The Wood for the Trees

15/5/2021 I suffer from a peculiar problem. I frequently feel a bit stupid after opening my mouth. Usually in the context of trying to communicate or explain something emotionally laden, whether in speech or by text message or email.

Where does this come from? One friend thought it must come from somewhere as opposed to nowhere, but I haven’t yet managed to locate its origin. There is little mystery in the recent spate of stupidity attacks, however: attempting to communicate pain, even to friends, is not an easy business, and talking to doctors is almost guaranteed to make you feel stupid. Whether intentional or not, doctors who don’t make you feel this way seem to be in the minority.

While trying to think of a possible source for this feeling, and the contexts in which I might have originally experienced it, I remembered something that happened when I was fifteen or sixteen. I was walking with a friend to a rehearsal on an orchestra course – somewhere in the Malverns, I believe – when I exclaimed, ‘Wow, look at that tree!’

My friend responded: ‘Yal, it’s just a tree.’

I should have learned my lesson by that age, several years into teenagehood. I should have learnt to keep my mouth shut. I felt stupid, and I felt upset.

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Winter treasure 17: Ravens

31/12/20 It’s not so easy as you might think to identify a buzzard-sized raven in flight simply by size, unless there happens to be a crow mobbing it. And then you have to be certain that is a crow rather than a jackdaw or rook.

It has taken me a few years of experience and research to become confident in my identification of ravens. The first time I saw them must have been on a primary school trip to the Tower of London. As far as I know, I never saw or heard one again until I started walking the Southwest Coast Path. Making slow progress over the steep Cornish cliffs, I was alerted to the presence of an unfamiliar bird by a cronk: a deeper, gentler, altogether more beautiful and friendly sound than the caw of a crow.

 
Its voice is distinctive, but its pitch can vary, and this confused me at first. Sometimes the cronk is unmistakably low and sonorous; sometimes it is higher and sounds more like a gentle version of a crow. This is still the most reliable method of identification, however, along with its tail – if you manage to get a look – which is diamond-shaped (usually described as wedge-shaped), in contrast to the crow’s fanned tail. It has taken me many sightings and hearings, both at home and in the surrounding countryside, to be sure – absolutely sure – that the visitors to my garden the day after the winter solstice were a pair of ravens.

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Autumn treasure 15: Spindle

Spindle 30/11/20 Until I planted a new mixed hedge along my garden boundary, there was only one spindle tree – strictly speaking, shrub – in my garden. This is the spindle my dad used to teach me its name: easiest in autumn, when its fruits make it impossible to confuse with anything else. They have a bright pink outer casing which opens to reveal orange seeds. This is the only context, I think, in which orange and pink don’t clash, but enhance each other to create a crazy, joyous, unique autumn sight.

There are a few weeks in autumn when it is harder to spot the fruits because the spindle’s leaf colour competes; and, knowing it is in possession of these fruits, it is hard to appreciate the leaf display as much as if they belonged to a different plant. Once the leaves are gone, however, the fruits once again hog the limelight.

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Summer treasure 15: Early mornings

12/8/20 After I got back from Wiltshire a few weeks ago, I made a list of things that might help me to keep up my spirits and think positively. The break had done me a huge amount of good, but I could already feel that it wouldn’t solve the problems of being at home again. I was going to have to work hard at maintaining the change in mindset I had experienced in those few days away. I had already identified one thing that would give me that sense of wellbeing and excitement about life which had been so lacking in recent weeks: to go looking for chalk streams in Norfolk. But at least a whole free day was required for that kind of adventure, and I needed things I could do every day, at home, even on busy days.

I looked back at the list yesterday. Even though I had already implemented many of the items, I had forgotten it was so long. As well as obvious things such as planning to see friends and getting out regularly, the list read as follows:

Garden early morningSit in the boat on the pond
Swim in the rain
Walk at dusk
Write at the reservoir
Sleep in the garden
Make a campfire & seat area at the top of the garden by the moat
Get up early (walk/bike ride)
Go into the hedge/stream area beside the meadow
Go for a new walk twice a week

Seeing this list again, it is clearly all about new perspectives: seeing and doing familiar things in new ways, and taking advantage of novelty available close to home.

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Crossways Farm B&B reopening information

Dear friends,

Thank you for your patience regarding opening arrangements for Crossways Farm B&B! We will reopen on 17th July, as self-catering accommodation for at least the first month (with 2 hobs, microwave and grill, kettle, toaster and fridge-freezer).

But don’t worry! You will be provided with some of the yummy breakfast items usually served at breakfast, including free-range eggs from the resident chickens, a homemade sourdough loaf, local fruit juice and homemade jam, as well as cereal, milk and butter. And of course the usual cake and elderflower cordial on arrival!

To reflect these temporary changes, rates will be £140 per night for two adults sharing a room, and £170 per night for a family of 2 adults and 2 children.

Please contact me with any questions or for further prices.

Spring treasure 16: Bee orchids

Bee orchid 116/6/20 Sometimes I wonder whether sorrow and celebration are compatible, or if they are in fact so closely intertwined that celebration is hardly meaningful unless it is goes tightly hand in hand with its opposite. Hearing on Sunday night of the death of a musical colleague and friend, from whom the excitement of my musical future in Suffolk seemed barely separable, part of me was in no way inclined to continue with the celebration of bee orchids that I had begun a day earlier. But June has been a month of loss for me since my mother’s death a decade ago. There is an irony, and pain, in the contrast between the joy and busyness of the season and the emptiness of grief, but in some way I have also become accustomed to it; to the extent that it may be the cause of my being even more attuned to the small wonders going on around me every day. It somehow feels more important than ever to celebrate the little bee orchid. Perhaps it seems more of a miracle, more beautiful, than it did before.

Last June I was excited to find bee orchids growing in the field verge nearest my wildflower meadow. This year in March, my friend Mark spotted a bee orchid in my front lawn. I was dubious; but after a few seconds’ contemplation of the greenery around my feet, I replied, ‘well, if that is a bee orchid, so is this!’ And so a microscopic examination of the front lawn began, with a stick placed beside each orchid so that it wouldn’t be mown over. He was right, of course: they were bee orchids, and there were a lot of them. He also found what we now believe to be a common spotted-orchid (complete with oddly-placed and possibly controversial hyphen), having first thought it an early purple – which, incidentally, has also made me realise that the supposed marsh orchids at the Hobbets that I mentioned two years ago are more likely to be common spotted-orchids, though the two hybridise readily. If and when it flowers, we will be able to confirm its identity.

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Spring treasure 15: Dawn chorus

30/5/20 Yesterday I went on a walk with a friend, her first outing alone since lockdown. She asked me if I thought it was true there was more wildlife and more birdsong since lockdown, or whether we were simply noticing them more. I have heard many people say it, and seen many videos of wild animals wandering care-free down empty high streets, but the question of there being more wildlife, objectively speaking, needed logical consideration. It was probably a subject for the radio programme More or Less.

When she began describing the things she’d noticed, it was clear to me that most of it was just a matter of hearing birds where traffic noise would normally drown them out or encourage them to move elsewhere; or birds and other animals being happy in places they’d usually avoid. Fewer people, less traffic and less noise all mean that animals may be considering raising a family or looking for food where they never would have before. People have also slowed down, are spending more time at home and probably more time walking and cycling in their neighbourhood; therefore they are most likely seeing and hearing things that usually pass them by. But I don’t really see how there can be more wildlife already. Perhaps there will be at the end of the season, if nesting is more successful or more widespread this year. Perhaps some plants and animals that are sensitive to air quality will also benefit, though I can’t imagine the effects would be noticeable just yet.

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Winter treasure 14: Cherry blossom

CherryA little over a year ago, I completed my year of weekly ‘seasonal treasures’. I started the project as a form of self-medication: I suspected that I had some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and that winter would always make me feel low, even though I had learned – consciously – to like it. Now I am not sure I was right. I wonder if it was in fact a combination of difficult circumstances for several years running that formed unconscious, bodily associations of winter with physical and emotional difficulties, and that these associations required a concerted effort to break, by replacing them with more positive ones. Whatever the problem was, my self-prescribed concoction of daily walks, a daylight lamp, more frequent social and musical engagements and, perhaps most importantly, weekly writing about highlights of the season, was more successful than I ever could have hoped.

I enjoyed the writing so much that I continued my seasonal treasures through the whole year. It wasn’t only the process of writing that had such a positive effect: it was the necessity of noticing, and dwelling on, the beauty around me, in order to choose something to write about. In fact, I ran out of weeks to include everything I wanted to. So the following year I thought I would continue, if less frequently, in order not to leave out anything important. But my intentions didn’t materialise. As time went on, I realised that without a self-imposed schedule, my more pressing writing engagement with Suffolk’s churches took over, and the seasonal writing was left by the wayside.

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Crossways Farm Autumn Update 2019

Monkey Chicken’s example was followed to the letter this autumn, with a Very Big Party to begin the season. I have never attempted anything so chaotic before, and have my friend Rachel to blame for her encouragement of the mad idea of a camping party. Approximately 30 adults and children came to camp in my garden for the weekend – although a few of them opted for a bedroom instead – and even more came to join us for a barbecue on Saturday lunchtime. With hot, sunny weather – no sign of autumn – live chamber music in the background for at least half the weekend, and Winnie becoming officially the Luckiest Pigeon in Suffolk by having a piece of music written especially for her by Rachel, I couldn’t have hoped for a more special start to my new decade… We were even serenaded by tawny owls after dark.

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Crossways Farm Summer Newsletter 2019

This summer has been full of excitement and activity, and, sitting in a sunny garden listening to bird song while I write, I am glad to feel it is not yet over.

With only a few small pauses between B&B bookings – all of which were occupied by visits from family and friends or short musical trips away from home – and averaging 5 concerts a month since April, I feel happy to have made it to mid-September without having to hide in a darkened room (more than once or twice, at least).

There have been so many highlights it would be hard to choose between them. One, of course, must be the many lovely people I have met and the joy with which they have shared my house, garden and creatures during their stay. Many of the other highlights are of course creature related. A kingfisher flew over my pond – I’m not sure what he was doing here as there are definitely no fish in it, but I was very happy to see him all the same – and I have seen hares in my garden almost daily. One crossed the bridge recently, which I as a result I now consider a magic bridge. Leia the chinchilla, who sadly lost her friend Solo earlier in the year, found a new friend and it only took a few days before they were snuggled up together. Malteser and Dusty the rabbits… well, cute, fluffy and funny pretty well sums them up. The goaties have, surprisingly, refrained from too much mischief this season but continue to rule the garden and the chickens with their usual self-assurance.

Babbits and goaties

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