how they all grow so differently. Forgetmenots and brooklime have sprawled all over the place and leave trailing roots through the water that I suspect will attempt to invade their neighbours. Irises just sit there looking small. But the water hawthorn sent up flower stems very shortly after being planted, giving hope. Now all of the various plants seem to have recovered and are growing and flowering; even my waterlily, which I feared drowned for some months due to its disappearance into the depths, has sent up a flower bud. And the water soldiers have risen like a bunch of pineapples as the water suddenly cleared a couple of weeks ago.

So now I have a frog. I can’t help wondering if the fact I went swimming two days before for the first time in a few years, making new, deep connections with water and water elementals, had something to do with its arrival. I wanted to take a photograph of it, and of course couldn’t find it. Best evidence was rustling in some plants the other end of the garden, where frogs have occasionally been spotted before. I went back later at a similar time of day to when I had seen it before, mid to late afternoon, looked again in the branches of the scruffiest plant there, and this time found not one but two frogs in the pond! I guess the brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) will be staying…

Two frogs hiding in the brooklime.

Two frogs hiding in the brooklime.

Learning to follow my Intuition – Honey

Bee on Marjoram flowers

Bee on Marjoram flowers

Intuition is one of those amazing things that we all wish we could have all the time, but most of us don’t, or at least not very well. That is my current perspective anyway. How often do I have a feeling I should do something, and take no action, and then later wish I had acted differently? Getting stuck in a traffic jam is a classic for me, as even though I sometimes get a message to go a different way I nearly always ignore it and see what happens. Last week a road was not only blocked but closed completely. I could have avoided it, but chose not to.

The key to doing better, I feel, is to not only acknowledge the messages I get, but to actually follow them! So when I finally worked out that honey seemed to be trying to get my attention in every way it could, (I noticed I was eating honey instead of jam, using honey shampoo, checking out books on bee shamanism although not actually buying them, investigating better gardening for bees, and have always burned beeswax candles when possible) I decided that I would try and find out what lessons bees and honey had for me.

I started out by reading ‘The Shamanic Way of the Bee’ by Simon Buxton. This was a truly fascinating account of his initiation as a bee shaman, and my respect for what it means to be a shaman, chosen by and dedicating your life to the spirits, increased enormously. It was amazing to discover that this was a native tradition, going back centuries, yet still relevant today and still practised in this country by those who are called to it. I also loved learning about the origins of the ‘flying ointment’, so often attributed to witches, but here shown to be fully part of the bee tradition – the three relevant herbs, henbane, deadly nightshade and thorn apple, all growing in the same island location and coming together in the form of honey which does indeed help the initiate to fly. On something very like a broomstick…

Reading this book helped me fully understand that a shamanic path is not for me in this lifetime! I am very happy as a witch who journeys, but who has a family life and interests outside of witchcraft.

I then investigated beekeeping. This has never been something I wished to pursue personally, and still isn’t, but I now have a better understanding of how the honey I eat was made and gathered and how the flavour is affected depending on the time of year and types of pollen gathered. And related to that, how I can garden better for bees.

By this stage I was getting a little frustrated that I didn’t seem to be able to work out the answer to all the messages I was getting. What was I missing? What did I still need to know about bees or honey, and where could I find out?

Since I generally try to learn through books in the first instance, I then did a library search on honey and then wrote down the Dewey decimal number for every book that came up in the local area. The next time I visited the library I was armed with my list of numbers, no idea what section most of them were in, and went round to see what was in stock. Now at this point intuition had to take over again, because I mentally rejected the book I actually needed. My hand picked it up regardless, my brain told it to put it back. My hand didn’t. After a few minutes of still firmly holding the book, I accepted the inevitable and put it in the pushchair. This is a technique I have used in bookshops – buy only the books my hand refuses to put back on the shelf. They always have something to teach me. I don’t usually argue that hard in a library, because I can always bring it back the next week, but since on this occasion I had argued quite hard against it I decided to read it first when I got home. The book was ‘The Honey Diet’ by Mike McInnes.

What did I learn? That honey is processed and stored by the body in a very different way to sugar because it has partly digested by bees. This means you avoid the peaks and troughs that come from eating sugary foods, the brain doesn’t have to shut down to protect itself from too much sugar – when it will frequently send out a ‘still hungry’ message because it can’t access the sugar you just ate, meaning that the average person eats another biscuit or chocolate bar and perpetuates the cycle. I also learned how after honey is eaten, the body stores its particular sugars in the liver for use as brain food rather than as fat like other sugars are. So I need to give up eating sugar and just eat honey. Hmmm. Giving up wheat was bad, finding honey recipes that also avoid all the other things I am allergic to could be seriously challenging! No wonder I didn’t want to know… But it probably is the next step I need to take to be truly healthy and to be more balanced in my sugar levels – especially while still feeding M and being unable to predict how much milk she will want each day and night. The cure for “baby brain” at last!

Then finally another book that if I needed any more convincing would give me the push I needed to make the changes. Tanis Helliwell, ‘Hybrids: So You Think You Are Human?’ Apparently bees came to our planet from Venus to ‘hold’ the Earth when it was sinking into darkness. They helped to raise the level of vibration of the Earth, and everything on it. I can only assume that all the plants pollinated by bees came as a result of bees being here, and it is strange to try and imagine a world in which they are entirely absent. We can, she suggests, learn many lessons from bee behaviour: honeybees working together, queen bees being in charge of huge organisations and solitary bees being individuals, and more seriously Colony Collapse Disorder when there are not enough able bodies bees looking after the dependants in the hive. But we can also benefit from being around bees and raising our own vibrations. Enjoying the many colourful flowers they pollinate, and eating honey will help to do this. Honey is one of the favourite foods of Elementals; I feel it brings me closer to their world.

Garden Sculptures

Moonstruck Hares Sculpture

Moonstruck Hares Sculpture
(Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire)

I came across this wonderful garden sculpture last weekend, while doing “essential research” for planning the redesign of my garden. (This garden is a little bigger than mine however…) It consists of ten wooden hares, nine of which are mesmerised by a full wooden moon hanging in the tree above their heads.

The hare has inspired many legends thanks to its unusual behaviour, such as boxing which is apparently females boxing males to either prove their strength before mating, or else fend them off. Until relatively recently it was believed that hares were hermaphrodite and changed sex each month – as late as the nineteenth century valuations in Wales did not specify the sex of the animal unlike for cats, dogs, or any other farm animal. Hares do not mate for life, and do not have much of a family life. They are born fully furred and with eyes open, and can just about survive by themselves if they had to. Each leveret will have its own ‘form’ or nest for the mother to visit, constructed in some long grass to give shelter, so they learn to be independent and solitary from the start. It was said that hares can do superfoetation, that is be pregnant twice over, with each pregnancy at a different stage. Science has apparently yet to prove this one way or the other. However it is known that one doe can produce 42 leverets in a year, which is a pretty high fertility rate for a mammal.

They are often said to be shape-shifting witches in disguise, particularly during times when witches were feared. Their solitary nature, being active at night, and being unpredictable and illogical in most people’s minds rather than recognising their intuition led the two to be associated. In British mythology, the Goddess Eostre was said to change into a hare at the full moon, the hare was sacred to the Moon Goddess Andraste, Ceridwen changed into a hare, and Freya was attended by hares. Boudicca used hares for divination, releasing them before battle and seeing which way they ran.

Hares are closely associated with the Spring Equinox, as it is the one time of year when they are seen to gather in droves, for reasons not yet understood. It is also at this time they are seen to box, run in random directions or in circles, roll in the grass, and generally behave like ‘mad March hares’. In more recent times the relationship with Eostre is cited for a reason for celebrating them at the Equinox, and also because their sex brings balance, which is the key to the energies that surround us at that time. Like the moon, they symbolise resurrection as they go through the birth, growth, reproduction, death and rebirth cycle at great speed. Male hares can supposedly give birth, having got themselves pregnant, and they are even said by some to lay eggs, like the picture of the hare in the moon holding an egg. Some see the hare’s egg as a cosmic egg which contains the seeds for all life.

Equally interesting is the tree, which is a handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata, which was in flower when I saw it. (The flowers were all a little high for photographing individually, and just past their best.) Also known as the Dove tree in its native China, a tree of peace, seed was brought back to England by EH Wilson in 1901. It is the sort of tree that still gets mentioned in the newspapers here when it flowers, because it takes several years to reach flowering size and is still considered to be a rare sight. It was never widespread and remains endangered in the wild.

Finding the Excitement

Last week I wrote about my difficulties of shopping for fabric. I was fortunate to get a second opportunity to go shopping again this week, thanks to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire having different half terms, so having been frustrated and appalled by my previous incompetence, I thought I would have another go!

I spent some time considering what was still needed fabric-wise, with the benefit of knowing what was (hopefully!) available, and what surprised me was to realise how nervous I was about the whole thing. Yes, shopping makes me uptight. I rarely find what I want, frequently come home with something that is nearly but not quite wearable, am in danger of going into into shop after shop and coming home with nothing, and given current restrictions, am likely to end up with a tired and grouchy little girl and a parking ticket. (How people are cheered up by going shopping I have never worked out!) In short, my whole attitude was defeatist before I even started. So I meditated some more on the kestrel.

It struck me that the key thing about the kestrel was its golden colour. It was truly beautiful. I wasn’t being at all golden in my attitude, seeing shopping as going into a battle where I was likely to be only partially successful at best, and could come away with a hole in my wallet and few spoils of war to show for it if I wasn’t careful. This had to change. I meditated some more, and suddenly realised that I was looking at everything the wrong way around. I should be excited about having the opportunity to go on a shopping expedition, with my little girl, to buy fabrics which would offer the potential of new, fun projects and some good clothes for us both to wear. I had to be open to new things, allow my intuition to speak and tell me what it liked, instead of my logical, negative mind trying to judge the suitability of each item. I didn’t quite reach excited state, but I was able to go with a much more positive and open frame of mind.

Did it work?

Replacement fabric and last week's pink mistake

Replacement fabric next to last week’s pink washing mistake

Yes! I bought the fabrics I had remembered liking, plus saw some others, and found two remnants of those I wanted for a fraction of the price. I bought an amazing eight fabrics, a total of around 18m of mainly natural fibre (cotton or wool blend) cloth for just over £60. They should keep me going for a while yet! (And yes I do have a use planned for both of the fabrics in the photo.)

However, the best part was realising how it is possible to bring excitement to activities, instead of ordinariness. I have bought a bird feeding station for the garden, and in another meditation seen how to redesign the whole of the back garden putting nature at the forefront. I am almost terrified at the size of the project it has exploded into, yet tremendously excited at the same time. I’m sure I will be writing more about it here.

My aim is now to wake up every day excited by the potential it holds. I had never come close to imagining it was possible to feel this way until now, but how amazing would it be to greet each day with such joy? And yet nothing has actually changed except my attitude and way of looking at things.

Kestrels and Clothes

I am not very good at identifying birds, being generally hampered by poor eyesight and their tendency to fly away before I have seen them properly, but kestrel is one that I can usually get. It flaps about like a fat golden pigeon, until it suddenly hovers and dives – at which moment you realise it is something very special.

I was out cycling again this week, enjoying the milder weather and feeling very unfit. (Walking at M’s speed is great for fresh air, but not for exercise!) I had a particular problem to ponder, that of clothing for M and me. I have never been much good at clothes shopping, so thought it would be easier and more fun to make some things we need now that M and I have stopped changing size as fast as we were. Great in theory, but I hadn’t anticipated some of the problems I have experienced trying to put this into practice.

Patterns for women’s casual clothes tend to be those that are easy to sew, rather than being well fitted. (I’m not after dresses or office wear right now!) So shirts are often simple, untailored shapes, trousers have a zip at the back, and fleece or sweatshirt jumpers tend to be few and far between – unless unisex will fit. Not much is good, practical, warm clothing for this time of the year. Children’s patterns have different problems, with most being variations on a theme already available in supermarkets – or sundresses. But there are always some exceptions, so after spending some time searching internet catalogues (no time to stand and look in the shop!) I picked out some I thought might do. Of course I failed to realise that child patterns frequently feature a child older than the pattern is intended for, so one is too small, but it was half price and I can make it a size bigger. I already make my own patterns so this isn’t a problem, but it all takes time and pattern making time adds to the project time.

So finally having got the patterns and considered what fabrics I might use, we went shopping. I then have the problem of a busy market stall, hundreds of fabrics all crammed in, and nothing that quite meets my expectations. (Quilting and home furnishing fabrics make up most of the market.) So I revise my ideas and try to keep an open mind over what might work, and find a couple I like. They come in a different width than the length I had written down, so I have to guess the quantity, trying to ensure I don’t end up spending more on fabric than I could have paid to buy the finished article. Some fabrics I would like to hold up to see if the colours work for me, but of course there is no mirror. I would like a second opinion, but M is more of a hindrance pulling random rolls out to look at or knocking them over. It gets to my turn, so I buy the four I have identified and plan to return next week for the other two or three I need.

I bring the fabric home and wash it in two batches, one of them bleeds red dye everywhere so what was going to be a cream, red and blue nightie for M will now be a pink, red and purple dress. I rethink yet again what fabric I still need to buy.

So I was pondering all this when I saw a kestrel dive down onto the grass verge just next to me and fly of with its prey. Kestrels take an expansive view of the world, they wait for the right moment and then strike. They know when to act, and when not to. They have mental concentration, a good level of intuition, and ultimately accuracy of movement. I will try to bear this in mind next time I manage to get to the shops!

Yuletide Greetings

Solstice Greetings, Wren with Ivy

Solstice Greetings, Wren with Ivy

A very happy winter solstice to all my readers!

Here is my favourite wren story, Celtic in origin:
There was once a contest to see who should be the king of the birds. The wren suggested that whoever could fly the highest should be made king. The eagle thought this was great and immediately went to show how high he could fly. Up and up he flew, far above all the other birds that he could see circling below him as he soared through the sky. He went up as far as he could, hovered for a few minutes, and then started to descend. Just then a wren who had been hidden in his feathers popped out and flew up two more feet, before saying “Behold your king!”

Wrens are a delightful little bird that hop around the hedges and shrubs in my garden, mostly seen in winter. They build several nests each year, and will choose the best, or even huddle together in cold weather in a nest box. They also have a surprisingly loud voice.

Hornets

Hollow Oak Tree

Hollow Oak Tree

I have mentioned before that there is a particular hollow oak tree near here that I use as a doorway for the start of journeys. There are several oaks in my area of a similar age, maybe 150-200 years, that would have been planted along the hawthorn hedgerows in order to give shelter to animals in the fields. This particular tree has lost its hedge and it stands alone but for the cows and the many walkers with dogs who pass it each day.

I first stood inside the tree several years ago. You have to duck down and step up to get in, and then stand carefully as it is only just large enough and my head is likely to find wood or cobwebs. There is frequently a pool of water lying just in front of the entrance. There is a second entrance to the trunk on the opposite side (just visible in the photo), but only for rabbits and other small creatures. It all feels quite special, and is surprisingly welcoming even though this is by no means an ‘Ancient’ tree.

However this last summer has seen some changes. Rubbish and part-filled beer cans have appeared on various occasions around and even inside the tree, and it became apparent that some people were using it in less than harmonious ways. I found this quite upsetting. Then on my next visit I was alarmed to see two or three enormous wasps flying out of the tree. Hornets?! What were they doing here? I’ve never seen hornets in my life, just read about them in books, and certainly didn’t know they lived in Northern England.

Hornet leaving hollow oak tree

Hornet leaving hollow oak tree

Having found the hornets still present this month, yet with a much happier feel around the tree, I decided to ask about them in a journey. The reply I got surprised me. The tree had invited them for its protection. It was worried about the potential damage by vandals, knew that I for one valued its presence, and felt that something had to be done. In return for their protection the tree was sheltering the hornets and giving them a place to live. I was asked if I would please take a picture of them and write about them, and assured that they would not harm me unless I did anything ‘silly’. (I failed to ask why it was important I write about hornets; I could guess, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.)

So here are the best photos I was able to take this afternoon – it proved trickier than anticipated as although there were about a dozen insects flying about, they didn’t stay still! Having a tripod (and possibly a better camera on top of it!) instead of a toddler with me might have resulted in better quality pictures, but hopefully this gives an idea of them.

Three Hornets approaching nest

Three Hornets approaching nest

I asked what the spirit meaning was behind hornets and had the answer “protection, but always look at what the hornets are protecting and why.” Also “Always likely to be powerful.” This is quite different from any meanings for wasps that I have found online, where anger, being a warrior, overcoming challenges, expecting the unexpected, and homebuilding or other new beginnings can be themes.

I have since wondered whether ‘protection’ was in fact a more literal meaning than is often ascribed to animals encountered in dreams or other worlds; it may be that hornets may also signify the same meanings as other wasps under different circumstances. From what I have found out from nature websites however, they mainly eat insects and are generally less aggressive.

I was also struck by how if we become tired and run down we leave ourselves open to unwanted invaders or dis-ease, and usually see it as a negative, unwanted presence. The oak tree, displaying an individualised consciousness that I didn’t know was possible, is aware that it is decaying and instead of allowing mistreatment, has decided which invader to invite within. And it has chosen a barely native species that is sure to be noticed by all and seems to be already doing the job asked of it. Nature in harmony.

I have been assured that the tree will be here for as long as I am, but not much longer. It will be interesting to see if that is indeed the case!

Butterflies

I have always loved butterflies, and as a child had a chart on my wall to learn the most common ones. I can remember using Swallowtails as an art subject at least twice, being to me the most fascinating of all the native species, not least the fact that they were quite rare; I have still never seen one in the wild. (Being in the right part of the country at the right time of year would help!) When it came to a subject for a test lino cut it was an obvious choice, although followed closely by the Comma which I am glad to say I see quite often, and even once designed for stained glass.

Swallowtail Butterfly linoprint

Swallowtail Butterfly linoprint


So having said a few months ago that I wanted to learn how to do lino printing, what you have here is the beginnings of me learning a new craft.

Each stage presented its own challenges – marking out the design, cutting the lino, and then the actual printing which even with modern, environmental friendly inks that can be cleaned with soap and water, was still a messy business. Keeping M’s hands from touching was also challenging! If I was doing this same design again there are things I would change – such as making the ‘shaded’ areas a little less black, and giving more attention to the background, as well as learning about how much ink to put on and how hard to press or burnish each print. I’m sure a good teacher would help me get there quicker, but given I do not have the freedom to take lessons right now; to do it at all I regard as a success. And hopefully I will improve with practice and experience. It won’t be long before M is doing her own designs alongside mine…

I love the fact that linoleum (as it is properly called) is made from just wood dust, pine resin, limestone and linseed oil with a jute backing, so about as environmentally-friendly and sustainable a product as possible. Non-allergenic, non-toxic, non-smelly, biodegradable… Since I also want to make some prints of trees, it seems a very appropriate material to use, and better than either modern plasticy alternatives or imported Asian plywood which seem to be recommended for relief printing. However I have some more exploring to do regarding the paper I use – the trees not being in favour of me encouraging their destruction in any way!

Butterflies sometimes show up when I am journeying, flitting about the place reminding me to enjoy the here and now. They can often signify change coming – after all it is a creature of huge personal transformation – but the change is always graceful and gentle. Perfectly within my capabilities. Using their cycles can be helpful, seeing whether I am at the caterpillar stage of eating voraciously, devouring all the knowledge I can find; the cocoon stage where I take time to digest the new ideas; transformation when the whole DNA changes from a caterpillar to that of a butterfly, and the new ideas take on a life of their own; the emergence into beauty and light of a new form taking to the air, or in this case the ether of the internet; and finally laying the new eggs that will start the cycle again.

Spiritually the change butterfly brings is one of personal growth, transforming into our true selves in all our glory. It dances with joy, with lightness and colour. This butterfly pictured above is at the start of a process. It is black and white, half formed, but ready to lay the eggs for what will follow. I look forward to seeing where it will take me.