Once in a Blue Moon is Tonight!

Tonight sees that rare occurrence, a second Full Moon within one month – a Blue Moon! Being August, it should also be a HUGE moon when it rises above the horizon…

The last Blue Moon that I saw was December 31st 2009. As one year shifted to another, that Blue Moon weaved its way across cold winter skies.

I was in Ireland at the time. I watched it before going to bed. Then I watched it when I woke up. It was still in the sky at 9.00am, heading for the range of hills that I can see from my kitchen.

I watched it dip lower..

And lower…

And lower…

Until eventually it disappeared…

..from sight.

But the Magic wasn’t over.

A few hours later the sun broke through, revealing a dusting of snow on the distant mountains (snow in Southern Ireland is as rare as a Blue Moon – some people might say sunshine is too!)

It was New Year’s Day 2010 and a Blue Moon had given way to Sunshine and Snowfall. Pure Magic. The year that followed proved to be just as special. It was the year I finished writing Tilly’s first adventure!

Best wishes – Essi

Nature Close-Ups: Bluebells

Right now the woods are carpeted with bluebells.

Some are an exquisite blue…

With flashes of turquoise…

Others mix blue with a hint of purple.

Or more than a hint…

A very few are pink.

And even fewer, pure white.

Enjoy them whilst they are here…they’ll soon be over!

Nature Close-Ups: Ferns

Over the last few weeks, the ferns and brackens have been unfolding their beautiful “golden” spirals.

Here is one in the early stages.

Close-up, the stems are like dragons.

They grow in groups along the hedgerows, like strange creatures with party-blowers.

Whenever I see them, I’m always amazed at the intricacy of nature’s designs.

🙂

Fantastic Foxes – Part 3

I continued to sit quietly with my back propped against a mossy Beech tree, whilst the vixen cub snoozed.

A short while later a bold rabbit came lolloping through the leaf-strewn wood. I watched it, wondering why on earth it would come so close to the foxes.

The young vixen sat up, ears pricked and eyes bright.

Down the bank she came, her hunting instincts up.

What happened next was very funny.

The cub ran as fast as she could towards the rabbit, but when she was about ten feet from it, she stopped. “What do I do now?” she seemed to wondering. At little more than half its size, she had no hope of catching it!

The rabbit knew this too. It stared rather disdainfully at the cub for a few seconds. Then it stamped a hind foot and was off into the undergrowth. At this the young vixen ran forwards again…

…and started to hunt through the leaves (as though the rabbit had somehow hidden itself in them).

Far safer to play at catching something imaginary than to attempt the real thing!

Eventually she worked her way right round the tree I was leaning against, popping her head out of the far side.

For a moment we looked at eachother. I don’t think she really knew what I was, but she was downwind of me now. Catching my scent, she turned and made her way back the way she had come.

Off up the bank…

…into the safety of her Earth.

And that was the last I saw of her (for that day).

Suddenly I was alone again on the old path through the woods, listening to the Beech trees whispering, my body filled with that uniquely-rich gratitude that comes when nature shares her secrets with us.

Fantastic Foxes – Part 2

I sat for a while with my back propped against the mossy trunk of a large Beech tree. My heart was still thumping from watching the two cubs playing in the sun, when a movement to my left caught my eye.

This is what I saw.

Another cub, moving from left to right, almost in the centre of the picture. Isn’t it amazing how camouflaged they are, given their fur is such bright orange when you see them close-up?

This one was even smaller than the others, a vixen cub. She made her way up one of the many runnels in the bank, paths made smooth by the passage of foxes and badgers over the years, but when she went into the Earth there was a scuffle and a yipping: the boys obviously did not want her to join them.

Seconds later she reappeared, made her way down the bank and found a sunny patch to sit in. If you look hard, you can see her right in the middle of this picture, in profile.

She soon curled up to have a sleep.

All I could see was one of her ears, sticking up the far side of a root.

I was downwind so I knew she could not scent me. Moving as slowly as I could, I shuffled towards her, using the palms of my hands to lift my weight off the ground whilst I inched forward.

Bit by bit I got closer…

And closer…

Until I was only a few feet away.

There was a big smile on my face as I watched this beautiful wild animal, fast asleep, entirely unaware of my presence.

Let’s leave her there for now, dreaming her foxy dreams!

Nature Close-Ups: Dandelions

I’m happiest when I’m outside, exploring. The weather has been extraordinarily wet here recently, but I still make sure I get out for at least a part of every day to immerse myself in the wonders of the natural world.

I love to nose around, looking at things close-up, imagining what it might be like to live as a tiny bug, a bird, or flower. With this in mind, I thought I’d do some simple posts to give you a snapshot of some of the things growing in my neck of the woods. Let’s start with this dandelion, its yellow petals now transformed into a miniature snow-ball.

When I was small, we used to play the game with old flower heads like this one, blowing them to see what the time was (however many puffs it took to blow off all the seeds, that would tell you time!).

Another variant, when we got older, was “She loves me! She loves me not!” After each phrase we’d blow at the seeds. If the last seeds blew away on “She loves me!” all was well in our romantic endeavours, but if they blew away on “She loves me not”….well, I don’t suppose we took much notice! (Of course, it was easy to rig this game, giving an extra-strong puff when we wanted to!)

I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to examine a dandelion-head really closely until now. Have a look at this. The umbrellas at the end of each seed-stalk look a bit like amoebas…

Or should that be brain cells?

Or universes?

“As above, so below…”

In the flowers where some of the seeds have already blown away, you can see how amazingly each one is constructed, with their miniature parachutes on the outside…

And their barbed seed-heads sticking to the pin-cushion at the centre.

The barbs are for catching onto passers-by, so that the plant does not rely solely on the wind to disperse its seeds.

With this combination of aerodynamic design and adhesive seed-heads, it is not surprising that the fields and hedgerows around here are simply filled with dandelions!

The leaves of the dandelion make wonderful food for rabbits and the root can be ground into a powder for use in a decoction that will help urinary infection. A word of caution, though. If you are going to pick the flowers, wear gloves. The juices are very astringent and can cause a nasty rash!

If you like exploring nature, I think you’ll enjoy my book Watchers, which is the first in a series for both children (12+) and adults. Have a look at some of the 5-star reviews on amazon and see what you think!

Paperback amazon.co.uk      Paperback amazon.com

Kindle: amazon.co.uk         Kindle: amazon.com

Until next time,

Best wishes, Essi.

The Answer to the Riddle…

In my last post I asked you to identify this creature, which I saw feeding on the catkins of a Willow last week:

The correct answer was…

…a Peacock Butterfly!

I watched it for some time as it moved from catkin…

…to catkin.

Then it flew to the ground at my feet and perched on an old oak leaf in the grass, sunning itself for a while before flying away again.

Congratulations (and a signed copy of Tilly) go to Peapod Pixie, who was first to correctly identify it!

Who’s that Living in the Trees?

If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise…some of the trees have faces in, with noses, mouths and eyes!

Each species of tree has its own nature and each individual tree its particular character and spirit, but do some of them actually have creatures living within? I think they might! Have a look at some of the faces and figures I’ve seen in the woods this year and see what you think…

Here’s one of the old, mossy Beeches that fill the woods where I live.

It looks to me like the sad face of a mediaeval knight, or perhaps a Cathar healer, lamenting the changes in the world…

This one has a more elven feel to it, a gentle quality like that of a deer.

Here it is from a different angle, with an enigmatic smile:

The face of this graceful Beech is hidden by her out-stretched arms…

This Oak tree definitely has a wart-hoggy aspect to it!

And is it just me, or is there a swan here, its neck and wings rising from the stump of an old Sallow?

Last but not least, surely that’s an Ent approaching from behind the shining Silver Birch?

Who knows, perhaps after the witching-hour all sorts of folks emerge from their homes in the trees to dance in the moonlit glades?

If you have taken any photographs of trees that have the faces of humans – or other creatures – in them, why not drop me a line and we can start a collection?

With best wishes!

Essi.

Into the Woods!

In many ways woods are like people. All of them are made up of essentially the same stuff, yet each one is unique. Some are bright, cheery, welcoming. Others are shy and wistful. Some are dark and brooding and bring a sense of danger with them! And, like people, I find that the better a get to know a wood the more surprises and joys it brings.

After I had sat in the sun watching the lambs for a while (see last post) I scrambled over a ditch and entered the fringes of a wood I had not been into before. Unlike most of the woods here, which are filled largely with broad-leaved trees like Beech and Oak, this one was made up mostly of Pines. As a general rule, I’m not so keen on these. They tend to be the darker, more brooding type. Fewer birds enjoy them and there is often a sense of lifelessness about them.

This one was different, perhaps because although it was mostly made of Pines, it skirts a larger piece of more open, broad-leaved woodland. All the same, you can see from the picture below that it had a slightly forlorn air about it.

It was also wild. No human had been here for a very long time. No boot or trainer had trampled its way through the undergrowth.

The only paths were those made by the delicate feet of deer and rabbit, or the padding paws of many badgers. I love these paths best of all. They have been made over the centuries by the animals who know each nuance of the land far better than I ever could.

One piece of good advice that I was given when I was a boy was that if you get lost in a wood (in daytime) follow the animal tracks. They almost always lead to water, or to another path and from there you can find your way.

As I moved further from the light of the fields into the shadows, a sense of hush filled the air and I decided to sit for a while in one of the patches of sunlight that filtered through the tree-tops.

Looking around, I was aware of many different casts of colour and light. Moss, bright green in places and dark as velvet in others. Last year’s pine needles, now dusty brown. Here and there a muddy pool. In places, whole tree trunks had fallen. They lay around me with their pale branches pointing upwards, like the ribs of great carcases stripped by time.

Sitting still is often rewarding. Nature stops noticing you. Birds and creatures start to drift closer.

A wood pigeon flew into a tree right overhead and began to call with that soft, fluting note that soothes the whole body. Busier sounds then approached as a flock of siskins made their way through the pines, feeding and chatting to each other as they came. A pair of roe-deer appeared and made their way up the steep sides the hill. They were so close that I could see the whiskers on their muzzles and the sunlight in their soft brown eyes.

Nearer to hand a single fly landed on a patch of moss.

I bent over to watch him as he clambered through the feathery strands.

A patch of low-growing plant (to me) was a high jungle to him!

Can you spot the fly?

Looking a little further away, a sliver of burgundy caught my eye, an unusual colour in the woods. I walked over to it and found myself looking down on these amazing funghi.

I’d never seen funghi coloured like these. Each one opened out like an oriental fan

Or perhaps a table for little folk to use!

This one looked more like some kind of creature from another planet..

Turning again, a paler colour drew my eye and this time found myself looking down on these wonderful white-and-olive funghi.

Definitely hats for someone of the right size…

At that moment there was a sudden whir of wings. A woodcock took off from the scrub just a few feet away, keeping low to the ground and zig-zagging as it went. It’s a rare thing to see one of these extremely timid birds and I smiled in gratitude to see the bird land a little way off and scurry out of view.

It was time to head home, but the wood had one last gift. As I reached its edge, with the green fields beckoning, a single butterfly flew into view. It was a Red Admiral.

The first butterfly of the year is always a special one and I don’t recall the last time I saw a Red Admiral this early in the season. I watched this one flitter this way and that, in and out of the patches of light, before it disappeared amongst the trees.

With that, I clambered back over the ditch and headed home again.

Tree Magic – Alder the Water King

Today marks the beginning of the third month in the old Celtic Tree Calendar. There’s been a debate over the years as to whether this month belongs to the Alder or the Ash. I go with Irish tradition, placing Alder in the third slot, because it is at this time of year that the Alder’s buds and catkins show brightest, whereas other trees are still slumbering. Ash is much later to leaf and has its rightful place as the fifth tree in the calendar, its dark buds bursting open only in April-May.

The Alder and the Willow are the two trees most closely associated with water, both of them growing right on the banks of streams and rivers. If Willow is the Water Queen, Alder is its King. Its purple buds give it royal status and are brightest between Imbolc and the Spring Equinox.

The Alder is famous for its ability to produce coloured dyes. From its flowers come the greens most associated with elven and faerie garments, from its bark comes bright red and from the young shoots in March come a wonderful auburn-gold.

This is another reason for placing Alder in the third month of the calendar. Its ability to produce differently-coloured dyes links it to the craft of weavers and spinners and the Goddess of both spindle and loom in ancient Britain was Brigid. As we saw last month, Brigid’s tree is the Rowan Tree (rowan wood often being used to make spindles with) so it is right that the Rowan Tree Month is followed by the Alder Tree Month. To compliment this, Irish legend says that the first man was created from Alder, the first woman from Rowan. So, the two months rightly walk hand in hand.

The Alder is unique amongst trees in that it relies on water to disperse its seeds (as opposed to using the wind or birds). It is also the only broadleaved tree to have cones. These grow out on long stalks, which is also unique.

Brehon Law states that those who fell the Alder without permission will be punished by fire, in much the same way as those who build on faerie mounds will be. This tradition is still largely respected in Southern Ireland. Just recently a man decided to build his house on a “fairy fort” (a flat area said to be the home of the Sidhe, who live underground) only for his house to be damaged first by flood and then by fire! So, it pays to take heed of the old lore.

A peculiarity of Alder is that if you strip away its bark you will find an inner white wood which turns red when exposed to the air, which is why it was sometimes called The Bleeding Tree. This association with the colour red linked the Alder with the fires of inspiration, making it the tree of the god Bran, one of the giants of old who was “too big to fit into a house”.

Alder wood was renowned as the best for making whistles and pipes and the music created by them was said to aid divination and clairvoyance. Bran was as an oracular god, one who could see into the future. His totem was the Raven (see my post A Raven Solstice Message), symbol of the Magus or Magician whose primary role was to look into the seeds of time and tell which one will grow and which will not.

Ravens make a lot of sounds that are surprisingly like those made by pipes and whistles. The valley where I live is home to several hundred of these birds, which makes it a special place (it’s more normal to see them only in ones or twos). When they gather to roost in the evening, their calls are much more like the musical notes of (wooden) whistles than the regular “caw” of the crow.

In the Celtic poem The Battle of the Trees, Bran is displaced by the arrival of a goddess, showing the movement in Ireland away from the patriarchal Church back to an earlier Goddess-based worship. And a return to old ways it certainly was. You’ll find out more about this when you read the Tilly Greenway series, because there is an important truth wrapped up in this particular riddle!

Druids valued pipes made of Alder wood highly and used them during healing rituals. Its leaves can certainly be used to ease rheumatism and soothe inflammation of the skin, but I think the main reason it was seen as a healing tree was because it grows on the border between land and water. With its roots often trailing beneath the surface of streams, it acts as a bridge between the seen and the unseen, connecting us with our inner feelings, soothing the whirling thoughts that burn our heads by reconnecting us to the universal spirit.

In today’s busy world, Alder-magic reminds us that it’s when we delve beneath the surface and look to our hearts for guidance that we become stronger, more grounded and more able to deal with the challenges of everyday life. This much-ignored tree is one to seek out next time you visit a river. Sit beneath it a while, set your head against its trunk and listen to the water flowing past.  The inspiration of the Water King awaits you!

With best wishes,

Essi.

PS – If you enjoyed this post, you might like my book Tilly Greenway and the Secrets of the Ancient Keys, which includes lots of Tree Lore. Find out more at any of these links. Thank you!

Paperback amazon.co.uk      Paperback amazon.com

Kindle: amazon.co.uk         Kindle: amazon.com