Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Our Goat Willow

I went to talk to our Goat Willow yesterday. 

Poppy is at the vets today having an operation and it has been preying on my mind for days. I feel the weight of responsibility, even though the decision to do this was taken in conjunction with and on the advice of our vets. I love that little dog. She has been with us nearly a year now and it is as if she has always been here. Last Autumn I knew she was coming, so I went out and found her and brought her home, and now I could not bear it if anything were to happen to her.

I'm not a great believer in worrying - it promotes the wrong kind of energy, the sort that drains and consumes without ever improving the situation. A wise woman I once knew taught me a poem that I remember at times like these: 'worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, only saps today of its strength.' So instead of fretting, I took my concerns to our Willow and talked to him about it, placing it in his hands and asking for his help.

Willow trees are ancient beings. They are one of only a handful of native species that have been on these Islands since The Ice Rivers withdrew, some ten thousand years ago. It is perhaps not suprising therefore that they feature in Ogham, the first written language of the British Isles. These letters, each symbolising a tree, can be found carved into ancient Stones in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. As the fifth tree of the alphabet, Willows are connected to the fifth month, May, and to Spring, new growth, flourishing, creativity and magic. Folklore says, if you have a secret you can tell no one else, whisper it to the willow tree and she will keep it for you and your heart will be unburdened.

There are many willows around our house, but our own willow stands apart from these. At the bottom of the garden near the wooden gate that leads out on to the lane, I think of him as a sentry, guarding the house and all that lies within. He is a quiet, self-possessed tree; unassuming and still. So much so that he has passed pretty much unnoticed by me during the eight years that we have lived here. How is that possible? I have made connections with all the other trees on our land, but somehow I have overlooked him, and it is only this year that he has really come to my attention.

To stand beneath his branches is to be peaceful and to ponder quietly in your turn.

I am spending increasing amounts of time in his company as this summer progresses. I have been getting to know him through the lives of all the small creatures that his own life supports; through the plants that grow beneath and beside him, and through the pattern of his bark, leaves and branches. I have been surprised over and again at the number of small things that depend on him for their own existence, and each time I visit him and stand beneath his boughs I notice, or am shown, something new and different to what I have seen before.

Yesterday, he showed me a new caterpillar. It's the larva of the Peppered Moth (Biston betularia), sometimes called the Cleft-Headed Looper in deference to the shape of the head. It is a master of disguise, mimicking a twig by day when it is still and silent, and then waking at night when it moves fast and eats voraciously....

After the caterpillar he showed me a Tree Damsel Bug (Himacerus apterus), something else I have never seen before. This is the only tree-dwelling damsel bug in the whole of Great Britain and it feeds on mites and small insects. It has tiny wings and is out and about between July and October....

Then he showed me where a Ladybird larva had pupated and eclosed on one of his leaves....

And then he set me a test: did I now have my eyes fully open and was I really seeing properly? Or was I simply skirting over what was before me. It turns out that I wasn't seeing properly, even with the knowledge of all the magical things he had pointed out that would otherwise have remained hidden among his leaves and branches.
I picked this little thing up, thinking it was a bit of old willow fluff left over from the Spring, cluttering up his leaves and making them untidy. And in a sense it was old willow fluff. It is just that this old willow fluff was being used by someone. A fact it proved once it was on my finger, by moving.....

A messy jumble of seeds and fluff and bits and bobs, which have nevertheless been purposefully collected.....
This is the larva of a Lacewing (Chrysopidae family, possibly Green). They are tiny-weeny little insects which have sharp bristles on their backs so things stick to them. M and I entertained ourselves last night describing to one another what Lacewing larvae who lived in different habitats would look like. We decided that a beach-dwelling one would be covered in sand (I know this is true because I looked it up), a forest one would have twigs and leaves, an arctic one would have ice crystals, and one who lived in a town might pick up old discarded sweet wrappers... 

I just love this, it is so unlikely, and that is why I find nature so humbling.


After that lesson in opening my eyes properly, and receiving the sense that there are far more things out there (even on my own doorstep) that I don't know about than those that I do, our Willow brought my attention to the plants that grow under his branches, and therefore his protection....

Lady's Mantle

Scented Mayweed

Broad Leaved Dock

Hoary Plantain

Common Fleabane and Friend

Herb Robert


Red Campion

Seed head of Self Heal
And from these plants, my eyes wandered further, to the outer circle of his branches and the plants growing on the edges of this space. I found....

Blackberries in the hedge

Weeping Widow Mushrooms

Another fungus- I don't know what it is so if anyone does I'd be grateful for an ID

Great Hairy Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)

Dicranopalpus ramosus, a type of Harvestman whom I have found in the Goat Willow before, but this one was in the back garden

Honeysuckle in the hedge

Michaelmas Daisies by the fence

Redshank, popping up everywhere in the girl's old patch

Yellow Bristle Grass (Sectaria pumila)

Bugloss, a single plant where last week there was nothing at all :-)

Fat Hen

Many-Seeded Goosefoot (Chenopodium polyspermum)

Perforate St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum).
I said thank you to the Willow and made my way back towards the house and round into the back garden, where his final blessing was waiting for me. Right out in the open and unmistakable, so not even I could fail to see it and know it for what it was, as well as recognise my part in ensuring its survival.

This baby mouse was wandering about the patio the day before yesterday completely unconcerned about the potential risk from predators. He sat down and calmly proceeded to eat a seed while I fretted someone would come along and eat him. At approx half the size of my thumb it was hard to see him putting up much of a fight if that did happen. So when I found him on the lawn, again not moving and unconcerned, I picked him up and put him in the veg patch where there is lots of cover and more importantly a fence so the doggy people can't get in. I left a small pile of seeds beneath a leaf and went indoors smiling and feeling calm and restored.

Plenty of people don't like mice. I have a different attitude- our garden, broadly, is a place where every native wild thing is welcome. Sure, we lose the odd patch of kale to flutters and this summer my voles demolished the early kale as well, but we've still got plenty to eat and for me, a garden full of wildlife is a thing to be cherished and loved and glad of.

Baby Wood Mouse

And as for helping me with my worries about Pop, well, I've just had a call from the vets to say she's come through the operation fine and is ready and waiting to come home.

I wonder if the Willow has a way to prevent her from rushing about before she should, as she is bound to want to do? I can see I shall have to pay him another visit soon to find out.....

Wishing you all a peaceful evening,

CT x



  1. Thank you for such a beautiful post, I always learn so much xx

  2. This post is a perfect example of why I love your blog so, so much.

  3. I am glad that Poppy is OK and that you found some peace and comfort with the willow while you were waiting to hear. I expect that Teddy will be glad to see her home as well. xx

    1. Thank you, Amy. Teddy is very glad to have her home: he seems to understand that he can't bounce and play with her yet and is contenting himself with licking her nose and wagging his tail, much as he did when she thought she'd had pups and was feeling sad and small xx

  4. Beautiful post, lots of intresting finds, the caterpillar is amazing.. You have done well spotting all the little insects, some of your flowers I have not seen and the mouse is sooo cute, we usually have a mouse feeding on the birds seed but not seen one this year. I think you should link this post up to Lucy's Stuck foot post.
    Wishing Teddy a quick recovery and soon up to tricks..
    Amanda xx

    1. Thanks Amanda. I have linked up with Lucy- thanks for the suggestion. Hope you see your mouse soon xx

  5. Beautiful post, so glad Poppy is ok xxx

    1. Thank you, Linda. It is a big relief. xx

  6. I am glad that Poppy is doing OK. You write beautifully - this piece was moving as well as informative. Do you just write the blog, or other things as well? Have you ever written poetry?

    1. Thanks, Stephanie. I wrote reams of poetry in younger days and have written a couple of novels, one of which (a children's magical/ historical quest tale I wrote for L) I need to go through and do something about publishing, probably self-publishing! I may link it to the blog. The blog has a dual purpose for me- it's a way to keep writing and a record of our daily lives. The fact that other people enjoy reading it and are kind enough to comment is an additional boon which is lovely.

  7. What a beautiful post. Along with the others I wish Poppy well.

    I'm specially pleased to see the Lacewing larva. Along with ladybirds, they are supposed to be great aphid eaters - yet it's the adults we recognise. I remember the first time I saw ladybird larvae. I had no idea what they were except they looked like little dragons. Now I will look for fluff walking around the place!

    And how on earth did you find that Peppered Moth caterpillar? Even when you said it was there I spent ages trying to see it - and having found it another age trying to persuade myself it wasn't a twig!

    1. Thanks, Lucy. I remember thinking something similar when I first saw ladybird larvae too. Apparently, lacewing larva can give a sharp nip, but this little one was crawling over my hand for ages and never bit once. Amazing things- I am still smiling about it today :-) And as for the caterpillar- tree-dwelling pillars are incredible examples of cryptic camo, they amaze me whenever I see them. That one in particular even has the rough bark-like skin and dots that wood has. Remarkable things.

  8. Wow! Packed full to bursting, a lovely post.

  9. What a beautiful tranquil and informative post. I really do hope that little pops is okay and is recovering well and bracken sends calm licks and snuffles :)
    That peppered moth caterpillar is incredible!! Amazing are the beasties all around us!
    Had a quick flick through a few previous posts and enjoyed your moths..... you will I'm sure be happy to hear that mum and I have purchased our very own actinic trap :) we ran it for the first time on Tuesday night and caught a few - but not too many - just as well because we aren't very good at IDing them yet!! We are off on hols to France next week and are taking it with us :) wonder what we shall catch!
    I loved your flutters in a previous post and am intrigued to see how your addition of chalk will aid in growing chalk loving flowers :)
    I have so much to tell in blog posts but I never have the time :(
    Hope you and all the family are well and ted is okay and pops is on the mend.

    1. Hey Lou! Lovely to hear from you and to know all is well in your neck of the woods. Pops is much better today and Teddy is doing a lovely job of looking after her. She says thank you very much to her friend Bracken for the licks and snuffles and she hopes he is well.
      Excellent news about your moth trap! We're coming into an easier time of year for moth IDs - check out the hants moths website 'what's flying tonight' page for some help. How exciting to be taking it with you to France! Would love to read what you've been up to when you get a second. Have a really lovely hols. CT xx

  10. Glad to hear Poppy is ok - hope she recovers from the operation soon. Loved reading about your willow and all the associated wildlife.

    1. Thank you :-) She seems much more perky today.

  11. We lost our Ornamental cherry tree this year - so sad. Now we have to find a replacement.

    1. Thank you for the comment. It always sad when a tree dies. Hope you find the one you're looking for.

  12. I must write that worry quote down and place it on out bulletin board.
    Aw sweet Poppy I remember when you first came home and were a wee pup by the fire ~ glad you are recovering nicely.

    1. It's a useful one to remember :-) She is recovering well, thanks Willow x

  13. That's a lovely reflective post CT which I have really enjoyed reading. The folklore connected with the Willow is marvelous and beautiful. I am amazed at the did you spot it? What an incredible creature, and l loved the Lacewing larve too.
    Agree with you about mice, I can't claim to like everything, especially very big garden spiders (which I had to chase out of the way when packing up garden things) but all creatures are all welcome in whatever garden I own, where they will be as safe as I can make it for them.

    1. Thanks Suzie. It's really good to know how many people there are who really do care about the wild things we share our spaces with and act to help them x

  14. Another lovely set of photos. I like those harvest man, they're one of my favourite kinds! I think I found a tree damsel bug too the other day, not something I see around here so I need to look it up to be sure!

    1. I'd not been aware of seeing a tree damsel bug before either so was so pleased when I realised what it was :-)

  15. I've just come over from your Moth post link to read - and glad I did, very glad.

  16. Oh, oh, thank you so much. You are a girl after my own heart. I appreciate every word you wrote and I am happy that the operations was a success.

    Sending fond wishes from a HOT California garden,

    Sharon Lovejoy


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x