30 December 2011

Grief and Joy

A strange and surreal week. Grief and joy. The latter at a son's return from Canada for Christmas (welcome home cm); the former at a brother's loss.

The fire was lit, friends and family came around: there was a sort of battening down of the hatches, a determination to enjoy the festive season, and many thanks to those who made that possible -- you know who you are!

And we got out in the open from time to time - restorative walks in woods and by the sea. Dreary weather lightened up a few times and a winter sun in a blue sky caught the tops of pale ash tree limbs. In the same woods, we discovered this horseshoe now enveloped by a slow-moving tide of bark... must have been there for quite a while.

Down by the sea, Izzy and I took shelter from the wind on what's normally the windward side of the pier, but not this day - the wind was whipping down from the northeast and the harbour was filled with leaping white horses. On the other side of the pier we found these lichens, one of them grown quite large (note the mini schnauzer for scale). I got a present of a book on lichens for Christmas (thanks dm!) and hope to learn what these are, but for now I simply enjoy the look of them...

Not much work in the garden of course, in this weather, at this season. But I still wanted to be out there - those who love gardening will know it can be healing just to be in the garden, and to be doing, no matter how mundane the task. The day after my brother died, I spent the morning in the garden and the greenhouse, simply tidying up - the last of the Molinia cut back, the pondlets cleared of leaves, some desultory weeding of Carex pendula. I brought one plant into the garden about 12 years ago and I'm now resigned to never being without it. But in its defence I have to say that it gracefully provided years of enduring cover while there were two big labradors crashing around the garden. And it required nothing in return. If I have to weed it out now, well I reckon it's not a bad bargain for the years when I wasn't able to garden as much as I wanted due to the needs of two growing sons and a full-time job.

Also while in the garden, I cut some ivy for the basket I made for my brother: ivy from my garden, holly from our da's garden, yellow and orange flowers for the moon and sun--which he loved--and pine cones from one of my morning walks for his love of the outdoors.

23 December 2011

Solstice and Farewell

Solstice turned out to be a farewell, not a celebration: my brother died suddenly and too early. Despite personal sadness, the world continues to turn, and that's as it should be. Here are solstice lights that we lit on the 22nd in the garden, by the pool. (Thanks lb). csq tells me that solstice this year fell on the 22nd anyway, so maybe we lit them at the right time.

And so this solstice I remember a freckly-faced big brother who played soldiers and cowboys&indians with me (I always ended up tied to the pole of the washing line, never the hero cowboy). I remember the hairy teenager with ginger sideburns and mad flares who listened to cool music. I remember the science student "studying" in the back garden in the summer, sparrows chattering in the hedges, raspberries starting to appear on the canes. The funny man who was one of the best mimics ever, who hung out with his student sister in Canada, ostensibly looking for work, but never finding any; who drove the rent-a-wreck car with me through the prairies as we went off to my field area in the badlands; who introduced me to the poetry of Amy Clampitt, and who gave me a tape of Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin reading their own poems; who had me and my cousins helpless with laughter in a trip through the Pyrenees; who gave my son his first bass and who always encouraged both my sons in their love of music; who moved lock, stock and barrel into another life as he made a loving family with his wife and two boys: a life he left before he was ready.

Happy Solstice all.

12 December 2011

Silhouettes and Moon Shadows

Nearly at winter solstice, I'm counting down the days... and still looking for the good bits about this winter darkness. The full moon has helped (we didn't get to see this 10 December eclipse here, it happened in the middle of a cloudy afternoon before the moon even rose for us): and at seven in the morning and seven in the evening, when I'm out walking, it has been bright enough to cast lovely moonshadows (yes, the Cat Stevens song is in my head as I write that...). That awareness of the moon is something I genuinely enjoy about midwinter.

Midwinter too, if the days are cloud-free, is the best time to look at trees in a different way. The silhouettes can be so-o-o beautiful. The light that makes them is treasured as in that morning shot on a walk last week: scots pine and sycamore and the sun about to make an appearance in the south east sky behind. And here's the oak tree that had the moon behind it on an earlier evening, reaching across to an old ivy-clad wall (that surrounds what was a large walled garden). What I don't have is a picture of any beech trees, which have their own particular beauty: ghostly silver-grey bark and the ends of their branches upturned distinctively and delicately like a Thai dancer's hands. Check them out next time you're passing one.

Back in my own small patch, I finally cleared out the glasshouse of the *very* very last of the tomatoes (honest)
and combined them with Donegal apples and a few other bits and bobs to make a lovely chutney. Yum. It'll go nicely with sharp cheddar or into chillies or stews. The kitchen still smells like a busy chipper though - that vinegar does tend to linger...

The glasshouse was also the scene of some destruction as the warm November led to an explosion of white fly (I think). Anyway, mostly gone now and there'll be a serious cleaning that needs to be done on some warm day in the coming months.

What's left in the glasshouse now are some winter leaves (happy in an old wine box cadged from lovely Ruth in our local offie), some plants that need shelter, some strawberries that I hope will give me an early crop in the late Spring, and some pelargoniums... the latter I consider on loan from Da/Granda: he always loved their bright colours (the brighter the better) and these are ones that I had out on his grave over late summer and autumn. I've replaced them with winter cyclamen now and these are holidaying in the glasshouse over winter. I'm not a great one for colour in the garden, more of a texture-gal really, but I have to admit these cheer me up no end when they catch my eye from outside the glasshouse or when I pop in to pick some chillies or winter greens.

And finally, how about this for lovely writing about the natural world around us: Jim Perrin in last Saturday's Guardian. I'd like to write like that when I grow up...

05 December 2011

December and Pause

December - the darkness really making itself felt now... Solstice is on its way though - a beacon just ahead. As ever, as I struggle with the short days and the lack of light, I look for the positive... and it has to be said that some of the sunrises recently have been very beautiful, and since they're so late, you don't miss them. Usually Iz and I are on our morning walk when the sun comes up, or just after. Last Thursday morning had a stunning sunrise, all the clouds tinted an improbable and glowing series of reds and roses. C reported the sky below was greenish in contrast. Couldn't be seen from where I was alas, too many houses in the way.

That same morning, I saw a bee busy in the Mahonia down at the Luas stop. You can't see the bee in the photo, but it's nice to have Mahonia and Ivy in an otherwise rather drab setting. Mahonia is a great shrub (I've some in the garden too): it's evergreen, some varieties are subtly scented, the bees love the flowers--and they must be doubly welcome on warm winter days when there's little else in bloom--and the birds (blackbirds particularly in my garden) adore the bluey-black berries.

On Friday, I worked in the garden for a couple of hours, just tidying up really. But I just needed to be out there. Amongst others, the beautiful Molinia caerula "Transparent" finally had to go. It is *such* an exquisite grass, and every garden should have some, if only for that moment some morning in late summer when every florescence bears its own dew- or raindrop, a tiny bit of sky suspended in each one. Without the dew, the flowering heads simply form an almost transparent purplish mist of their own. Not bad... In the autumn the grass fades to pale cinnamon and glows warmly in the late season sun. But there does come a time when it has to go, and this week was that time. The Sedum went too, the Achillea, and various other bits and bobs.

And so the garden descends into proper winter silence now. A pause. In yoga/meditation, we learn about that pause between the in- and the out breath that holds a stillness. This is what it's like in the garden now, writ large: the pause between the letting go of autumn and the gathering force again of spring. Winter stillness. Winter still.

Over the weekend, the warm weather (according to Met √Čireann: Phoenix park report[ed] its warmest November since the station opened in 1855 (156 years)) finally came to an end, and our walk this morning was, well, bracing... This evening's walk even more so, but moonlit. What I saw when I took this photo was the moon shining through the branches of a large oak tree; no really. Shows the limitations of a phone-camera :-).