Monday, 11 August 2014

Nature in Close Up

Hi all,

How are you all this fine day?

I am well, though it is blowing an absolute gale here and it's chilly, chilly, chilly! It's been a while since I uploaded photos onto my computer and I thought that some of you might like to see what I was experimenting with recently: close ups!

Now, I highly advocate going walking with a hand lens. These little beauties open up the world to us in ways that you cannot imagine. I used to have both 10x and 20x lenses, but the 10x is unfortunately broken (soon to be replaced!) and so I am seeing things in extreme close up at the moment. It's great!

This is a hand lens. If you want to go on a trip of beauty I recommend that you get one now :)

 I always wanted to show people the wonders of the world in close up. The amazement that you feel as you get closer to the object and the tiny features jump into focus is a great one. However, I could never manage to get good enough photos to portray this...until I started to experiment with more functions and found that, hey presto, I could!

Hazel Corylus avellana

Just look at the juiciness of those young leaves. The beautiful, rich pink colour. Even look at the shape of the hairs! It looks sticky, and maybe it is, for look at that midge caught on the leaves. The plant is beautiful, just look at the detail, the veins, the variety of hairs (some glandular, some hispid), the variety of colours, and all on a plant that we would call green! Stunning, gobsmacking, glory-making. Yes, glad we are to live in a world such as this.

Forest Bug Pentatoma rufipes

Identified by its square shoulders, it's jazzy, patterned abdomen (see it peeking out from underneath its wings?), the orange legs and overall shape.
See the origami-like folded wings, the sectioned antennae, the two claws at the end of each foot. Appreciate this small bug for what it is. Yes, an insect, and at first glance brown, until you see that it's burnished bronze, greeny, with reddish spots, the detail in this animal is immense.

Lichens on a log

Confession time: I know next to nothing about lichens. I admire them, their awesome beauty and strength against adversity. But, I do not know how to identify them at all. If you do, please leave your comment and I can update this section with your information, but until then all I can say is that I find it astonishing how many different species are on this 7cm length of twig. At my count: 10, but to a mycologist: how many more? Stunning. Several wee mosses there also. Now, I love mosses, love them a lot. And I love these very very much. Maybe one day I'll be able to put a name to them, but until then we can just appreciate, eh?

Common Toad Bufo bufo 

Wow, just look at this little chap. Check out his eye, the depths of it. The orange, with the red patterns running through it.
The colour of his skin is camouflage, and this beauty is certainly camouflaged. However, you get many different colours of toad. I've seen ones that are bright yellow, reddish, greenish. The variety is as large as that within any human population.
I love amphibian hands and feet. There's something so human about them, and you can feel them clasp. The warty skin is a defense mechanism - other animals know that the skin is nasty. I used to find almost whole toad skins close to otter feeding remains. Otters, with their clever hands, can skin a toad to eat.

Knot Grass Moth caterpillar Acronicta rumicis

I noticed this 7cm long caterpillar eating rushes (I cannot remember for the life of me what rushes they were: bad ecologist) and what stood out was that yellow strip along its side. In the surroundings he looked almost luminous, with the red spots between spurts of hairs. Three true legs, four prolegs, and what dedicated munching! He was making short work of that tough stem. This colouration is no camouflage. He is warning possible predators: eat me at your peril. He's stunningly beautiful, and I wish him all the luck in the world as a moth. Go, caterpillar, go!

That's all I have just now, but there may be more. What do you think? Should we all be paying more attention to the small things in the world as well as the larger? Are these tiny things just as lovely and just as special as more noticeable things? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Special Places

I was asked recently to build up a strong picture of a safe place for me: a place that has no negative connotations connected to it at all. I discovered that I have several and I think I would like to share them with you here today. I've been having a bit of a hard time of it all recently and it calms me to remember these places and times. I'll describe three, but by the end of this post there may be more.

Numero Uno: Nether Largie Standing Stones, Kilmartin Glen

I visited here with my friend Colleen while on a wee roadtrip which took in the beavers at Knapdale as well as other things in the area. This time and these standing stones stand out from the rest though.

We stopped here for lunch, and ate and blethered and had a wonderful time. Let me tell you something about Colleen: she is a wonderful person to travel with, as well as being a brilliant friend. Anyway, this lunch consisted of salad grown without the use of chemicals from Whitmuir, eggs from my hens (fed without the use of chemicals also) and fish. It was while we were enjoying this veritable feast in that glorious May sunshine that makes spring in Scotland so life-giving that we suddenly realised something special. Those long-ago people that erected these stones and also enjoyed this place would have probably been eating very similar things to us. It was as though history snapped and contracted. We could have been from any time, we could have been anyone. To lose yourself in time is a wonderful thing, and I have long sought to regain that feeling.

Location Numero Dos: El Almendron, Costa del Sol, Spain

This wonderful mountain is one that I climbed while WWOOFing in Spain this January just past. It remains my biggest achievement to date, and I don't even have numbers to bring it home to you. You'll just have to trust my words instead.

Early in my month in Spain, myself and the forest (mountain?) man climbed a part of a ridge of mountain which form a very impressive focal point in the area. The least of these mountains is still taller than Ben Nevis by quite a margin. I struggled to get up it (but get up it I did, assisted by Ibex sightings) and then proceeded along the ridge to get another two or three under my belt. We made our own path down, passing through secret holm oak and stone pine forest which was just wonderful. Then, on my last day in Spain, when my fitness had improved ten-fold from climbing the steep hill that the finca (smallholding) was based on several times a day, we climbed The Big Almond, El Almendron.

And this was different. It was easier in that I was much fitter, but it was a massive achievement for me. The day started early and it was a chill wind. This was pretty much the only day I wore trousers since I'd landed in Malaga 30 days before. But it was easy going, following those brilliant paths that I have come to associate with Spanish mountains, marked with little cairns at each turn. Until we were forced to go off track, and make our own way to the summit. Paths do not go to El Almendron summit - it's too tricky, and too steep to have a path. And why would you want to climb something where if you fall, you die, no exception? Why indeed.

The photo above is of me at the top. You cannot stand on the top. Even without the strong wind that was trying to push us off the mountain, the top is smaller than your foot, your hand, smaller indeed than the size of that photo. And on the other side is a vertical drop of at least 500 metres. It's immense. To get to it you creep along ledges, pull yourself up massive rocks and there is very little straight walking at all. It's a scramble and a difficult one at that. But, oh so worth it. To be on that top, and to feel that wind. To see that drop, and to see beyond the mounain for miles and miles and miles. Oh, I have never felt so close to dying. And I have never felt so alive.

This day was one to remember forever, for many many reasons. Beyond the climb, there was the wood mouse trying to open our box of nuts and raisins just below the summit where we stopped to rest and relax. There was a descent which was climbing-down-a-wall-with-no-ropes scary. There was the scenery, there was the being of the only people on that summit. There was the sun coming out at last, there was the triumphant walk down and back to the truck feeling strong, fit and healthy. There was the feeling of having been in the right place at exactly the right time and having been aware enough of that to be left with complete happiness.

Location Numero Tres: Under the Lemon Tree, Finca la Paz, Spain

I have no photo for the lemon tree, and you may find this a bit of a strange location after the last one. But there are different feelings that are special and this tree is associated with me finding peace with myself and the world.

One of the jobs that we kept returning to on quiet days at the finca was to clean the lemon tree. This tree, although badly damaged in trunk and limb, gave wonderful lemons, and was worth fighting for. It suffered from a sooty mould fungal infection (yeah....sounds lovely, eh?!) which we washed off the leaves with water and a very mild disinfectant. There were some people on the finca who saw this as a chore unworthy of proper attention, and there were some of us, me included, who saw it for what it was: a chance to calm down, to slow down and meditate. Now, I find meditation hard. I find it hard to slow my thoughts and to stop all the noises of my brain from distracting me. But, when washing the leaves I found my way to another world.

It's the repetitive motion (check, wash, wipe, check) and concentration required that allows for this. The motion requires little or no thinking, but you have to focus on the task - which leaves are done, which are not, which need a second wipe, twig done? That section done? - but it only requires a certain level of your brain and it seems that it requires just enough to stop you thinking unnecessary thoughts. It stops all the silly, unnecessary thoughts (I wonder what time it is, isn't it hot today? I wonder what the others are doing) and leaves enough room for the serious thinking.

I left that tree with clearer thoughts than I'd had in a while. I felt calm and relaxed and happy and was willing to enjoy myself, my relationship with the forest man, and the world for all that was good and wholesome and happy. My doubts had been assuaged, and my negative reactions had been removed. It has not, of course, had a permanent effect, but it has made me consider the thought that I need to find an equivalent. I cannot infect a tree here, of course, and so I must find something that can give me that same effect of cutting out small thoughts. I just don't know what that thing is yet, but it will come.

So there we are, three locations. Don't be put off by the fact that two are in Spain. My time in Spain was something that will stay with me forever more, so it has of course had a big effect on me. There are numerous special places in Scotland and Ecuador and any other place that I have visited. There was special places in the Czech Republic, and I have special places in my head and heart that will never be shared. Moments and times of love that are for me alone.

Do you have any special places that you keep going back to in your head? Any place that can help you at times of grief or hardship? If you can, please do share them. I would love to hear.

Best wishes to you all

The pools at Torrin, Skye