'I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out 'til sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.' John Muir

I've seen the top of Everest (from a long way off), smelled the breath of a whale (from way too close) and lived on a boat in Greece (for a few years), but I continue to experience some of my most precious moments right outside my backdoor.

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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Traditional Skills - Day Two

The weather’s no better but we’re raring to go.  Naomi takes us through the process of making ‘burn’ spoons.  Somehow we’re going to turn a sycamore log into a wooden spoon!
      ‘There’s a big fire burning outside,’ she grins. 
      ‘Er, it’s not that big yet,’ Dan pokes his head around the door.

Naomi tells us some important tree etiquette.  ‘When you cut down a tree don’t leave the pale stump exposed, show it some respect and rub it with mud.’  I like that, helping the tree maintain its dignity.

We saw a piece of sycamore, split it, draw a spoon on the split side and gather around the fire pit for another demo. 
Using tongs made from willow, we select a piece of red hot ember, and after chasing it around the fire pit, sticking our tongues out like children concentrating hard, we eventually manage to pick it up and balance it on what will be the bowl of our spoons.  Holding the ember in place with a stick, we blow – hard, to create heat.  ‘Don’t hyperventilate,’ Dan warns, as I start to see stars from blowing too much.  Eventually, shallow indentations are miraculously made.

Inside in the warm, we begin whittling our spoons.  We sit well apart from each other so there are no nasty accidents. Dan explains the technique, ‘No carving on your leg.’  We all wince at the image he creates should the knife slip.
For a while, there’s just a scrape, scrape sound and the buzz of the overhead heaters as we all focus on our spoons and a mound of shavings grows at our feet.  We don’t want to stop for tea, we’re all getting ‘spoon vision’ according to Dan.

After lunch there’s a choice of making raw hide pouches or carrying on whittling our spoons.  Me and Dad choose to continue with our spoons. 
By the end of the day, I’m doubtful whether I’ll be peeling spuds for a while but we’re delighted with our rustic cutlery.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Up with the lark

The wind’s from Siberia, slicing through the crystal clear sky like an ice axe.  We’re up on Halkyn Common, Snowdonia on our left, The Dee far below on our right. I hear a faint song, like a thumb being drawn continuously over the teeth of a metal comb - not a dunnock, not a robin. Pulling my fleece hat off my right ear, I angle my head away from the whistling wind and look up.  Finally I spot a black dot way up high, just in front of the tissue paper moon, underlined by an EasyJet vapour trail, my first skylark of the year.  He pours down his song, never pausing for breath. 
It's only February, he won’t breed until April but he’s making sure he gets the best territory– the birdie equivalent of spreading his towel on a sun lounger before breakfast.

There's a ‘gulp’ of magpies clattering in a scrawny hawthorn.  I pity the ground nesting lark, though I once walked past a skylark’s nest everyday for a month and never knew it was there until someone showed me.  They’re very good at leading you away from their chicks.  Can they fool the magpies though?

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Small Signs of Spring



Traditional Skills in Rhydymwyn

It’s Saturday, the weather’s grim, perfect for staying in and watching the rugby.  But Me and my Dad are busy turning a deer’s shin bone into a needle.  We select a bone, score it with a piece of flint, hit it with a stone to break it into shards then pick one to file into a needle.  Real cavemen would’ve used sandstone to file their bone bits, we haven’t got all day so we cheat with metal files.  The workroom is filled with the sound of rasping files and thirteen people concentrating hard, not even stopping for tea when Dan shouts; ‘the kettle’s boiled.’  It’s very meditative, filing.  Your mind is focused on the job in hand, the rain, the rugby, the chores are far away.
In the middle of it all, Naomi throws out a question:  ‘The weight of all the insects on the planet would be more than the weight of all the humans, true or false?’   Quick as a flash, someone shouts out, ‘True,’ and is rewarded with a parcel wrapped in Rudolph the Reindeer paper - a selection box!  The rest of the day is punctuated with sudden random questions and winners are rewarded with more chocolate. 
Deer Bone needles and awls

Naomi and Dan are www.outback2basics.co.uk from Shropshire.  They've been invited by North East Wales Wildlife (www.newwildlife.org.ukto teach us some traditional skills. They’re brilliant, passionate, but most of all, fun.  They went to America and re-lived the Stone Age for 4 months, making their own clothes, shoes, shelter, fire, food.  We saw the photos, they obviously didn’t have showers in the Stone Age.

After lunch, we go outside for some fresh air and learn how to tap a birch tree to get the sap.  ‘It makes a lovely drink,’ Dan says.  ‘Pine cones make great scrubbing brushes,’ adds Naomi,  ‘and those Leylandii we all hate in our neighbour’s gardens, their bark makes great containers, but get permission first before you go stripping the bark of your neighbour’s trees, or any trees.’ 
            On our way back to the workroom, we stand under a dripping birch tree and study its branches.  ‘How can you use a tree to find your way?’ asks Dan.
 ‘Er, we give up.’  Dan explains that the branches on the south side of the tree are more horizontal, pointing towards the sun, the branches on the north side have to find the light so they point up, towards the sky.  Easy!

Bark Containers

Back inside, we begin making bark containers, sort of Stone Age handbags.  And we use the needles and awls we made during the morning session.  By the end of the afternoon, we’ve made an amazing variety of bark ‘bags.’  Better than Louis Vuitton any day.

Me and Dad walk home proud as punch with our bone needles, bark containers and chocolate prizes.  We stop by a particularly fine silver birch tree; ‘Nice bit of bark,’ says Dad.
            ‘Hmmm,’ I reply, stroking the trunk and picturing my next rustic creation.

(This was a free course provided by NEW Wildlife based in Rhydymwyn)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Slow Saturday

I live near Mold.  It’s a ‘Slow Town’.  So I decide to do something ‘slow’.
I phone my friend. ‘How do you fancy a walk followed by coffee and homemade cakes?’   
‘Count me in,’ my friend’s a big cake fan.
We head for the village of Cilcain where every Saturday afternoon there’s a community café in the village hall. (www.cilcaintoday.org.uk)
 If there’s one thing I like as much as homemade cakes, it’s second hand books.  On the way in to the village hall, there’s a table piled high with them, impossible to pass.  After a leisurely browse, I select a book about mosaics and my friend finds one about Shackleton’s epic voyage.  We put our money in the honesty box and follow the tinkling sound of teaspoons on china. 
The hall is laid out with half a dozen gingham covered tables. My eyes come out on stalks as we approach the huge serving hatch and I take far too long choosing a cake. A queue builds up behind me but everyone understands my dilemma and waits patiently whilst I chose from chocolate, lemon, apple, fruit, brownie or flapjack. 
The café has a different theme each week.  Today there are crafts made by local people.  I chat to a woman who makes fabulous notebooks, cufflinks, earrings, cards, and art work from old newspapers and books.  ‘Everyone calls me the newspaper lady,’ she laughs, ‘people have started bringing me foreign newspapers and old menus from their holidays.’   I buy a beautiful blue-washed bookmark. You’d never guess it was made from old newspapers. 
On our way home along the quiet lanes I hear a familiar sound but one I haven’t heard for ages and I just can’t place it.  ‘What is that?  It’s like one of those swannee whistles that clowns blow when their trousers fall down.’ I hear it again and shout ‘Lapwing!’  We look over the hedge into a flooded field and see six.  I raise my binoculars, which have been around my neck all through coffee and cake.  Not a good idea.  I clean off the crumbs and look again.  There’s something about the cry of a lapwing which stirs the heart and makes me think of the wild moors and far off places yet here they are, on my walk home, taking advantage of the soggy field to probe for worms and insects.  Two take to the air, flapping their broad black and white wings and repeating that funny pee-wit call. 
A couple of lanes further on something zooms out of the wood just ahead of us, ‘Woodcock,’ we both shout together.  It zigzaggs up the field towards another bit of wood, its long bill pointing the way.
Red streaks appear in the darkening sky as we approach home.  ‘I could get to like this,’ my friend beams, ‘let me know if you plan any more slow outings.’

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Midweek Treat

The wind is blowing hard, blue tits cling on to wildly swinging feeders, crows like black rubbish bags swirl through the grey sky.  It’s the perfect day for a full body Swedish massage. 

The health and beauty students at Deeside College practice their newly learned skills on us lucky locals for a fraction of the money we’d pay in a salon (£8 for full body massage).  The atmosphere is calming, the lighting soft and the students are very professional.

I’m wrapped in a warm blanket and with soothing music playing in the background, the massage begins.  I ask for firm pressure, my shoulders are in a mess from getting my garden ready for early potatoes.  Apart from turning over, I don’t move, I’m made of lead.

An hour later, I’m given a glass of water and left to get dressed in my own time.  Sally tells me to take it easy for the rest of the day, drink plenty of water and eat a light meal.
      ‘If you put a tennis ball in a sock and lean on it against a wall, rolling it over your back, it will help your tense shoulders,’ she advises.  Great idea. 
     I float down to reception and book another treatment, Hot Stones in two weeks time. (I've had this before, it's sublime).  I could've gone for reflexology, a facial, pedicure, manicure or Indian Head massage. Last week I had my haircut for £4.

What a treat and practically on my doorstep. Check out your local college to see what’s on offer,  you may be surprised!

Back at home, I follow Sally's advice and put my feet up.  I'm impressed watching a robin pull worms from my newly dug potato patch, I can hardly lift my mug of herbal tea.