'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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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Earth Hour

We switched off our lights and went for a walk during Earth Hour last night (8.30pm).  Snow had drifted to the height of the hedges and trees had white stripes on the exposed side of their trunks.  John's sheep were huddled in the gateway I normally lean on to view Moel Fammau.  Their eyes shone in the snow-light.  Even without a moon, we didn't need a torch to see our way.  No traffic moved.  The world was silent apart from the whistle of wind. We felt the sting of blown snow on our cheeks.  Branches of trees lolled on the ground, weighted down by layers of snow.  I wondered if they'd snap.  I saw myself going around with a big stick, liberating all the branches, like the nurse who cut off my plaster cast when I was small and made my thin white arm feel light and free again. 

When we got back home, we lit candles for the remaining 25 minutes and sat in silence, even though we really, really wanted to make a cup of tea.  The silence made my ears pop and I would swear I heard the earth around our house sigh for the relief of just an hours rest.  My ears, their tiny tubes, canals and delicate bones seemed to sigh too for their short rest.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Weed Medicine

The sun is bursting through the tall windows when I walk into the meeting room and I choose a seat directly in the path of the warming rays.  The smell of fresh coffee from Caffi Florence mingles with the nose-wrinkling aroma from a pile of wild garlic leaves on the front table.  I see from the handout that we’ll be shown how to make Ramsons Pesto sauce later.  I’m with 13 others at a Caffi Florence workshop, Loggerheads Country Park entitled; ‘ Hedgerow Remedies, Weed Medicine’.

Our tutor, Non Owen says; ‘weeds are wonderful,’ and gives us each a sample of nettle iron tonic, made in a previous session.  (From nettle tops, dried apricots, orange peel and some good red wine).  There are approving murmurs and ‘Mmms.’  ‘Tastes a bit like sherry,’ the lady next to me says, her eye-brows raised.

Non hands around a dish of dried rose hips for rose hip infused honey, telling us that they have 20-40 times more vitamin C than oranges.  There is silence as we watch the sun glint off the stream of honey Non is pouring into a pan.
         It is left to simmer whilst she moves on to Ramsons (wild garlic).  ‘It’s an antibiotic and a good spring tonic and cleanser,’ she tells us before turning on the hand blender.  We all lean back as Non switches to ‘turbo’ and prepares to lower the blender into a jug of oil and wild garlic leaves.  But it turns out to be quite tame and no-one gets covered in green slime.  Soon the liquid is the colour of a woodland and the meeting room smells like an Italian restaurant.  Non tastes it as she walks across to give us a sample.  She stops suddenly in her tracks, ‘Wooa,’ her eyes widen.  We all have a taste and experience that ‘kick’ as it slides down the back of the throat.  The room is filled with the sound of fourteen people tasting the green paste, smacking our lips, sucking in our cheeks, making sounds like appreciative cattle, ‘Mmmm.’

Meanwhile, the rose hip honey simmers on the stove and a Caffi Florence waitress comes in to take our drinks orders.
Next, dandelion coffee.  ’Good for the liver.’  Non prepares the dried roots and passes around the resulting pale brown liquid.  Eyes are screwed up, mouths are pursed.  It won’t be replacing my usual morning coffee, but I think of my liver and gulp it down.  

Just in time, our drinks are delivered, along with a tray of home-made cakes - lemon, fruit and chocolate brownies.  The weekly Nordic Walking Group strides past the window, their poles clicking on the path.  Perhaps they’d benefit from our next weedy remedy, a chickweed bath soak?

Finally the rosehip honey is ready.  Non decants it into small brown jars for us to take home for a vitamin C boost. 

As I leave, I can still taste the wild garlic on the back of my tongue and I see there’s Ramsons soup on the Caffi Florence menu.  Non was right, weeds are wonderful and FREE.

www.nonowenherbalist.co.uk  Medical Herbalist and Aromatherapist
www.caffiflorence.co.uk  Workshop programme

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Slum Bird Millionaire

It’s budget day. When the chancellor opens his red box, we won’t be getting richer, times are hard.  There’s a letter from my bank saying thanks for lending us all your money but we’re now going to give you less for it.  Sorry, but times are hard. 
Today is World Sparrow day and times are hard for house sparrows too.  Their numbers have fallen by 70% in the UK, but they are in decline all over the world. 

I read a headline in a newspaper on line, ‘Homeless in Mumbai.’  It wasn’t referring to humans but to the plight of house sparrows.  The article told how conservationist Mohammed Dilawar has designed artificial nests and feeders so that the vanishing sparrows return to Mumbai.  He was also the man instrumental in declaring March 20th World Sparrow Day.   
The authorities in Delhi have adopted the house sparrow as the state bird in a bid to halt any further decline in their numbers.  ‘We will take steps to ensure that the sparrow returns, feels safe and is able to live peacefully in the city,’ said a Chief Minister.  What a noble undertaking.  All over India, people are being encouraged to ‘chirp for the sparrow’ and become ‘sparrow supporters.’ You can read their poems and stories about sparrows on the web site www.worldsparrowday.org .

Birds are major indicators of the health of our environment, which is why people spend so much time and energy monitoring, counting and ringing them.   If a bird once so common is now in such serious trouble, something’s out of kilter out there.  Their drastic decline has to have an impact on us. 

Male sparrow in the box on the end of my house
I switch on my TV, not to see what comes out of the Chancellor's red box, but to see what’s going on in the bird box on the end of my house.  The sparrows are busy.  Their nest is coming along nicely.  He flies in with a piece of dry grass, faffs and fiddles, pushing it into place with his beak. 

 She appears at the entrance with a feather and he flies off, squeezing past her.   Sometimes they don’t bring any material into the nest, just fix and tidy what’s already there, forcing the scratchy grass into a soft circle by turning their plump bodies around and around.  

One in, one out

I hope bird boxes don’t count when it comes to the bedroom tax because I have ten.  They are all occupied though.
Charlie has been meaning to re-cement the ridge tiles, too late Charlie!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Slow Saturday Night

In my continuing quest to explore locally and do ‘slow’ things, I wonder what I can do on a soggy Saturday night in a Slow town like Mold?  Celebrate Wales' epic win of the Six Nations Rugby Tournament perhaps?  Not slow enough.   I decide to go to Theatre Clwyd and listen to some poetry by Gwyneth Lewis, Wales' first National Poet and the woman who composed those huge words outside the Wales Millenium Centre.
Heavy coats glistening with rain are hung over the backs of blue velvet chairs.  I seem to be the only one with a plastic cup of Rioja and a note book.  Gwyneth appears in a tight red dress, tinted glasses, a snazzy slash of red in her stylish, silvery hair.  She thanks us for making the effort to come after the big game and begins with a poem about swallowing the moon.  Next she reads from Sunbathing in the Rain, her cheerful book about depression and we hear how the noise of snowflakes disturbs fish.  I discover we share a love of sparrows as we are treated to poems from ‘The Sparrow Tree’ and as if I wasn’t won over already, I find Gwyneth also sails. 
The Rioja has gone down well and the hems of my trousers are drying out nicely by the time I get my copy of Sunbathing in the Rain signed.   I feel really uplifted and head out into the rain grinning, my new book tucked under my jacket.  Gwyneth was fab and I’m pleased I had the opportunity to hear her in my home town. 
This event was part of the Flintshire Arts Fest.  I could go and listen to Jazz singer Clare Teal next Tuesday.  According to Michael Parkinson she’s ‘worth listening to.’  Or, if I'm brave enough, go to the painting workshop with Ronnie Drillsma who says; ‘Good things can develop from happy accidents.’  I like doing ‘slow’ things and Flintshire’s a great place to do them in.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Something to Smile About

It’s said that Prince Llewelyn never smiled again after he killed his faithful hound Gelert.  He returned from a hunting trip to find his baby son missing from his cot and the dog covered in blood.  He plunged his sword into Gelert but the dogs yelps caused the baby to cry.  When Llewelyn found the boy safe and a huge wolf dead nearby he realized he’d made a dreadful mistake.

The only mistake we make when we visit Beddgelert this weekend is not staying longer.  We walk alongside the bubbling River Glaslyn past Gelert’s Grave and over the bridge that carries the Welsh Highland Railway from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, linking up with the Ffestiniog Railway.  It is now possible to travel 40 miles through this legend-filled land by steam train.  That journey goes on my wish list.

We stumble along the boulder path between the railway line and the River, crossing the sort of bridges trolls might live under.  The Glaslyn, which comes to life on Snowdon’s flanks, pours over mossy rocks, slowing down to form deep grotto-green pools.


Blue-black ravens ‘kronk-kronk’, distracting us just as the path reaches out over the foaming river. Holding on to metal rungs we edge around the sticking-out cliff face.  The sun glows on the water like there’s Welsh gold in the river bed.  

The gorge becomes narrower and we loose the sun.  The trail is edged with pale, crispy lichens, cushions of dark green moss and dripping fern fronds, like a path through a fairy tale.  Above us the sky’s the same colour as the blue-tits who flit in and out of silver birch trees and behind us is the humpy line of the Nantlle Ridge, like a pod of arching whales. 
After two miles, we arrive at Aberglaslyn Bridge and eat cheese sandwiches on a fallen tree trunk, edging further and further along it as the sun moves down below the cliff.  Before they built The Cob at Porthmadog, the sea used to reach this far inland and ships once tied up here. 
Somewhere nearby is an osprey’s nest with a camera and viewing place.  The birds return from Africa sometime in March. We keep our eyes peeled, just in case.

It’s dark by the time we head back to our campsite in the forest.  The last time I remember being struck dumb by the night sky was on a school visit to the Planetarium but it was spoiled by kids flicking sweet papers and giggling in the dark.  No giggling this time, just deep sighs and thousands and thousands of stars, some faint, some bright and flickering, with hardly any space between them.   Eventually I get dizzy and cold (it’s minus two degrees centigrade) and head for our snug campervan.  When I close my eyes under a mound of quilts, I can still see the stars and unlike Prince Llewelyn, I fall asleep with a great big smile on my face.