Ice-melt puddles on Scout Scar escarpment, floodwater in the Lyth Valley and snow on the fells. Sunlight illuminates escarpment terrace and buttress of dark yew, colouring winter woods. The morning is warm and still. Raven fly the cliff-edge. Hoping for skylark, I hear fieldfare, finding them in a whitebeam of withered berry. Clouds gather and the face of February is grey again. Heavy rain overnight and a forecast of more to come.
When a talk is going well you feel something convivial in the atmosphere. You ease into it, confident to explore the more challenging reaches of your subject. That happened earlier this month at my first Farne Islands talk. And afterwards my audience gathered about me to share their experience of seabirds and to buy my cards and books. And these Farne Islands images are knock-out quality, especially the one I captioned ‘razorbill and sea-pinks, an aesthetic.’ How could anyone snore on contemplating that! Well, the room is hot and some are accustomed to a nap after lunch. I know a way to keep an audience on its toes, uncertain what I’ll do next.
My tale is the leg end of the kitchen chair. Are you sitting comfortably? I'm not, and a trusty carpenter is booked to contemplate leg ends and how he might refashion them. Northern legends, tales from Cumbria. My cousin, one of my many cousins, asked a child what library book she was reading. 'Northern leg ends Miss.'
The tale of the chair fuses with last night's Front Row review of Neil Gaiman's The Norse Mythology which I'm about to read. Like him, I've long loved Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths and now Marvel with Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Instead of showing a kitchen chair perhaps I should be offering a raven to illustrate, or the wood at Eskrigg where we watched squirrels in November, squirrels too nifty to be photographed. Elusive as Ratatosk, the squirrel of Viking myth.
There are signs of spring at Ghyll Brow, and of urban encroachment too. Roadside trees have been felled, others show paint marks that seem to spell imminent destruction. Ground prepared for house-building, not a brown field site but pastoral. The lost trees were roosts for bats, large mature trees that hosted tree creepers and woodpeckers. We locals made sure the biodiversity of the site was known, but the trees have been felled anyway. Search this blog for more on the magic of Ghyll Brow, and the threat of urban encroachment. This is even more house-building than we had been told to expect.
If I were a carpenter-- Bobby Darin's song comes back to me. Between cleaning chairs I listened on U Tube. I could say it took me back but I don't think I'd ever caught the story of the song, beyond that beguiling invitation in the opening lines of the lyric.
If I were a carpenter and you were a lady, would you marry me anyway, would you have my baby. Like Dylan, the magic is in the gift of the singer, most of the words are lost in the sotto voce, gentle love song. To the kitchen.
Some five years ago I found yellow brain fungus on a dead branch at the heart of a gorse bush where linnet nest. It was January, and a month later I returned to see the jelly fungus deliquescent and dripping down the branch, some lobes translucent white. Each year I return to see how the fungus fares. It is confined to a single branch at the heart of the bush and I find it on none of the surrounding gorse. Earlier in the morning, I returned to the ash by the trig point on Scout Scar but the ridge was in shadow so the fungus was hard to see.
We stood looking down over the cliff-edge, admiring razorbill close on lichened rocks, hearing the sound of the waves and watching the fly-past of fulmar. In my sequence of images I love the mist of sea-pinks in the foreground and the solid bulk of the razorbill with the lichened cliff behind. Rain and low cloud engulfed Dunstanburgh Castle and as we walked the circuit of the walls its towers faded and resolved out of the mist. I had a single lens cloth for my cameras and it became saturated. The razorbill shifted, raised its wings, and flew.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)