Friday, July 14, 2006

For the Love of Nature... Part 2

After a while, I spent much of my time in my room reading, separated from nature.

My next nature experience comes from my two final years of school. I took Advanced level biology, and we went on a field trip to Flatford Mill, which is featured in Constable's picture The Haywain. You can read more about it here at

The building on the left (Willy Lott's Cottage) is where I stayed! There we did line transects of the seashore (nice walk DOWN the hill, tough climb back!), a salt-marsh (where one boy got his boot stuck in the mud and had to be rescued by our teacher, much to our hilarity), and a foot-path. We did pond dipping and stream dipping. We hiked around the villages near Dedham Vale, and went to Church in an old Norman Church, which was shared by the different denominations, each attending church at different times.

We walked through fields of cows, watched the ducks outside the classroom window and enjoyed the beauty of nature. I knew then, that I wanted to learn more, and decided to study biology at college.

It didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, but after a false start in biochemistry, I transferred to biology and had fun again. We marked the boundaries of robin territories in the winter. We captured small mammals, marking them and then seeing if we could capture more or recapture them, in a population density study.

I watched the rabbits on campus, with their rabbit babies, I saw fungi growing including this rather deadly specimen, the Fly Agaric or Amanita muscaria from the English Country Garden Webpage.

And we went on a field trip to Devon. Here I saw the expanse of Milky Way for the first time, un-obscured by light. I saw glowworms glowing as we walked down to a beach for a bonfire. I did line transects across sand dunes and by a lake, and a quadrat study on top of Dartmoor. (You can download information on Quadrat Studies here) Dartmoor was a wet day, a goodly hike in our wellie boots, with us dodging cowpats (with fungus growing in them) all the way. It was cold, tiring, and fun! We identified local flora and fauna and drew from our microscopes… and I loved it! That year I was supposed to collect flowers to make a flower collection… and I spent hours walking around doing it… only to find my collection went mouldy!

I quit college later to come to the States. Since I have been here, I have started my own flower collection of local flora. I have made it my business to learn the names of the birds and trees that are no longer as familiar to me as the ones from back home.

I have started growing my own herbs and vegetables, as well as various garden plants… and I have spent time in teaching my son and daughter these things too. We set up a bird feeder (and would still have it up if the squirrel hadn’t broken it) and learned the identity of the birds that visit. Just this morning, I was reminded why I let so many of my plants go to seed… for there on my motherwort, sat a flock of goldfinches… at least 6! Humming around my son’s gladioli was a hummingbird. Buzzing through the air were the various dragonflies around… Gradually I am learning the identity of all these strange creatures here in Virginia… the groundhogs, the opossums, skunks and raccoons… all animals I had heard of, but never seen until I came here! And now I remember why, I wanted my son and daughter to be comfortable in nature. For though I rarely climbed trees, and though I never built a fort, I did get to have nature play, and I did get to enjoy myself in the great outdoors.

For the Love of Nature... Part I

A recent reading of the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, brought some interesting questions to mind.

I was asked what I did as a child, in nature. Truth be told, I did not think I had done much (especially when compared with the other ladies in the group) but when I thought about it harder, I realized I had done more than I thought.

When I was little, we lived in Essex, England (I’m English, but I live in the States). I don’t recall much about it there, but I do remember the ‘beach’ by the river. I apparently loved the river :)

At the age of four, we moved to Kent. We were not far from my Uncle and Aunt, who had a garden I dearly loved. It was there that I’d sit in the old Elderberry tree, fascinated with the wine my uncle brewed from the berries. It was there that I picked chives and ate them. My brother called it onion grass and was forever picking it (rather like my son now *LOL*). It was there that we helped pick beans, raspberries, blackberries, apples and tomatoes. My uncle had quite the vegetable garden going, and he always gave some to us (something which we children LOVED and anticipated). Perhaps that is where my love of vegetables comes from!

Across the street from them was an old cart track, down which we would walk. I loved to cross the stile (being very careful of the stinging nettles- although I knew how to find the dock leaf remedy for them) and collect snail shells there.

Our own garden was overgrown for a while (our mower broke) and we loved to play ‘jungle’ in the long grass. We were fascinated with slowworms (legless lizards-look below) and other wildlife that congregated there… particularly birds and the neighbour’s rabbit, which we found, loved dock leaves to eat.

Mum took us for walks into town, because we had no car, and our favourite trip, was down by the river. The walk was quite a long one, being a little over a mile, and was very tiring for the short legs that made it four or five miles with all the running and backtracking! We loved the path, the willow trees (under which we hid), and the ducks and swans on the river. When we were lucky, we’d take bread to feed the ducks, geese and swans. In the spring, we’d watch the mother duck with her ducklings, swimming on the castle moat. We’d try to feed the squirrel babies too, but only the mother was tame enough to feed. We’d throw sticks into the weir and watch them tumble over and under the bridge. We’d play ‘Pooh Sticks’ like Winnie-the-Pooh and pretend to be the Billy Goats Gruff when we crossed the wooden bridge.

You can see the town in photos here... they are very good :)

There were horses in the field across the road from us, and occasionally we’d go to pet them or give them a mint to eat.

When I went to school, we’d walk to the bus stop (if we had time), taking the track through old alley ways and dirt roads. The myriad weeds and rocks we saw here were very interesting to us… as was the playground in the alleyway! We only got to stop there on the way back home though!

We had one path TOO the bus stop and one path home from it… making our trips interesting. We commented on the trees in bloom or the other things we saw.

One year, one of my teachers at school started the Countryside Club. To join, we had to learn the names of a number of trees, flowers and birds. I soon got to know most of the trees, flowers and birds that I came into contact with.

When I was 10, we moved. This time, our house was more rural.

There was a field over the road and woods behind the house. In the winter, we’d explore the woods, squealing as the snow dropped down our necks.

There were old abandoned shacks in there, dating back to World War II… in these we found an old mangle, and myriad other interesting things.

In the summer, we’d walk around the field. There was a field beyond it in all 3 other directions, and we’d follow around those too… peering into a pond, looking at the hedgerows.

In May, there were bluebells that carpeted the woodland beyond the second field, and I liked to walk around the woods then. There were tracks, carved out by dirt bikers, but the woodland was old. It was named Badgerdell Woods because it housed a 500-year-old badger sett.

Beyond the woods, you could look down on the towns below, and the motorway (Interstate) that ran along there, and if you turned, you could look back along the fields that you had travelled.

When I walked the dog, I liked to go into the treed area down the street. This connected to the woodland behind the house, if you were willing to traverse all the nettles and brambles in there! There were pits all over, because there used to be a brick works there. Some people had dumped junk into one of them, much to our horror.

I liked to count the small ‘Cuckoo-pint’ plants when walking the dog… they were very obvious in summer when they were covered in berries, and I recall walking along counting how many I saw, competing with my sister to see who saw the most! (In the picture, it has berries).

Our garden was interesting too. Our back, there was an empty lot, which we had the use of. When we moved, it housed two cooking apple trees, gooseberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant and loganberry bushes, a patch of rhubarb and long grass. We played in the long grass, and picked the fruit. Mum made a delicious Summer Pudding with the berries and some bread.

In the spring, I’d pick rhubarb for her to make rhubarb crumble with. This did not occur often as Dad did not like rhubarb, and Mum did not like crumble… *I* however, loved them both!

At Easter time, I’d pick mint for Mum to make mint sauce. I’d hunt underneath the blooming, bubblegum scented, Mock Orange bushes, to see if I could find any. I always did!

Mum and Dad would grow vegetables in containers and Gro-Bags on the patio. Here I’d pick lettuce and tomatoes for them, or various herbs, which were used in cooking. I am lucky enough to have grown up with a mother who was a GREAT cook!

We always had a bird feeder up and a pair of binoculars ready to take a look at the birds there (or squirrels). Bird books were handy too.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Harvest and Garden friends...

In the last week we had our first bean harvest. I lost the pictures for those, but I did get the second on film...

Here they are, fresh picked and washed... ready to top, tail and snap...

And steam gently to serve, tender, but not overcooked. Of course I also had to fix a load that were boiled until falling apart for DH... but that is his preference ;)

While out in the garden, there are plenty of things to see. DS discovered a praying mantis this week... which is probably the mother of the praying mantis egg sack discovered in my Jasmine... they LOVE my Jasmine, and I am not sure why... but I dont mind. They EAT bad bugs ;)

This guy was sitting on an old tigerlily stem when I went out one day. His eyes are the prettiest turquoise colour... and he is a beautiful powder blue. DS was quite fascinate with him and drew him in various positions on the stem and around the garden.

Speaking of gardens, take a look at DS's one! It is full of blooming gladiolii!

Of course DS is fascinated to realise that the term 'Gladiolus' obviously comes from tle Latin for sword, Gladius... understandable really, their leaves look like swords. DS is pulling out some weeds... he definitely has a green thumb!

Finally... a note about our favourite nature spot...

last seen there were some DUCKLINGS... one of them appeared to be trying to eat a piece of wood :o
DH took the kids there the other day without me... while I browsed the bookstore. They managed to feed the fish, see the beaver, geese and ducks and thoroughly enjoy themselves :)
Who said you can't have urban nature study?!