Friday, 16 October 2015

Out In The Countryside On A Chilly Day

First of all, I Greatly Appreciated all your comments from the last post. It turned out to be a real thought-provoker for me and also comforting when so many of you stood up and shared similar stories. 

I am still feeling a bit jittery (recovering from a migraine last Sunday doesn't help) but having gone through the diary and cancelled a number of things that were threatening to sink the next three months in the run up to Christmas, life feels more manageable. No doubt that will eventually filter down and sooth the ruffled nervous system, given time :o)

I mentioned the need to jettison things and slow down to one of my lovely bosses at college this week and it turns out he is feeling the exact same way himself. I think perhaps it's modern life, sending all of us the message that we need to be stretching, stretching, stretching all the time if we're to be of any value. Nonsense of course, but a pervasive sense nevertheless.

My session with my First Years this week gave me a much-needed boost. We worked on public speaking, which most of them are very worried about but which they will all have to do more than once on the course. I got them all reading a verse each of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. It's such a great poem to read out loud among a group of people and for public speaking exercises it's top notch, having a good pace, a cracking story, good rhymes and lots of punctuation marks as hints for where to pause and breath. We messed about with ideas like walking about the room instead of standing still, looking up at the audience at the end of each line etc. There was laughter; there were some interesting theatrics and interpretations and most of all there was improvement and engagement. They were fab and I was proud of them all. It isn't an easy thing to step outside your comfort zone but every single one of them did it. We celebrated with chocolate eclairs and congratulatory smiles and applause at the end.

I spent a nice hour or two out on The Chalk this morning, which as you know is my Favourite Place To Be. The dogs are furious because they weren't allowed to come. Poppy has expressed her annoyance by Illegally Removing A Plant Pot from the greenhouse and throwing it into the middle of the lawn where I can't reach her without her seeing me approach, thus giving her plenty of time to grab it and run off. She's busy ripping it to shreds as I type. Ted, meanwhile, contents himself with casting Long Reproachful Glances my way and emitting the occasional small, disgruntled woof, when he isn't dragging the new dog bed noisily across the room while I am trying to write an essay. This is done by him holding one end of the raggedy old pheasant toy while Pop sits inside the bed holding the other end and being pulled across the floor. I will try and get a video for you. I have promised them a decent walk tomorrow and on Sunday.

We were collecting samples on The Chalk from our nitrate/ cover crop trial, or trying too this morning. It's been so dry there was nothing in the pots. I got there a bit early and went for a wander to admire the hedge that runs across the arable field. At first sight it looks raggedy, unkempt, a bit sparse and thin here and there and mostly dominated by ivy...

 
But as you walk along you begin to notice signs of Ancient Hedgeness in the number and type of species growing there...












Ash, Oak, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Hazel, Ivy, Spindle, Willow, Purging Buckthorn, Yellow Lichen, Mugwort, White Dead Nettle, Nettles, Thistle, another type of lichen.

Hooper's Rule states you can age a hedge by the following formula: number of woody species in a 300 yard stretch multiplied by 100. I walked broadly 300 yards, so by that calculation this hedge is 900 years old.

It's not impossible that it is that old, although there are flaws to Hooper's Rule, not least of which is that hedges have been ripped out and replanted here over the last 50 or so years and the replanting tends to happen with a number of species in the mix, so a hedge that is actually 20 years old could be taken as being 1000. Even so, I have a feeling this is an Old Hedge. A Guardian of The Chalk.  In all likelihood a remnant of Ancient Woodland.

Chalk isn't especially fertile. The vegetative communities that have grown up on it and which we still have (on the Downs at least) today are the result, mostly, of human activity. Animals have been grazed on it since the Bronze Age, and as these were mainly sheep, who close-crop the ground and don't give much back in the way of fertilizer, Chalk soils tend to be low in nutrients and the vegetation growing on them tight and compact, ergo (great word) not much use for farming. Until Haber and Bosch came along anyway.

I've heard their process (which enabled Hydrogen and Nitrogen (from the air) to be combined under extremely high pressure to create Ammonia, and therefore the mass production of artificial fertiliser, and the destruction of vast swathes of the countryside and the explosion in the world's population to boot) called the most important invention of the 20th century. They were working on it in the early 1900s and went into production in 1913. As an ecologist I wouldn't put it that way: we're picking up the pieces now, in polluted ground water levels and river water and in the widespread loss of habitats in the countryside and the damage done to ecosystems which ultimately rebounds on us as they provide us with the air we breath, the water we drink and the soils we grow our food in.

Anyway, Chalk being largely low nutrient stuff it was more or less left alone until the Haber Bosch process meant it could be forcibly made fertile. Since then we've ploughed it, stuffed it full of fertilizer and stuck vast swathes of it into agricultural production and as a result, we've lost much of the rich botany and invert life it once supported. The Downlands are the last refuge for much of it. All of this explains why I suspect the hedge is as old as it seems. Because it's sitting right in the middle of an ancient landscape that has more or less stayed the same for the last 5000 years, and only really shifted in the last 50.

It was cold out in the fields, but the Hedge offered an amazing amount of shelter. It deadened the wind entirely and the air on the lee side was definitely a few degrees warmer. You forget how important that simple word "shelter" is when you live in a house with heating and electricity available at the merest touch of a button, and you have access to warm, thick, waterproof clothing and somewhere to hang it to dry.

One of the things I love best about being outside is the way nature reconnects you to the most basic elements of life. It's more realer than any other environment (as Granny Weatherwax would say). I don't have to hunt my food and I can sleep at night in a warm, safe bed, but I would really hate not to get out into the woods and fields, the hills and valleys, and pick up a sense of what life was like when life was like that.

I'll leave you with some people who have made a much-welcome return to the garden this week and wish you all a pleasant weekend filled with nice, calming, happy, relaxing things.





 

CT x

 

29 comments:

  1. Lovely post and the previous one too. I think that getting older and entering a new life phase can bring many advantages as well as a few problems. I can honestly say that life in ones's 60s and 70s is better by far than in one's youth. I am thoroughly enjoying mine anyway and like you getting out into nature is a real need especially when it brings home how lucky I am to be warm and safe and to have everything I need.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally agree- I love all the new opportunities that getting older brings. Thanks for the comment :o)

      Delete
  2. What beautiful photos of your world. :) Yes, it's wonderful to slow down and truly appreciate the people we love and things that are important to us. I just read an essay from the New York Times the other day about 'the glorification of busy.' It's true. It's one thing to have a productive life and contribute, but it's another to be so busy we're no good for ourselves or anyone else!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I couldn't agree more and I love the way you phrased that Mary- being so busy that you're no good for yourself or anyone else is exactly it. Thank you :o)

      Delete
  3. I think we all need to slow down and take time to smell the roses, take care of yourself and have a relaxing weekend, Marlene x

    ReplyDelete
  4. I tried that dating thing with some of our hedges a few years ago and they came out a similar age. The fields where there are hedges are quite small pastures, so they escaped the time when they uprooted the hedges to plough large areas. I understand that in some areas of the country they are now replanting hedges.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you know the history of the area/ farm you can be pretty confident of the aging technique. Your hedges may well have been there donkeys years. And you're quite right- many hedges are being replanted as we now understand their value ecologically and also to farming.

      Delete
  5. I am SO glad that I found your blog. It's warm, funny, interesting, informative... Thank you CT. I was thinking along similar lines as I walked my dog in the pouring rain this morning (along chalk clifftops here). It is essential to Get Out and feel the elements, notice things, feel alive. And you have photos of long-tailed tits. What could be better! Have a good weekend and enjoy your dog walking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sam. I love being outside in all weathers- we have a saying here: there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong type of clothing :o) Have a lovely weekend x

      Delete
  6. Gorgeous photos, and a really interesting post. I love to hear about ancient woodlands. The bad agricultural practices have done such damage. So very shortsighted. I hope you and Ted have a good time taking Poppy for a walk. I bet they look hilarious going across the floor with the dog bed. Wishing you all a good weekend. CJ xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They make me smile so much I forget to be cross with them. Although there have been some stern admonishments here this week- it has got to the stage where I just look at Pop when she's being noisy and she takes herself outside to calm down :o) XX

      Delete
  7. Hallo there...Jittery feelings...very good description. I think they are a combination of physical and sensory overload...well acquainted with that particular feeling. A friend of mine says she gets them when she is over anxious...so decreasing the overall things in the diary helps massively!! And if we are going to have Christmas thrust upon us from September...the lead up may as well be as peaceful as it can be.

    Your students are fortunate to have such an obviously caring and wonderful mentor in you...(Choccie eclairs aside). How brilliant to get them standing and communicating in that way. I hated public speaking, though now (another brilliant thing of being nearly 50 and not giving a monkeys!) I really rather enjoy it. My view is that if you can beat a serious illness, talking in front of people is a doddle.

    The school system here starts public speaking from the prep years. Show and Tell...(the necessary weekly evil) starts them standing up and now our 17 year old and her 14 year old brother do it at school on a regular basis without as much as a nervous jitter. I take my hat off to them....they seem to love it.

    Anyway CT...great work...glad your students appreciate your wonderful way with them, your eclairs and your humour. You will be talked about for years to come.

    Have a great weekend! (mine started off with a 2 hour beach walk, coffee and a new outfit for a 50th tonight) ;o)

    Happy days
    xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your weekend is sounding lovely! Physical and sensory overload- yes indeed. Poor old nervous system puts up with a lot but then says an emphatic NO when enough's enough I guess. I am so enjoying the study coaching. It is early days yet but I'm very pleased the class sees value in what I'm doing with them. Making learning enjoyable is much the best way to get results XX

      Delete
  8. I can just picture T & P getting up to their antics in a bid to entertain you and to provide some light relief from the stresses of life. I think that your plan to jettison some things is a good one, we all need some extra time occasionally. It seems that the feel of the weight of Christmas and so on is particularly heavy for quite a few people this year, me included, although I don't know why, but it does. Something in the air perhaps or all this talk about such a hard winter, I don't know. Anyway, I will stop waffling and say that I hope that you will feel less weight, that you will enjoy your weekend walks with the doggies and that all will be right again in your world very soon! Oh and by the way those first years are very lucky to have such a wonderful teacher as you! xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Christmas just starts too early. By the time Dec 25th arrives everyone's burnt out! We keep it simple here and get back to normal quite quickly afterwards (usually Boxing Day!). Thank you for your kind words re the teaching- much appreciated XX

      Delete
  9. *sigh* hedge-porn. thank you. :) i actually get a bit emotional when i read about your old hedges....it wriggles it's way down on a cellular level...i can't articulate it, without sounding quite batty but i've a feeling you know what i'm getting at. :)

    i'm giggling at the antics of Ted and Pop. it's all in the combined effort of blatant mischief and reproachful glances....teamwork, you know. it has the best effect.

    you are such a gift to those students -- you've obviously got a great sense of how to reach them...i'm very excited for when you're an official lecturer some day [even though i think you're an unofficial one now.....i suppose you *have* to move through the proper (read: tiresome) academic channels]. have you heard Loreena McKennit's version of The Highwayman? it's brilliant.

    glad to know you've eased your burden a bit....i've just got this weekend to get through and then things are a bit more easily paced too.

    xoxo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is something about Hedges, they have their own Earth Magic and are such supporters of life, history, tales etc etc. I do know what you mean.
      T and P are pleased M is home today because they know it means walks for sure. Pop has even stopped staring at the lead basket, so confident is she of being taken out!
      Haven't come across that version of the Highwayman but will now go and check it out, thanks my dear.
      Glad to hear next week will start to settle down for you XXX

      Delete
  10. I really hope the hedge is that old, as it's a beautiful thing, imagine how much it has seen and how much wildlife it has supported over those years.
    Harry is pretty good but it's the cats that play up terribly when the want my attention.
    I went out this morning and bought some new bird seed, different to the last lot, which was only eaten by wood pigeons, and hopefully I will see birds back in the garden soon.
    We've just had two lovely days off and managed to relax, I actually had a wonderful sleep on Thursday night.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So pleased you got a good night's sleep- the world is a much easier place to handle when you get your proper quota of rest. I'm sure the birds will love the new seed- mine are getting through vast quantities of various types already :o) XX

      Delete
  11. Hey CT,
    One of my regular walks with Honey is along a country road bordered by hedges on both sides. It's here that I pick berries and sloes. It's here that I admire all the different types of very well established lichen that grow on the trunks and branches of all the different trees. This week I stood and watched a group of long tailed tits chattering a fussing. They bring a smile to my lips everytime. I think this stretch must be quite old. I shall apply the calculation you've given above. I must admit that my tree and bush knowledge is woeful. Something I need to rectify. One thing about getting older, is that I just don't retain new information as readily as I used to.
    Lovely post, as always.
    Leanne xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your hedge sounds lovely. I bet you two know each other quite well by now. I find I notice them more these days, and take more time to look at them, think about them and admire them. Wonderful things :o) XX

      Delete
  12. An Autumn hedgerow is one of my favourite things. I've been stuck indoors for several days in succession and I'm really looking forward to stretching my legs on our chalk tomorrow. Hope you can do the same.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll bet you're desperate to get out! Nice weather here at the mo- hope it is the same with you :o)

      Delete
  13. Two reflections:
    -How I wish I had had a teacher like you when I went to school all those years...! I absolutely HATED public speaking and it was the constant dread for as long as I sat in a school bench. Awful, and nothing I miss!
    - Our furballs sure knows how to show their annoyance with us humans, don't they?! A good doggy sulk is hard to miss:))

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read a fantastic quote the other day from Maya Angelou- "people may forget the things you say, but they'll never forget how you made them feel." Not a bad mantra to live (or teach) by :o) XX

      Delete
  14. Interesting post and super photos. xx

    ReplyDelete
  15. Haber process was immediately used to create modern high explosives, very useful as 1914 was just aroundf the corner. Haber having invented this was then chased out of Germany by the Nazis before WW2, ironic given how useful high explosive is if you are after world domination.

    The fertiliser part of the story is what gets talked about now but the military killed and enormous amount of people...sorry rant over!

    Great blog by the way, keep going.

    ReplyDelete

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