long-tailed tit

Cold-hearted December

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Sunday 12th December 1999

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crack willow IT'S NOT JUST the Sycamore by the filling station that has been a victim of the storms. The Christmas Tree that had been erected at the other side of the bridge is down too. Someone has stuck the broken off top of the tree into the hole. Luckily it hadn't yet been decorated with lights.

In the wood the stream is rushing. If we repeated our experiment with the satsuma I'm sure we'd get a faster speed. It has risen up above the colony of bracket fungus and Honey Fungus on the trunk of the tumbled Crack Willow lying along the bank.

robins Two Robins share the same branch without any trace of aggression. I know they keep winter territories but I didn't think they would be paired up at this time of year.

gable end There's nothing like writing a book to make you realise how little you know about a subject. I'm researching the history of the valley so I take a closer look as we walk past the row of stone-built cottages near the dam. I think these are about 400 years old. The stone-framed windows are small, but, to judge by one or two blocked up examples, they were originally smaller still. On a gable end I notice flagstones set into the wall. I suspect these were included to add rigidity.

fieldfares A flock Long-tailed tits are busy in the hedge by the lane. We reach the towpath at Lady Ann Bridge as the light starts to fade. Eight Fieldfares fly over us and plummet into a thorn bush where they hop about for a minute, then move on.

kingfisher It's almost dark, the canal is opaquely brownish, and yet the Kingfisher zooms along ahead of us. How it can see to fish I can't imagine.

Asses' Ears

The trees are bare along the towpath now. Lines from By the Lake, one of Edith Sitwell's poems for Walton's Facade, come to mind. (By the way, you can visit the Sitwells' house in Scarborough; it is now a natural history museum.)

'And do you remember when last we wandered this shore?'
'Ah no! For it is cold-hearted December.'
'Dead, the leaves that like asses' ears hung on the trees
When last we wandered and squandered joy here;
Now Midas, your husband, will listen for these Whispers,
These tears, for joy's bier.'

I picture Sweet Chestnut leaves, which turn gold and hang limply in autumn, for the ass's ears, although there are none here, by the canal.

There is a French version of the Greek legend of Midas, king of Phyrigia;

'A parallel tale is told of Portzmach, king of a part of Brittany. He had all the barbers of his kingdom put to death, lest they should announce to the public that he had the ears of a horse. An intimate friend was found willing to shave him, after swearing profound secrecy, but unable to contain himself, he confided his secret to a river bank. The reeds of this river were used for pan pipes and hautbois, which repeated the words, 'Portzmach, King Portzmach has horse's ears.'

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Copyright Cassell Publishers Ltd, 1996)

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

E-mail; 'richard@daelnet.co.uk'

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