11 May 2012

A lean and hungry look

I don't know which one of them looked leaner, and in truth, in the suburbs, neither of them will be too hungry, but early last Sunday morning I saw a rook chasing a fox across grass all the way into the grove of trees where the fox resides. The rook was definitely winning: the fox hightailing it (literally, the way they carry their 'brush') as quickly as it could to the safety of its covert. And all of this going on right next to a community school carpark: the wild things hang on as best they can.

Having written that last phrase, of course Maurice Sendak came to mind; sadly he died this week, on 08 May. This video is particularly for my sons, now two wonderful young men: hope you remember how many times we read and enjoyed this when you were small, guys! A mighty book, and this is a lovely adaptation, beautifully read:

Last weekend, we decided we'd had enough cabin fever and so we escaped to Kilmacurragh Arboretum, where we had the good sense to arrive just as the wonderful Philip Quested was starting a tour of the grounds, well, of the trees really: and this is a man who loves and knows his trees. There were only four of us on the walk (the weather has continued to be awful, so people stayed away in droves), and he is the loveliest of guides - knowledgeable, passionate about his work, articulate and engaging. I won't go through all of what he said, but I can tell you that there are some champion trees there, some amazing rhododendrons, and that the garden is involved in the International Conifer Conservation Programme (it has some Wollemi pines growing slowly but surely on the front 'lawn'). 

Here's one of Philip's favourite trees:
Okay, I admit it looks a bit unprepossessing in the photo. Here it is a little closer. Does the bark remind you of anything?
Cloud Podocarp, Podocarpus nubigenus
Like this, perhaps:
Fishing nets on Roundstone pier. (Summer 2007, taken by BvG).
Apparently in its native region in Patagonia, this species grows in difficult conditions with frequent high winds. It twist and braids its trunk for added strength, just like ropes and metal hawsers. Wonderful. Of course many of our human 'inventions' are simply clever adaptations of the ways that plants have shaped themselves to their environment. Velcro is an example that most of us know, its hooks copied from the burrs on plants like burdocks and goosegrass, Galium aparine (which is also called cleavers, appropriately enough, as a certain schnauzer finds to her cost on most walks these mornings...). And what about self-cleaning products based on the Lotus Effect... that would be the superhydrophobicity of the lotus leaf, to be exact :-). Brilliant stuff!

Well that's some of the science, what about the poetry?  Since it's May, it almost has to be bluebells, and I promised that I'd return to Mr Kavanagh this month. Have a read. Have a look:

Kilmacurragh bluebells
Antrim bluebells (taken May 2011, by BvG)

Local bluebells, hybridised with the Spanish invaders
And here's blue from farther afield, a Himalayan poppy that bloomed in my garden this week:
Himalayan Poppy, Meconopsis x sheldonii
While the tone is blue, we can't ignore Ms Mitchell:

After that, beautiful though it is, I think I need to finish on a lighter note, and who better: Iz checks that the ramsons are blooming at last.

Iz and blooming ramsons, Allium ursinum

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