Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

STICKING ONE'S FOOT AND CHASING BUTTERFLIES

Hawthorn flowers and bramble leaves.
For the last few years, every so often, I've planted my foot somewhere, refused to move it, and looked about me to see what I could see. A 'Stuck Foot Post'. And I've encouraged you to do the same. You might begin by thinking 'bother, there's nothing here'. Then bits and bobs emerge from the general blur. A blade of grass. A fallen feather. A stranded worm. A bottle top. A daisy. The original Loose and Leafy practice - which seems very long ago now - was to alternate between Stuck Foot Posts and Street Plant ones; and April should have been for Street Plants. But I'll do a Stuck Foot post today as a way of inviting you to join in next month and stick your foot somewhere - sometime between the 21st and 25th - and tell us about it. What do you think? You can choose your foot-hold randomly (often the best because it's a challenge) or somewhere familiar (and see it through new eyes) and, mostly you will do it according to the rules (not moving that foot) or you might find yourself chasing butterflies. (Which is what happened to me this time.)

Spring seems late this year. And erratic. I was hoping to show you Blackthorn (which produces sloes). The blossom is fantastic. It's light and airy and early. But for all that it's currently frothing up many Dorset hedgerows it's almost over round where I live. And once it's gone, and it's replaced its flowers with leaves, it's hardly visible again till autumn - when it suddenly shows up with sloes.

Time for confession. I only thought of reviving the 'Stuck Foot' idea because I was left on a limb. There I was, vaguely in the presence of Blackthorn but too late for its flowers. So I asked myself 'right, now I'm here, what shall I do? I know! Move along a little (away from disappointment) and stick my foot somewhere.

New bramble leaves on new bramble branch
This bramble can have a spotlight of its own.
I decided I should probably show hawthorn instead so I plonked myself in front of a hawthorn tree and settle in to see what I could see. Hawthorn flowers are very different from blackthorn. Readers from previous years will know I don't like it much. It's too dense. But hawthorn has stolen blackthorn's place. Prominent. (Along with suddenly enthusiastic brambles.)

Dandelion Clock and Non-Native Bluebells
The Woodland Trust is having a campaign this year to record the places where native bluebells grow and where there are Spanish ones. By my hawthorn - I take these to be Spanish bluebells. (Their heads don't hang down as meekly as the native kind, and their petals don't have such turny-uppy frills.) Bluebells are not among my favourite flowers either. They look brilliant en-masse - famous as woodland carpets - but up close they aren't that inspiring. Native bluebells are a bit limp and thin, with flowers on only down one side. Spanish ones are bulkier and have flowers all the way round. A few too many. A bit of a jam. I don't like grape hyacinths for the same reason. As long term readers may now be remembering, Spring brings out the worst in me - I'm a total grump until the early flowers are gone. In my calendar, Blackthorn belongs to late winter.

(Do you have personal categories where you knowingly put plants or birds or insects between the wrong brackets?)

Goosegrass and Dandelion Clock

Dandelions are one of my big-deal favourites. In some areas they are almost as plentiful as the grass they grow in. Here, though, the first burst is over and there are more clocks than pennies . . . 

. . . And Goose Grass (Cleavers) is still young enough to be upright and pretty. Before long it will topple over and stretch along the ground and its leaves will catch hold of you in a slightly sticky way . . . and it will grow little white flowers, then little velcro balls which you'll have to pick off your socks when you get home.

And the butterfly . . . Right. Along comes a Speckled Wood.
Away flies the Speckled Wood.




For a while I stayed steadfast to my intent; stood resolutely facing into the hedge and waited for it to come back again. If it didn't return a bee might arrive and pose for a portrait instead. Nothing.

(I think there are fewer insects this year. Do you?)

Speckled Wood Butterfly on Buttercup Leaf (?)
There's a limit to the time one can remain staring into a hedgerow on a path that's busy with families out walking on a sunny Sunday afternoon. One can end up feeling a little . .  er . . . self-conscious. Could people think I'm dangerous? What if someone stops and asks what I'm doing?
I will say 'I'm waiting for that butterfly (I point) to come back here so I can takes it's picture on that leaf. (I point to the leaf.) Or perhaps another leaf. I wave my hand vaguely. There are many leaves but not all of them in easy reach when you have to keep that foot stuck.
I brazened it out till I had no braze left and set off to run after the butterfly. (Uncomfortably aware that the touch-screen controls on my new camera were bleeping happily and randomly re-setting themselves.)

Inspired?
Speckled Wood Butterfly on Cleavers
If I can still work out how to do it after all this time, I'll put a link box here on 21st of May and close it late on the 25th. Then you can stick your foot somewhere if you like - and tell us all about it. You might manage not to cheat . .  or you too may find yourselves chasing butterflies!

Another view of the Speckled Wood on Loose and Leafy - 'The Speckled Wood's Bottom'.

P.S. The Speckled Wood on the right is the same individual only with its wings open. This Alexanders flower next to it very small - this isn't a giant butterfly! See the Bindweed?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

WHAT RIGHT DO I HAVE TO SEE ANYTHING? (AND SOME ALEXANDERS)

Alexanders flower. (Smyrnium olusatrum)
My camera is irreparable so they've sent me a new one. And it's not just a new camera it's a different model. My old camera is not only bust but extinct.

The first camera I ever used (the first proper camera) was a Canon. I'd hit on the idea that I'd like to hold a photographic exhibition about life in a factory so I phoned an arts organisation and asked if I could borrow a camera. They were very enthusiastic and lent me a good one. They were very trusting. And I was very . . . very . .  ambitious would you say?

I couldn't afford to do a course in how to develop the film or print in black and white so I agreed with a friend that she'd take the course and show me what she'd learned. The plan worked. While a large group of students beavered away in the teaching lab. I caught up with their last week's lessons in the little lab. next door. Even better, the teacher found out what I was doing and while the large class worked through their latest exercise he'd come through to see how I was getting on. And he'd stop awhile to talk about photography until he reckoned they'd had enough time to complete their task.

Next I had to work out how to take good pictures of people while they were at work. Wandering around a factory floor would already be distracting and using a flash would compound the problem. So a friend's daughter (who happened to be a professional landscape photographer) showed me how to up-rate the film (now we're all digital there's no particular reason to explain what this means - except I could take crisp pictures in a low light even when people were moving) . . . she then got the film developed at a professional developers and helped me evening after evening after evening to print my pictures huge enough to display. Then I had my exhibition.

Talk about a grand beginning!

After that, I had to save to buy my own cameras and the challenge has been that I can't decide on a subject and style then buy a camera to match - I have to have to adapt what I photograph according to what the kind of camera I can afford to buy can do. (And where I live, of course.) Which is why I landed up taking pictures of leaves instead of factories. I suppose my addiction is to seeing and as long as I'm seeing something interesting it doesn't matter too much what it is. That isn't exactly, exactly true but it's near enough.

Alexanders leave with Alexanders Rust. (Smyrnium olusatrum with Pucinnia smyrnii)
And being of modest means, I've always had to put a lot of work into researching before purchasing. Now I was being sent 'an unknown' so a stage was missing - and I didn't like it. Something emotional had gone adrift. An email gave a tracking code so I followed the progress of the parcel from Watford to Barking. (Barking?!) And from Barking to Southampton. (Southampton!?) And eventually, having had its own little holiday wandering around the south of England, it arrived. It should have been a moment of joy but I couldn't bring myself to open the box. It sat there and sat there until in the end I pulled back the tape and took out the camera and fiddled around with it a bit . . . then ranted crossly around the house because, I reckoned, it was rubbish. I didn't like it. It was almost unbearable. It was this or nothing - and I didn't like the 'this'.

As forbearing readers will know, my glasses broke around the same time as my camera.
Opticians appointment.
I waltzed in.
Any problems with my eyes?
No. Just that I needed new glasses.
But there was no significant change in the prescription.
Weird.
I have the beginning of cataracts.
"Oh?" I said airily, treating this as a matter of general interest rather than immediate concern, not yet registering the reason I can't see properly isn't because I need new glasses but that my vision is itself already a bit blurred. I asked how long it takes for cataracts to get really bad. Eight years? said the optician. Or twenty? Can't tell. But however long it takes there's nothing that can be done about it. Just one of those things everyone knows but no-one understands.

The next thing I did was to buy a really good cup of coffee and a specially delicious caramel shortbread with real chocolate on top. (Whoever invented cooking chocolate was a fool.)

Alexanders stem. Alexanders leave with Alexanders Rust. (Smyrnium olusatrum)
And now I'm falling in love with my camera . . . and getting obsessed with focus. Knowing what a picture really looks like is a bit awkward with a laptop. The angle of the screen, the brightness, whether it's my laptop or yours . .  so many variables. So now I angle my head from side to side and wonder what the picture really looks like. I don't want to exaggerate . . . but I can't really tell . . . if I look at the screen sideways from the right . .  is that how you will see the veins in the leaves best too? Just about? Or from the left? And the patches missing? I'd been thinking I had mild-migraine vision. Who wouldn't have a migraine if their phone, their glasses and their camera all broke at once? But I suppose it isn't a migraine. My eyes are simply getting fed up with bright lights.

It's interesting how a little bit of information changes the way one sees the world - literally.

Once I'd digested the caramel shortbread . .  and resisted the temptation to go back for more the next day . .  I began thinking about what that 'eight years' or 'twenty years' will bring. If my sight will slowly but inevitably go fuzzy, what do I want most to see? What do I most want to do with my camera? Which is more important - the line of the horizon or a grain of pollen? It's too easy to say 'everything' or 'both' because I'm a bit of a specialist. I like to know where my focus lies. (Focus. Ha!) And I want to get the most out of my camera while there's a point in having one. So how I set it up . . . and how I use it . . . becomes a bit philosophical. I'm struggling a bit. I'm asking myself what right do I have to see? Not everyone can. Not everyone has a camera.

The thing about this new camera (now I've stopped running up and down saying it's rubbish - which it isn't) is that it's easier to set the focus in odd places . . . and although I haven't (yet?) managed to get it to take pictures of pollen or anything with specially impressive close-up detail, it's easier now to play with depth of field as well as centre of interest. So I pottered out this afternoon and messed around with random pictures of Alexanders. One can get used to everything in the end. I think. No. I don't think that. Not everything. But I'm getting used to my camera and already it's my friend.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

THE DAY I LOST MY NERVE

On the tops of the cliffs at Burton Bradstock there are sheep fields with dry stone walls.
This morning I emailed a friend to say I was about to walk beside the Broadchurch cliffs near Burton Bradstock.

Quick fire he replied; he'd be frightened to go to the Broadchurch Cliffs but for someone living in Midsommer it would probably feel like a holiday.

Explanations.

The cliffs along the short stretch of Dorset Coast between Burton Bradstock and West Bay are integral to the plot of the television drama 'Broadchurch'. They loom over it. They set the atmosphere.

In the first series a boy's body is found beneath them. (Not a spoiler - the start of the story.) I'm not sure what happened in the second series because it was all a bit of a blur - so very much overloaded with events and surprises it's forgettable; all but the scenery. - the scenery can never be ignored. We're into the third and final series now. It's about rape. It's not cheerful TV. The music is drone. It never lets up. The action is slow. Little happens. But it's well plotted and well acted so each hour-long episode flies as fast as twenty minutes. (Come to think of it, there are three advert breaks in each so it probably is only twenty minutes.)

Midsommer Murders is a long-running detective series set in rural Oxfordshire. There are so many people murdered in every episode it's a standing joke there's anyone left to kill. For the residents of Midsommer, one dead boy is nothing. (They are different genres.)

That's all fiction.
What is not fiction is that these cliffs are terrifying.
They are so terrifying I didn't take any photos.
I didn't walk beside them.
I didn't walk beneath them.
I ran away.

The sea was magnificent.
The waves were enormous.
The roar was exciting.
There was a small crowd of people waiting for the tide to turn so there would be enough safe space between cliffs and water wide enough to pass through safely.

I was terrified. It wasn't just that the cliffs might crumble (which they might) . . . I couldn't stand the feeling of being loomed over. Nature-bloggers aren't supposed to scream inside and flee from their subject matter. But these cliffs are big and red and cracked and gold and they ripple like tall curtains from sky to beach.

I don't like them.
(Shame you can't see them!)

Fortunately, cliffs have grassy tops as well as pebbly bottoms so I walked along up high instead - where there were gulls and fulmars and larks and crows and sunshine and drizzle.

Of course these tops are the earth and rocks which would fall to the beach if the cliffs were to crack, so the choice was not between living and dying but between being crushed by hundreds of tons of rubble or being part of the rubble hurtling down. But light is good. And it's reassuring to imagine one might be able to leap fast enough to cross an unfolding chasm and run inland if necessary. (Through the sheep-field.)

I didn't walk far. When I reached the mouth of the River Bride, I turned back. Rain threatened. 

If I could have turned it into a sunny day for you, I would have.
The River Bride is a pretty little river - and pretty creepy too. Here, as it fights its way into the sea, it carves the most extraordinary shapes. (Its birth at Little Bredy, six miles inland, is the setting for the first Broadchurch rape.)

Dorset is a weird county. It's one of the most beautiful places on earth yet the fiction it inspires is cruel.

Take Thomas Hardy. He wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs.
Mayor of Casterbridge - a drunken man sells his wife to a stranger.
The Trumpet Major - a young woman is sexually harassed by the nephew of the local squire. 
Tess of the d'Urbervilles - a young woman is raped, her baby dies, there are all sorts of complications, she eventually kills her 'seducer' and is executed.

Because I didn't walk below the cliffs I can only show you views from the top!
I had a nice walk though.

P.S. If this were a literary blog I would be wanting to know why there's a cheerful picture of someone hanging out washing on the front cover of Tess of the d'Ubervilles and how come Penguin can describe The Trumpet Major as 'Lyrical and lighthearted'.

The links between literature, landscape and sorrow can be pretty weird.
Humans are weird.
Wouldn't you say?

P.P.S. Readers who've never visited these cliffs may be disappointed there's no picture to show what it's like to look up at them. I just say they frighten me because they loom and might fall over. . . . So I suppose I'll have to go back soon and have another bash at being brave. Not brave for long, you understand. Just brave enough to aim my camera at their stark and dark and rippled faces - before running.