BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


birds


  • Lights, Camera, Action

    very green spring grass, with the first cuckoo flower

    On Sunday, I saw my first of these ladys smocks (also known as cuckoo flowers) growing in the forecourt of the police station. They are much earlier here in the west, than I was expecting, but it seems to me that the celandines, which have appeared en masse this week, are rather later. Along the footpath and in the park, the green things, which seemed to have stopped and started during March, have suddenly stirred into action. Ferns are unfolding, sheets of acid green petty spurge (also known as milkweed), dogs mercury – which indicates ancient woodland – and bluebell leaves are showing in the wilder bits of the park, and shepherd’s purse, ground ivy and whitlow grass are along the pavements. I never expected so much plantlife in this built up suburb, but it seems even more abundant here than back in Stirling.

    shepds purse showing seed heads and some flowers at the top

    The birds are busier too. We have several goldfinches, siskins, blue tits and chaffinches as regular visitors to the bird feeder. Though the sparrows seem to have dispersed a little, the blackbirds are back and the starlings are still here in their bronzed summer feathers. The common gulls have been joined by lesser black-backed gulls, and I can hear woodpeckers drumming in the trees along the footpath whenever I go out into the garden. All the smaller trees are wearing more green – hawthorn, birch, bramble, poplar and hazel, and the pink cherry trees the builders scattered around the estate have fat buds just ready to open.

    In the garden, I have seeds germinating in the cold frame, leaves on the dwarf willow and new shoots of lily of the valley and martagon lilies. The culinary herbs are settling into their new patch, and the first flowers have appeared on the rosemary. The beds at the back are looking a little bare, as I’m moving some plants to the front, and the new herbs to replace them won’t be ready for a while, but there are tulips I didn’t expect coming out all pink and scarlet, and plenty of purple blossom developing on the lilac.

    camellia in flower. To the right, a lilac in leaf, to the left daffodils

    Settling into this new space is like folk dancing – advance and retire, hands across the set, turn and progress. You think you discover something, you realise you got it wrong, then maybe, after all …. This garden does have more light and air than our previous garden, as I expected, and the soil is as heavy, but it isn’t acid, and barren. It is rich, and though full of stones, it’s also full of worms and grubs and ladybirds, and bumble bees have come out in hundreds now the weather is warm. In winter the back of the house was in shadow all morning and the sun rose straight into my study window, but now the first light shines into the windows to the right, and by ten the sun is so high over the roofs that most of the back, as well as all of the front, is in the light. The soil is not as wet as I had imagined on the south side – in fact it seems to have dried out a lot in the last coouple of weeks – but against the north and west fences, it’s still very wet. I think there may be an underground watercourse running down into the burn behind the house, and I’m planning to move all the wet-loving herbs – the marsh mallows, the flag irises and the meadowsweet there.

    It seems appropriate too, that there are finally new poems to think about, and new kinds of writing to experiment with. I haven’t done many reviews lately, because I still have fourteen boxes of books waiting for shelves, but I am working on an essay about geopoetics as a commentary on a discussion project I am working on with Pentland poet Helen Boden, whose debut collection A Landscape to Figure In was published by Red Squirrel Press last October. Look out for this in my next newsletter, which I hope to send out next month sometime.


  • Thaw

    stony soil, some straggle grass and the first sight of tulip and daffodil bulbs showing through

    The Thaw

    Just two degrees of difference.

    The air softens and dulls, grass blurs.

    The privet heights are quick with sparrow-bustle,

    blackbird hop, wren flit, a new colony

    born in craic and kerfuffle.

    A great tit trapezes birch-stems

    nibbling the catkin sheaths,

    the see-saw strop of teacher, teacher

    sharpens the morning, adding fizz

    to spring’s still coolness.

    Ebb-tide is swimming with ducks,

    upended, spinning, suddenly noisy.

    Paired swans, humped leavings of snow,

    melt into the drained river.

    The slick banks slump into silty furrows.

    Damp is gathering with the first drift of rain.

    Earth relaxes ice-bound muscles,

    lets out the sharp sour stink of thaw –

    mud and leaf-mould, and frost-burned grass

    collapsing into wetness, rot, fertility.

    This is from Wherever We Live Now, when the ice had been thick on the banks of the Forth, and the sudden change was like the curtains swishing back at the theatre. Here, in the place of the fire, it is not so dramatic. There was a wee sprinkle of snow and a bit of frost, and there was a good six degrees of difference, but everywhere looked quiet, and gray and a little bit cooler than you might expect, and it still does. But the birds have had their cue. The robins have been busy all winter, but the great tits have joined in with their ‘teacher, teacher’ and on the path into town the blackbirds are marking their territories, and all the rooks crows, jackdaws and magpies are sorting themselves out, and clucking over the state of last year’s nests. These birds are shamelessly at it already, having only packed it in reluctantly in November.

    a pair of amorous street pigeons, one stalking the other along the roof

    What with bad knees and poetry and trying to get the house sorted out, I did not do as much in the garden as I had imagined, but now I’m glad, because there are several places where bulbs are coming up, and goodness knows what damage I might have done if I’d breezed in, clearly and improving and hacking things to bits. But we finally brought home all the plants which had been holidaying at my son’s house.

    open boot of a car packed with plants in pots visible are bay, lavender mulifidia, a planter with various culinary herbs and a camellia

    There will have to be considerable reconfiguring of the current beds to accommodate all of them, but it can be done bit by bit. And there are some new and exciting seeds that I saved for when we settled. Looks like my knee healed just in time.

    On the poetry front, I’ve been involved in judging the William Bonar competition, doing final proofs for a collection by Ruby McCann, and selecting poems by Red Squirrel Press poets for Herbology News. And I even wrote a poem. There is more of a thaw going on than I realised!

    bay trees placed either side of the french door into the garden

  • Summer in the Garden

    gallicas

    The gallica rose is in full bloom, but it is soaking wet. After a lovely fortnight, the summer is cold and rainy, and the whole garden is lush and dripping. The strawberries have all been eaten by the sparrows and starlings, but there are gooseberries and blackcurrants aplenty. The angelica is setting seeds in flower-heads like great chandeliers, and there are marigolds and borage in flower. I have been drying sage and thyme, and taking cuttings, some of which have struck, but not as many as I might have expected. The tomatoes are beginning to set fruit, but they are looking chilled, and I’ve shut the greenhouse door for a day or two.

    On the verges the cow parsley is going over, but ox-eye daisy and willow herb are going strong and the thistles are just feeling their strength before they flower. Usually there are clouds of clover and vetch, but not so much this year. On the other hand, the wild roses and elder flower have been magnificent.

    wildroses2

    The young birds have done very well, apart from the black-backed gulls. They took up residence among the rubble of the warehouse they used to nest on, but surveyors seem to have disturbed them at the wrong time, and I haven’t seen any chicks this year. I am sure that the smaller birds will benefit, but gulls (although they seem so prevalent, not to mention annoying) are endangered now, and I miss the racket they usually make. I’ve seen more kestrels, however, and the first bat, and this morning I saw a juvenile great spotted woodpecker on the birch tree in the garden – it’s an ill summer that doesn’t favour some species!

     


  • Half a Hundred Herbs – Week 46 Yarrow

    yarrowYarrow is a tough herb which grows in hedgerows, fields, lawns, rocky hillsides, and frankly anywhere it can get the chance. It is not remotely particular in any way, flowering almost constantly ad holding its green feathery leaves through all but the most severe weather. In the wild it is a dull off-white – not particularly attractive – but there are garden varieties in bright pinks reds and yellows, and if you dry them they will keep their bright colours through the winter. Obdurate is the word. It has a dusty dark bitter scent, that is not unpleasant, and adds a good base note to herbal tea.

    It lends its toughness to its healing properties too. It is most famous for stopping bleeding, so is used for cuts, nosebleeds and bruises, and as it has anti-viral and anti-microbial properties, it is good for fevers too. I’ve used it in combination with elderflower and peppermint to make a tea for colds and flu – its part in the process is to repair inflamed and damaged tissues, so it’s great for aching sinuses.

    Famously, dried yarrow stems were used for divination in I Ching, but even in this country yarrow was used by girls trying to see their true loves. There are references to it in pagan celebrations, and it was sometimes linked to witchcraft. It comes up in poetry sometimes as a symbol of resistance, independence and survival, particularly in Gerry Loose’s magnificent Fault Lines which was published by Vagabond Poets last year.

    Autumn is drawing on, but the summer was so late, and recent weather has been so mild and still that many flowers are still in bloom – roses, marigolds, welsh poppies, jasmine, cyclamen, mullein – even the violets are showing colour. But the wind has got up this week, and rain is forecast over the weekend. Birds are coming to the feeder, including tree sparrows and goldfinches, and the cormorant is back on the river. People have already started talking about potential for cold weather and storms – I think we might be in for a wild winter!

     


  • Half a Hundred Herbs – the culinary patch

    herbs in the new culinary patch
    all planted up

    The new herbs are in – sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, winter savory and lemon thyme. They are too small to make much impact yet, but they seem to be settling in well, and the current good weather is certainly helping. The chives are flourishing, lemon balm is coming through, and the sorrel plants are beginning to recover from their rough handling. All the seeds I sowed two weeks ago are up, apart from parsley (well, it does have to go seven times down to hell before it comes up) and mollucella laevis, which isn’t doing a thing.

    The knot garden is beginning to green up, but nothing shows up on a photograph yet, so I’ll wait a week or two and try again. Some of the other herbs are doing well –

    pots below the culinary patch
    mint, tarragon and chives

    Pots which were in the greenhouse now have lots of new shoots.

    violet, two blooms
    flourishing violet plant

    \the violets in the stock bed seem to like the richer soil here.

    primroses and wind anemones
    primroses and wind anemones

    I’ve had my first flowers on the wind anemones under the birch tree. The next step will be to sow seeds outside – chervil, marigolds, poppies. Rain is forecast over the weekend, so that will be a job for tomorrow.

    The frogspawn has gone from the full stop stage to the comma, as the tadpoles grow, and the hedges are full of sparrows and blackbirds building nests. I can hear starlings, great tits, wrens and chaffinches singing most days, and yesterday for the first time this year, I heard skylarks.  They must be in the fields at the end of the village, but their song pours into my garden like rain. Fabulous.

     


  • Half a Hundred Herbs – Sowing the Seeds

    daffodils and cyclamen in pots  The cloud has come down and it feels bitter outside, although the frost has gone. But on Tuesday, the sun was shining and I took the first photos. The garden is beginning to wake up and put on colour.

    The crocuses are out undercrocuses first primrosethe rowan tree,

     

     

     

     

     

    and the first primroses are showing.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    pondI’ve seen frogs mating in the pond, but there isn’t any spawn yet. The black-backed gulls have come up from the coast and they are staking out territories on the warehouse roof, and bullying the smaller black-headeds who have been here all winter and thought they had the river to themselves. There”s a woodpigeon attempting to build a nest in a completely unviable fork in a birch tree, and I’ve heard a woodpecker hammering, and a thrush singing. best of all, the curlews are back.

    All of which means it’s time to sow the first seeds. the sweet peas are in, and the tomatoeoas and half-hardy annuals will be next. They’ll go in the propagator on my windowsill – it might look north, but it’s a dormer with light on three sides, so it usually does pretty well. The hardy annuals, first salads and chervil and parsley will go into pots in the greenhouse, which seems to be reliably frost-free, and we’ll be off.

    flowering quinceThe dried and frozen herbs I’ve been cooking with over the winter are coming to an end, but the chives are coming through now, and the sage thyme and oregano have enough growth to risk a first cut. Everything else is beginning to bud, now, though the rosemary stilllooks a bit shocked, and the sorrel has a lot of fresh green leaves. I love the taste of sorrel, but you do have to get it very early, or it will be too sour for pleasure. There may be sorrel sauce with the chicken tonight!

     


  • tidying up

    I’ve spent all week cleaning and tidying stuff. There seems no end to the waste paper a family can generate. Not to mention other stuff – out of date packets of semolina and glace cherries, guarantees and packaging for things you don’t even possess any more, six types of mismatched glass tumblers, redundant cables and keyboards, souvenirs whose provenance you don’t even remember.
    I have also spring-cleaned (odd how often spring-cleaning happens in autumn) my office, my accounts, my filing system and my work projects. I’d been getting bogged down in research (so many interesting things seem important and relevant – I think I was a jackdaw in a previous life)and not really thinking what exactly I wanted to do. But once you know that, the how and the when fall into place so neatly.
    I’m working on a collection of poems and short stories for the Lúcháir project while I put my notes together for Recusant and experiment with dialogue and layers of narrative and a more evolved and involved form than the one I’ve been used to.



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