How amazing today, right on cue, that a large hare should lope unconcernedly into our courtyard, fewer than 3 metres from our glass doors and windows, do a short circuit, then head up into the field where we have our orchard, veg plots and woodland margins. What a gift; so long associated with Eostre and Magna Mater, the Great Goddess of pre-Christian times.
But I'm not going to write about Easter; if you want to read a blog I wrote previously on the symbolic resonances of Easter/Eostre and hares, you can click here.
My own celebration is the spring equinox, and I had a wonderful evening round the equinox fire (from which arose the poem in my last posting), and then a day working with Jonathan Horwitz and Zara Waldeback at Schumacher College with 'Stories of the Earth'. My role was to take their group up onto my favourite bit of Dartmoor with its stone avenues, stone circle, menhir and leat, for a day of deep listening to the earth. For many years I'd lead groups up there at the equinoxes and solstices, and something in me was profoundly restored by the day this time, after a hiatus. So much so, in fact, that I am now certain I need to reintroduce this into my programme of courses.
I've written before on this blog about learning to live in harmony with the species we tend to think of as pests; hornets, for one; slugs for another. (Slugs: this is still difficult. Having our veg plot in a field means that we provide cover for 100s of those huge black ones, as well as the tan-and-orange monsters, and last year, between endless rain and slugs – and pigeons – we lost a very large part of our harvest.)
Currently it's a rat; or maybe rats. Both dogs have been ill lately, and my ancient hound is once again really not at all well. (It's amazing that she's made the great and unusual, for a big hound, age she has, given all her many and serious – at times life-threatening – illnesses and misfortunes since 2011.)
We haven't, even with our wonderful vet, been able to diagnose what's wrong with Ash currently; my daughter's younger lurcher is fine now (they've both had stomach issues, and Ash has had a hot dry nose and been off her food for a couple of weeks now, with the runs – hope you're not eating an Easter egg?).
But I've done my usual and gone down the route of worst-case scenario; it's not that I'm a drama queen (much), it's more that the last 10 years have brought so many serious illnesses and bereavements in my family that I feel unable to cope at times with another potentially serious situation.
So in my darker moments, having always preached the 'we can accommodate a rat outdoors' thing, I now have convinced myself that, since I see the rat appear fairly often, very close – in fact at the birdfeeder in the courtyard – it's clearly contaminated all the drinking water with leptospirosis, which can be serious and even fatal in dogs.
A few years ago, I was teaching a poetry week in Sussex, and one morning the group came in in a mild – and in some cases not-so-mild – state of hysteria at the fact that someone had seen a rat at the compost heap maybe 500 metres away. I couldn't believe it. Talk about demonisation. So I had them write for half an hour on their 'inner rat', and then we talked facts.
There are ways to manage these things, though I have discovered that those electronic beeper things don't work, and neither did the expensive humane rat-trap cage I bought – I loaded the spring-gate mechanism with cheese, which had gone every morning, while the gate remained unsprung; field mice, no doubt.
But my usual calmness at animal 'pests' has disappeared over the hill with its arse on fire, currently. So I moved the birdfeeder and cleaned the courtyard and all the (now-redundant – there is water trickling from the stone wall that is part of the face of an old small quarry that the birds can drink from) drinking bowls with anti-bacterial essential oils, and vinegar. I shall scatter powdered garlic around the place from which the rat always emerges, and clear away the undergrowth. Then I'll cross my fingers.
|Photo at our feeder by Francis Jones|
One of my favourite times of day is early morning, when I sit by the window with a cup of tea and watch the birds at, or below, the feeder: six species of tit, greater spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches and finches are daily visitors, and then the little shy dunnocks, robins and blackbirds, and an occasional house sparrow, clean up beneath. Having removed the feeders, I mourn this loss; but remind myself that the feeder is primarily to keep the birds going, not for my pleasure.
I took the feeders up to the field and they now hang from beech branches. I call the birds when I go out to fill them in the mornings, and they know my voice. The great and blue tits were up beside me in minutes. I'm not sure who else has discovered where I've put them, apart from a jay. The robins and dunnocks appear hopefully when I go into the courtyard, and I feel so mean not feeding them.
My sister tells me we should keep feeding the birds into May, as they 'calculate' brood size according to the food supply. Let's hope TM will still fill the feeders in the early mornings before work when I leave for the two retreats I'm leading on Iona in April.
We had little egrets who'd roost in the old oak tree above the brook every winter. I haven't seen them for a couple of years, but one was back last week. A day or two later, s/he was back with a second. They both circled the area. ('Here do you, darlin'?' 'Nah. Don't like it. Wrong neighbourhood. Don't want to raise me kids here, do I?'), then one followed by the other flapped off, and I've seen neither since. Heron is there, though; and yesterday I disturbed a snipe in the undergrowth near the brook.
The young owls have started hooting in the daytime, and there were larks aplenty the other day up on the moor; where they were, however, 'swaling': burning off vast tracts of gorse and bracken to promote new growth for the grazing ruminants – and killing thousand upon thousand of small mammals, ground-nesting birds, slow worms and snakes, and billions of insects. Grrr.
At last some of the broad beans are through in the greenhouse, and yesterday TM planted out the new potatoes. My garlic is bravely shooting above its coverlet of kelp.
We've been collecting wild garlic for a few weeks, and today I picked the first nettle tops. I'll make soup tonight from both those plants, along with our last potatoes and leeks. If I can find some still – and they've been around all winter, so I probably can – I'll add sheep sorrel leaves, for the tang. I love making this part-foraged soup every year, and it feels so good for you. The nettles add a blood-cleansing component, and various useful minerals; it occurs to me I might add a tea of that to the dog's water.
Having spent my whole life using only herbal medicines for my family (daughter, dogs, ponies and bantams; my daughter has never had a dose of antibiotics – as far as I know – in 37 years), I notice how these days panic drives me to throw any allopathic medicines I can find at the dog, just to stop the symptoms.
Of course, there are many times when allopathic meds are useful, even necessary; but my conviction is that, as long as you know what you're doing (and I do, pretty much, at least to some extent), giving the whole plant with its alkaloids embedded in a matrix of other components rather than a synthesised extract, or a wholly-lab-manufactured alternative, is slower, but a much more gentle and sustained approach to healing of the cause, rather than simply relieving the symptoms and obscuring the cause.
So alongside the pain-relieving meds that I have succumbed to this week, for the dog's chronic back and joint pain, I'm slowly building up in her body various plant supplements including turmeric that will help ameliorate the pain longer-term.
For her currently-very-upset stomach, she is on natural probiotics, yogurt, plus a herbal digestive mix from Dorwest Herbs, and I'm putting an infusion of fennel and a leaf or two of mint in her drinking water.
Plants are amazing; they are our support infrastructure. It's easy to forget that. And they form a large part of everyone's diet; they form all of mine.
I use witch hazel every day on my skin, and for bruises or knocks on any of us. Aloe vera too. I'm about to sow various companion plants to help boost growth and repel pests from our crops this year.
I myself am on various tinctures daily, with the advice of a medical herbalist friend, that have helped to contain and support my heart, which has noticeably improved over the two or three years I've been taking them (though – and this is where it all started – I'm taking a low dose of allopathic meds, too at the moment; I've been able to decrease it with the herbs, and hope to stop it altogether before too long. It was panic that drove me there, too – your heart misbehaving, apart from the symbology, is extremely frightening; or at least, was to me; it being central to staying alive.)
And then there's the 'spirit medicine' aspect, which I've written of elsewhere; will no doubt do again; and which focused me on something that was to prove important to me in my personal and also professional life when I had an unexpected experience of the 'spirit of willow' about 20 years ago. This underlies aspects of my ecopsychology work; of that, more anon.
And now, with a wild storm coming in and the possibility of thunder and lightning (last time, a few weeks ago, it took out our electricity and routers), adieu in some haste...