Literally ‘by the way’ these impressive soft bracket fungi caught my eye. Without a Polish Babcia to advise me, I thought I’d best leave them for whichever creature has been eating the one at the right. After all, the birds eat yew berries that are poison to us.
We are still in Scotland with Dr Johnson, who again laments the lack of trees. Deforestation is not a new sin! However it is clear that something could be done about it, since two landowners were planting. There are trees around the village of Strichen today, restful to the eye and helping restore the climate.
Next morning we continued our journey, pleased with our reception at Slanes Castle, of which we had now leisure to recount the grandeur and the elegance; for our way afforded us few topics of conversation. The ground was neither uncultivated nor unfruitful; but it was still all arable. Of flocks or herds there was no appearance. I had now travelled two hundred miles in Scotland, and seen only one tree not younger than myself.
We dined this day at the house of Mr. Frazer of Streichton, who shewed us in his grounds some stones yet standing of a druidical circle, and what I began to think more worthy of notice, some forest trees of full growth …
“We had now a prelude to the Highlands. We began to leave fertility and culture behind us, and saw for a great length of road nothing but heath; yet at Fochabars, a seat belonging to the duke of Gordon, there is an orchard, which in Scotland I had never seen before, with some timber trees, and a plantation of oaks.
from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson.
In many ways Thomas Traherne anticipates Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’. He grasped the idea of creation as a whole, rather than an assortment of individual entities. He would not have known of the Water Cycle, of the Gulf Stream, and certainly not of human pollution poisoning and clogging up the oceans. But because he saw creation as a loving home for each one of us, but also to be shared in joy: It is more yours than if you had been made alone.
Could the seas serve you, were you alone, more than now they do? Why do you not render thanks for them? They serve you better than if you were in them: everything serving you best in its proper place.
Alone you were lord over all: bound to admire His eternal love who raised you out of nothing into this glorious world which He created for you. To see infinite wisdom, goodness and power making the heavens and the earth, the seas, the air, the sun and stars! What wonder, what joy, what glory, what triumph, what delight should this afford! It is more yours than if you had been made alone. (Century II.13)
The Columban Missionaries know of what they speak with regard to God’s Creation. This post is a gateway to some of their experience and wisdom.
Episode Two of the Columban Biodiversity Podcast series ‘Jubilee for the Earth,’ is on the theme, ‘A New Kind of Economy’.
“We need to grow in the conviction” Pope Francis says, “that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development” (Laudato Si’ #191).
Two members of the Columban international team for justice, peace, and ecology – lay missionary John Din in the Philippines and Columban co-worker Becca Eastwood in the United States – discuss the urgent need to re-imagine how our economy operates and to redefine what human flourishing looks like.
Hibernation of birds was one area where Gilbert White’s instincts were wrong: unlike snakes and harvest mice, neither swallows nor any other birds hibernate; they migrate. I have seen a house martin or two, flying over Dumpton Park in Thanet, just a few metres from the coast, on 20th October one year. Is it likely that they fly south to Senegal? Conversely, is it likely that they hide in river mud, completely without trace?
About ten years ago I used to spend some weeks yearly at Sunbury, which is one of those pleasant villages lying on the Thames, near Hampton Court. In the autumn, I could not help being much amused with those myriads of the swallow kind which assemble in those parts. But what struck me most was, that, from the time they began to congregate, forsaking the chimneys and houses, they roosted every night in the osier-beds of the aits of that river. Now, this resorting towards that element, at that season of the year, seems to give some countenance to the northern opinion (strange as it is) of their retiring under water. A Swedish naturalist is so much persuaded of that fact, that he talks, in his calendar of Flora, as familiarly of the swallows going under water in the beginning of September, as he would of his poultry going to roost a little before sunset.
An observing gentleman in London writes me word that he saw a house-martin, on the twenty-third of last October, flying in and out of its nest in the Borough. And I myself, on the twenty-ninth of last October (as I was travelling through Oxford), saw four or five swallows hovering round and settling on the roof of the county hospital.
Now is it likely that these poor little birds (which perhaps had not been hatched but a few weeks) should, at that late season of the year, and from so midland a county, attempt a voyage to Goree or Senegal, almost as far as the equator?
White depended upon correspondence with other gentlemen researchers to further his researches – and theirs. He contributed to the identification of the harvest mouse as a separate species. ‘Nondescript’ here means not having its description recorded in a scientific publication. Two inches is about 5 cm.
I have procured some of the mice mentioned in my former letters, a young one and a female with young, both of which I have preserved in brandy. From the colour, shape, size, and manner of nesting, I make no doubt but that the species is nondescript. They are much smaller, and more slender, than the mus domesticus medius of Ray, and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour; their belly is white, a straight line along their sides divides the shades of their back and belly. They never enter into houses; are carried into ricks and barns with the sheaves, abound in harvest; and build their nests amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and sometimes in thistles. They breed as many as eight at a litter, in a little round nest composed of the blades of grass or wheat.
One of these nests I procured this autumn, most artificially platted, and composed of the blades of wheat, perfectly round, and about the size of a cricket ball, with the aperture so ingeniously closed, that there was no discovering to what part it belonged. It was so compact and well filled, that it would roll across the table without being discomposed, though it contained eight little mice that were naked and blind. As this nest was perfectly full, how could the dam come at her litter respectively, so as to administer a teat to each? Perhaps she opens different places for that purpose, adjusting them again when the business is over; but she could not possibly be contained herself in the ball with her young, which moreover would be daily increasing in bulk. This wonderful procreant cradle, an elegant instance of the efforts of instinct, was found in a wheat-field suspended in the head of a thistle.
As to the small mice, I have farther to remark, that though they hang their nests for breeding up amidst the straws of the standing corn, above the ground, yet I find that, in the winter, they burrow deep in the earth, and make warm beds of grass: but their grand rendezvous seems to be in corn-ricks, into which they are carried at harvest. A neighbour housed an oat-rick lately, under the thatch of which were assembled nearly a hundred, most of which were taken, and some I saw. I measured them, and found that, from nose to tail, they were just two inches and a quarter, and their tails just two inches long. Two of them, in a scale, weighed down just one copper halfpenny, which is about the third of an ounce avoirdupois: so that I suppose they are the smallest quadrupeds in this island. A full-grown Mus medius domesticus weighs, I find, one ounce lumping weight, which is more than six times as much as the mouse above; and measures from nose to rump four inches and a quarter, and the same in its tail.
Zwergmaus (Micromys minutus), fotografiert 9/2005 von Hendrik Osadnik
It seems that Gilbert White had some sympathy with the poor of his district, who had free spirits among them who were prepared to stand up to the nobility.
At present the deer of the Holt are much thinned and reduced by the night hunters, who perpetually harass them in spite of the efforts of numerous keepers, and the severe penalties that have been put in force against them as often as they have been detected, and rendered liable to the lash of the law. Neither fines nor imprisonments can deter them, so impossible is it to extinguish the spirit of sporting which seems to be inherent in human nature.
General Howe turned out some German wild boars and sows in his forests, to the great terror of the neighbourhood, and, at one time, a wild bull or buffalo; but the country rose upon them and destroyed them.
A very large fall of timber, consisting of about one thousand oaks, has been cut this spring (viz., 1784) in the Holt forest: one fifth of which, it is said, belongs to the grantee, Lord Stawell. He lays claim also to the lop and top; but the poor of the parishes of Binsted and Frinsham, Bentley and Kingsley, assert that it belongs to them, and assembling in a riotous manner, have actually taken it all away. One man, who keeps a team, has carried home for his share forty stacks of wood. Forty-five of these people his lordship has served with actions. These trees, which were very sound and in high perfection, were winter-cut, viz., in February and March, before the bark would run. In old times the Holt was estimated to be eighteen miles, computed measure from water-carriage, viz., from the town of Chertsey, on the Thames; but now it is not half that distance, since the Wey is made navigable up to the town of Godalming, in the county of Surrey.
The Wey joins the Thames, so timber could be sent there, and on to dockyards along the Estuary and into Kent. Winter-cut trees were easier to transport, as the sap was not running beneath the bark, and the wood was appreciably lighter in weight.
Within the present limits of the forest are three considerable lakes, Hogmer, Cranmer, and Wolmer, all of which are stocked with carp, tench, eels, and perch: but the fish do not thrive well, because the water is hungry, and the bottoms are a naked sand.
A circumstance respecting these ponds, though by no means peculiar to them, I cannot pass over in silence; and that is, that instinct by which in summer all the kine, whether oxen, cows, calves, or heifers, retire constantly to the water during the hotter hours; where, being more exempt from flies, and inhaling the coolness of that element, some belly deep, and some only to mid-leg, they ruminate and solace themselves from about ten in the morning till four in the afternoon, and then return to their feeding. During this great proportion of the day they drop much dung, in which insects nestle, and so supply food for the fish, which would be poorly subsisted but from this contingency. Thus Nature, who is a great economist, converts the recreation of one animal to the support of another! Thomson, who was a nice observer of natural occurrences, did not let this pleasing circumstance escape him.
He says, in his “Summer,”
“A various group the herds and flocks compose; . . . on the grassy bank Some ruminating lie; while others stand Half in the flood, and, often bending, sip The circling surface.”
White is more aware than many modern people of the cycle of life! These Sussex heifers were beside the Little Stour River in July 2020.
The worker bees are enjoying the sunflowers, and they don’t mind a long day in the sun. They have more stamina for the heat than I do. Come the winter, when many of these workers will die, my friend P will hang out the sunflower seed heads for the birds. As always, P’s sunflowers are taller than mine by a good metre!
Let us hope and pray that restrictions can soon be lifted and remain lifted on getting together to work the garden and share many activities that are still socially distanced and carried out wearing masks.
And let’s continue to look and see and hear and listen to what is going on around us. And Laudato si’!