Monday, 2 March 2009

Countryside Writers - Part I

I have too many books. I know I do, but I can't resist temptation and far too few can I ever part with.

In the light of my new blog, I have been renewing my acquaintanceship with old friends, and discovered a couple of books I'd even forgotten buying (probably because they were charity shop or car boot finds, and tidied away before being properly read). This morning I found a wonderful copy of The Natural History of Selborne, which is an absolute boon when you want to compare nature notes with his from the late 1800s. Mind you, he was on a totally different planet to me and knew the Latin name for everything. He was a prolific recorder - he kept notes for his Garden Kalendar, his Flora Selborniensis (which is of the greatest interest to me) and his Naturalist's Journal. If he had been living now, WHAT a blogger he would have been!

He was a most keen observer of nature. For example, around this day in March 1766, he observed:

3rd March: The wry-neck, Jynx, pipes: alias Torquilla. This was only the black-headed titmouse, parus major. The Elder, Sambucus; honeysuckle, caprifolium, begins to shoot.

Crown-imperials, hyacinths, tulips, Narcissuss, Jonquils begin to peep: polyanths begin to blow.

Wood laurel, laureola, buds for bloom.

Great Black Hellebore, bear's foot or setter-wort,
Helleboraster maximas, seu consiligo enneaphyllon Plinnii, in flower in Selborne-wood.

The flies in the dining-room begin to come forth out of the lurking-holes.

The long-tailed titmouse,
parus caudatus, chirps.

Lady-cows, scarbaei subrotundi, and earwigs appear, forficulae.

How different from "BB" - Denys Watkins-Pitchford, whose wonderful book "Letters From Compton Deverell" I was recently given (MANY thanks Rowan). He was also a keen observor of nature, albeit often with a sportsmans' eye! All the same, he was one who had an all-seeing eye, as evidenced in the following extract from the Comptom Deverell book and was written of the terrible winter of 1947, when it snowed for weeks on end:

"There was a wicked little wind blowing which fairly froze one's marrow but I was warm enugh in my sheepskin waistcoat and balaclava helmet well pulled down. Everywhere in the snow I noticed the tracks of hares, rabbits, and the delicate prints of birds. In places the snow had drifted through the bare hedgerows and jutted forward onto the windward side in beetling sclloped brows. In the furrows, too, the snow was deep, coming above my knees. Bride, the labrador, seemed to delight in this fairy landscape and charged about begging for a romp.

Slowly the light began to ebb in the west, a cold green sky flushed slightly with rose where the sun had gone, and this rose light was faintly reflected from the surface of the snow. No birds were seen, no blackbirds, thrushes, rooks or daws.

For a while I stood behind some ragged thorns from which the ravening fieldfares had stripped
the last remaining berries, my face turned from the icy wind towards the last of the dying day.

As I stood there I saw an object moving along the hedgerow about one hundred yards from me. At first I thought it was a rabbit, then a hare, and when at last the animal came trotting nearer to me, I saw it was an old dog fox. He was sneaking along the hedgeside evidently on the look out for a rabbit as many have their burrows just there. Now and again he would stop with uplifted pad, staring out at the barren expanse of ice beyond the dead reeds where a white owl was slowly flapping along with bent head as he searched the frozen herbage beneath him.

The fox must have been hungry for he watched the owl intently for a while and then, giving himself a sort of shake, came trotting on until he had reached a gap in the hedge not fifty feet from me.
All this time I had been crouching down behind a breastwork of bare thorns and as the wind was blowing from him to me he could not sent me. When he reached the gap he paused, staring through it, making a real picture of wild grace with the background of frozen snow and dying light in the weatern sky throwing a suggestion of shadow from him. Then he slipped through the gap and was lost to view."

Part II tomorrow . . .

P.S. Beatrix Potter fans will soon have a little reward for their patience.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I csn't wait for the rest of the story..

Morning's Minion said...

Your postings have become such an interesting and thought-provoking part of my day. Far better than the gloomy world news page!
Are you familiar with the late American naturalist, Edwin Way Teale? I think you would like his "Springtime in Britain"--will try to find it for you if you don't have it--his American travels might not be as interesting to someone from UK. He quoted from Natural History of Selborne a good deal. About too many books: I have reverted again to several boxes of them in the back of the car--I really need to put them on the shelves in the storage shed. I dream of a quiet room lined with elegant book shelves and one of those library ladders to scoot about. Of course the books would be catalogued and arranged alphabetically, etc---hah!

Nan said...

My gosh, I was just going to mention that I first heard of White in a book I read last year called Springtime in Britain:
Which you left a comment on!
And then I read Morning Minion's comment - ah, great minds. :<)

Thanks for the wonderful post.