'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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Friday, 10 May 2013

Tales of a Rhydymwyn Riverbank

Last week, on a rare warm spring day, I joined Kate from North East Wales Wildlife on her regular otter survey route, past banks of pale yellow primroses and delicate violets.  The smell of wild garlic caused us to wrinkle our noses and talk about making wild garlic pesto sauce as the River Alyn murmured gently in the background.

Kate stopped and peered through her binoculars, ‘There’s some spraint,’ she pointed at an oily splodge on a prominent rock on the edge of the river.  We crouched over it and saw that it was full of white specks, ‘Frog leg bones,’ said Kate.  Of course we had to sniff the splodge, there’s a lot of speculation about the smell of otter poo.  Some say it’s like jasmine tea, others that it’s fishy or even like freshly mown hay, anyway, we agreed it’s not as unpleasant as it looks.  And more importantly, it meant there were otters here.  We spotted more and more spraint further along the river and then, even more exciting, paw prints in the silty mud

It was an idyllic spot on such a day, open meadow, slow meandering river, wild flowers, buzzards mewing, a woodpecker beating a frantic rhythm on a nearby dead tree.  Suddenly, we flinched at a sharp ‘peep’ and saw a blue blur as a kingfisher zipped past us.  It was tempting to take our shoes and socks off and paddle, but we were meant to be looking for otters. 
In fact, the cameras set up by NEW Wildlife have already picked up an otter and two cubs, we wanted to check if they were still around so were keen on finding fresh spraint.  The paw prints were certainly fresh and we imagined the otters scampering and playing over the many new branches fallen after the heavy April snows.  We were willing an otter to appear and kept our eyes peeled amongst the dark places under the overhanging bank and in the tangle of willow roots but we knew it was very unlikely. 
We agreed that just knowing they were around was enough.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Re-visiting an old backyard

Although it is my mission to appreciate and explore my own backyard, in April,the cold and snow forced me into submission.  I lived on a boat in Greece for a while where my backyard was watery and filled with dolphins.  It was time to re-visit that backyard for a couple of weeks.

Things got off to a promising start when a leather-jacketed bloke called Odysseus met us at Athens airport with our hire car. 

Greece in the springtime is sublime.  Flowers burst from every crevice, anemonies, poppies, marigolds, daisies, all mixed up and higgledy-piggledy, like one of the gods had scattered a giant packet of mixed wildflower seeds from a great height. 

We followed old cobbled paths up and up towards distant snow-capped peaks, crossed a deep, dark gorge where tall, thin cypress trees were scattered like exclamation marks. And beyond, the sea glittered, turquoise and silver and the sky was blue as the Greek flags fluttering from the taverna.

We ate Greek salads,
drenched in thick green olive oil
topped with slabs of salty feta cheese,
washed down with tongue-numbingly
cold Mythos beer. 

Our shoulders gradually slumped, we sashayed rather than scurried, felt our toes unclench and our eyes smile. It was good to be back.