black-headed gull

Longships and Lime

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Sunday 6th February 2000

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sweet chestnut SOME OF THE Sweet Chestnuts of Kensington Gardens remind me of the Gothick costume designs for the current television dramatisation of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.

grey squirrel in lime tree A Grey Squirrel in the upper branches of a Lime tree nibbles back the thin layer of bark to get at the stringy bast beneath. Bast is the phloem of the tree; the tissues that transport sugars and other foods around the plant. The Vikings used ropes made from lime bast for the rigging of their longships.

grey squirrel at nest hole The squirrel gathers a good mouthful of the material, tucking in the straggling ends so that it is easier to carry. It comes down the lime tree, crosses the path and climbs up the far side of a large Horse Chestnut. I immediately walk around to see where it is heading but when I get there, a few seconds later, the squirrel is without its bundle, perching on a knobbly lump on the tree. Then it moves its tail and I see a neat nesthole, two or three inches in diameter, and some 15 feet up on the trunk.

horse chestnut bud I've also seen House Sparrows gathering lime bast as nesting material.

Horse Chestnut now has large sticky buds.

The Serpentine

Canada goose We take our morning coffee at the cafe at the far end of the lake. I sketch a passing Canada Goose. Like the swans I was watching the other day, these birds can change the proportions of their neck, from short and thick to long and slender. Confusing if you're sketching them.

Matthew Arnold

sweet chestnut In his Lines written in Kensington Gardens, Matthew Arnold (1822-88) describes a glade in the park that has, in its essentials, scarcely changed (apart from the disappearance of the sheep that grazed here) in over a hundred years. He describes 'the girdling city's hum', years before the arrival of the first car. He mentions pines, elms (sadly wiped out by Dutch Elm disease), chestnuts, a thrush flying over and daisies amongst the grasses.

I'm sure he must have seen the Sweet Chestnut I sketched this morning.

'Calm Soul of all things! make it mine
To feel, amid the city's jar,
That there abides a peace of thine
Man did not make, and cannot mar.'

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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