Wednesday 23 February 2011

Content is King – is it not? How about Passion ...

Presentation too is important .. let us add in Big Cats, Elephant, an inland Delta ... and those of you who know me a little – will realise I’m talking Africa and the Okavango Delta.

Now you say – Content, Passion, Presentation ... I’d add here Humans, Spirituality, Planet Earth – how do they connect ... come on Hilary explain ... and so I will ...

Film Poster: Directed by Dereck Joubert; Narrated by Jeremy Irons; Released Palm Springs Film Festival – showing in the USA (NYC, LA & Washington DC) – I hope they bring it across to England and the rest of the world. I’ll ask the Eastbourne Film Society to have a showing.

Who has not been to Southern Africa, who has been and who is alive – these posts and the videos are for you .... for any number of reasons ...

Ever heard of Brain Pickings? It has some staggeringly interesting information .. and I love it. This particular post surpassed that ... because it’s about a part of Africa that I’ve been fortunate to visit five times ... and would dearly go again tomorrow - the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Map of Botswana - the Delta in the north west; the Zambezi in the north east; while the Limpopo forms the Botswana border with Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Brain Pickings is about curating interestingness — picking culture’s collective brain for tidbits of stuff that inspires, revolutionizes, or simply makes us think. It’s about innovation and authenticity and all those other things that have become fluff phrases but don’t have to be – and is Maria Popova’s brain child.

In this post Maria has highlighted something that’s essential knowledge to us as humans in the life of planet earth. The photos she shares from the Jouberts’ life and the short YouTube video gives you a taster of the critical elements that the Jouberts cover in their TED video.

The TED introduction: National Geographical photographers Beverly and Dereck Joubert live in the bush, filming and photographing lions and leopards in their natural habitat. With stunning footage (some never before seen), they discuss their personal relationships with these majestic animals — and their quest to save the big cats from human threats.

I couldn’t describe the video better than to share Maria Popova’s words from Brain Pickings:

“Bittersweet and poignant, The Last Lions is a stride-stopping story of urgency and hope, reminding us of our duty to honour and protect these powerful yet surprisingly fragile beings of poetic pride and mythic magnificence.”

Okavango Delta: Has thorny acacia savannah, the terrain also includes winding waterways with banks of reeds, palm-covered islands, thick forest and lush, lily-covered lagoons where hippos bathe and sport.

So how can I justify the words in my title and opening paragraphs .. easy really – read the post, watch the two videos – you’ll be hooked as I was ... these ancient dramas of nature play themselves out to the eternal dance of Africa ...

... will they continue to do so – only if man realises compassion to the earth, respect and celebration of nature ... if we can’t protect them ... we’re going to have a job protecting ourselves ... we are all entwined together – nature, animals, plants and life as whole – we need to nurture everything before it is too late and the sands of time run away from humanity ...

You will see content, Kings, presentation, sparkle, emotive language describing our spirituality and the passion of the Jouberts.

Enjoy ... it is riveting .. and if you’re better than me at spreading the word of the film – please, please do so ... if it is to be – it is up to us.

Let me know!!

Credits: (1) Maria Popova of Brain Pickings for the inspiration for this post;

And (2) the Jouberts for their incredible dedication to the African bush, one of our last wildernesses on earth. - the post:

TED Video: Life Lessons from the Big Cats by Beverly and Dereck Joubert

This is the Amazon non-affiliate link for the book The Last Lions

Dear Mr Postman – life is interesting isn’t it! My mother had a good day and we talked about an interesting funeral I’d been too – a man who described himself as a ‘controversialist’; then I mentioned Kestrel is opening a Dementia Unit on the lower floor and I had a book with some case studies.

Immediately she said – that’s important - and would I read some of it to her! I duly did .. she does amaze me – still interested in learning ... so many elderly give up .. as you’ll see shown so clearly in nature in the film (with a twist).

For my other Okavango posts - Please use the search box

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday 17 February 2011

Spring – the season of new growth, abundant change ..

If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a great surprise .. the darkened carpet of winter is spring cleaning itself giving us drifts of white snowdrops, green patches with yellow nodules of lesser celandine, crocus escapees – yellow-yolked, Han purple, cream or white ones ...

... blends of pinkish-purple green of the spreading white, pink or yellow wood anemones, green spikes of wild daffodils providing golden yellow trumpets, and the smell of ramsons – wild garlic – the green pointed basal leaves with the white frothy flowers, while the bluebell is waiting to raise its glorious head.

Ancient woodland at Brading, Isle of Wight showing bluebells (blue flowers, Hyacinthoides non-scripta), ramsons (white flowers, Allium ursinum) and hazel trees, (Corylus avellana).

English Wood Anemones

Han purple so named .. is a type of artificial barium copper silicate pigment found in China during the golden age of the Han Dynasty between 500BC and AD220, when it was used in the decoration of the Terracotta Army; before this discovery azurite had been the only natural blue pigment.

Ramsons – Allium Ursinum – the Latin name is due to the brown bear’s taste for the bulbs, which it delights in digging up. Boars and humans also enjoy Ramsons – remnants have been found in Mesolithic Danish and Neolithic Swiss settlements ... where they were probably used as fodder. Cows that have fed on Ramsons give milk that tastes slightly of garlic, and butter made from this milk used to be very popular in 19th century Switzerland.
Crocus – Han Purple The graduated colours of crocus cultivars can appear as Han purple in direct sunlight.

Ramsons' flowers
Ramsons’ leaves are edible – being used in salads, as a vegetable, in soups or as an ingredient for pesto in lieu of basil. The stems are preserved by salting and eaten as a salad in Russia, while apparently the bulbs and flowers are also very tasty – logical as the plant is a wild relative of the chive.

These woodland flowers bloom early to benefit from the early sunshine, as during April to May the tree canopy closes, letting little or no sunlight through the burgeoning leaf growth to the earth below.

All life responds to the changing rhythm of the seasons. As the earth’s orbit brings the Northern Hemisphere closer to the sun again plant growth conditions of warmer and longer days become more favourable.

Some plants as those above steal a march by flowering before winter is full spent. By adapting to the colder conditions of early spring they avoid the fierce competition for space, light and insect pollinators that increases as the year progresses.

Early spring plants must exploit their winter store of food to produce fresh growth. It has been established that plants detect changes in day length, and this triggers various phases of their life cycle – budding, flowering, fruiting and leaf-fall. Temperature changes also can modify the cycle in different plants.

Animals too, are profoundly influenced by the changing seasons – protective structures or behaviour may be needed to survive the cold, but winter adaptations such as a thicker coat will soon need to be shed or adjusting to their symbiotic situations within the plant kingdom. Animals, including insects, also detect changes in day length, and their bodies adjust to the yearly cycle.

Animal Composite from Wikipedia

This seasonal rhythmic change brings about a state of reproductive readiness – some earlier than others; many species ‘take two’ ... producing two broods during the warmer days – Nature’s gamble .. ensuring almost always some success.

The Lesser Celandine – sometimes called 'Spring’s Messenger' – was a favourite of William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) inspiring him to write three poems including the following from his "Ode to the Celandine":

I have seen thee, high and low,
Thirty years or more, and yet
T’was a face I did not know.

Upon his death it was proposed that a celandine be carved on his memorial plaque, but unfortunately the Greater Celandine was mistakenly used!
The Lesser Celandine

Nature is maintenance free ... natural life adapts to seasonal change, as it has done throughout earth’s history ... nature has created the most efficient natural mechanism for carbon sequestration – let the plants grow!

Over eons of history life has altered, changed and adapted and continues to do so, perhaps with one exception, ... as Wordsworth notes in the last verse of his "Lines Written in Early Spring" .. a philosophical quote of a man before his time?
Portrait of William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon oil on canvas, 1842

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

Dear Mr Postman – we watched some ‘Ski Sunday’, which used to be a favourite of my mother’s, then I left her watching “Shanghai Knights” with Jackie Chan ... just something different to do – but having had walls and ceiling covered with posters and postcards, she prefers plain walls for now.

On Monday she was wide awake and really cheerful – sending me off to enjoy myself at a funeral and come back and tell her all about it and the people I met – she hasn’t been awake sufficiently since?! It was an extremely informative service at a beautiful little church with a lot of history, Oliver had been a man ahead of the times – and so I did enjoy myself ... with lots to tell you too!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 9 February 2011

The Birds – my feathered friends ...

Birds of a feather flock together as Shakespeare put it, in Timon of Athens:

“I am not of that feather to shake it off
My friend, when he most need me.”

Certainly since the heaviest and most widespread snows starting in November, so early for us here in England (last time it was 1993, and before that the deepest snow was in 1965) – I decided I had to get out and feed the birds, thaw the bird baths ... since then .. they quickly adapted to an ‘easy way of life’ for any creature residing in the big freeze.

The Magpie by Monet, 1869

I hear lovely song birds – the blackbirds and the robins – but I also have my flocks of ‘thugs’ .. the pigeons, the jackdaws, a pair of magpies (on occasions two pairs) and recently two enormous rooks – compared to the other birds .. they are huge!

The Rooks Have Returned (1871) by the Russian painter Alexei Savrasov, near Ipatieve Monastery in Kostroma: the arrival of the rooks is an early portent of the coming spring.

Leylandii foliage

It doesn’t take them long to learn ... and they wait for me to spread my largesse on the lawns and into the borders ... then they all swoop. The squirrels are funny ... they totter around, but hop, skip and jump too ... let alone jumping into the Leylandii foliage ... which spring-releases its treasures of hidden seeds, that from my flailing arm have been caught in the green tresses.

The blackbird when it is recalled in culture reminds us of the times when small birds were an easily available addition to the diet, as in the familiar nursery rhyme:

“Sing a Song of Sixpence
A Pocket full of Rye;
Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie!
When the Pie was opened the Birds began to Sing
Oh wasn’t that a Dainty Dish to set before the King?”

While being remembered too today in the Beatles track ‘Blackbird’, with its haunting melody and lyrics:

“Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise!"

Illustration from Sing a Song for Sixpence (1880) by Randolph Caldecott (d. 1886) [Price: one shilling]

Another pie song is for the magpie – when I was growing up there weren’t so many, as they were considered a pest and were shot, but now they’re around in profusion ... acting as the jack of all trades – scavenger, predator and pest-dstroyer.

Magpie in flight

Believe it or not magpie is a shortened form of Margaret’s pie, maggot pie and similar ... as Shakespeare, in Macbeth III, iv, informs us:

“Augurs and understood relations have
(By maggot pies, and choughs, and rooks) brought forth
The secret’st man of blood.”

Colloquially in the Middle Ages Bishops were formerly called ‘magpies’ in humour or derision because of their black and white vestments; per Howell’s Letters: Lines to the Knowing Reader, 1645:

“Lawyers as Vultures, had soared up and down;
Prelates, like Magpies, in the Air had flown.”

‘To rook a pigeon’ – used to be a common phrase, meaning to fleece a greenhorn ...

... but here the Woodpigeons (eleven or more), Jackdaws (nine of them) and two Rooks now swarm in to have a guzzle – they do appear to leave some tempting morsels for the Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Thrushes, Sparrows, BlueTits, Greenfinch, Robins et al .. who, when the going is clear, wander in and out to search for the seed that was scattered by this fair hand.


Being so near the sea (English Channel) we have both the Common Gull and the Herring Gull – the Herring Gull being the plague, in the summer, to the snacking ‘board walker’ and lunchtime relaxer ... wishing for some peace and quiet by the lapping waves ... as his sandwich or chip is a tempter to be snatched away.

The Birds: Theatrical Release Poster 1963

At the Nursing Centre I had my first sighting of a Green Woodpecker – so I was excited early in the New Year on a warm day to see him pecking away for insects, ants are his speciality, in the lawn (sometimes called a ‘Yaffle’ relating to its laughing call); while last year I spotted two Jays - a flash of blue and white as they flew amongst a glade of trees.

Green Woodpecker (Yaffle!)


Well ... certainly down here the birds have survived and are already breeding, which perhaps shows we may have an early spring ... the mosquitoes and flies are out, and I’ve seen a wasp .. just one!!

The daffodils are spiking, the snowdrops are well and truly drifting, the celandines are out ... but watch for your open windows with magpies and jackdaws about ....

John Gay in his Beggar’s Opera (1728) notes that “A covetous fellow, like a jackdaw, steals what he was never made to enjoy, for the sake of hiding it” ... which Richard Harris Barham (1788 – 1845), the English cleric, novelist and humorous poet, made into lore in the Ingoldsby Legends, one of which is the “Jackdaw of Rheims”.

The forerunner of the Royal Opera House was able to build a new theatre (The Theatre Royal, Covent Garden) based on the success of the Beggar’s Opera – running originally for 62 consecutive performances in those winterless months of 1728 ... the longest run in theatre history up to that time.
Painting based on The Beggar's Opera, Scene V, William Hogarth, c. 1728, in the Tate Britain

So many legends, stories, tales, nursery rhymes, poems have sprung up around our feathered friends and I haven’t even mentioned Cock Robin ... which continue on today – all to be watched over by the crafty fox, who also frequents these territories under the cover of a darkening night.

My intention had been to partake in the Great British Garden Birdwatch .. but I never noticed the adverts for it & so the weekend has passed .. this is my post from last year with some more bird photos and some extra information. Now I have a garden ... to keep an eye on – I will do a follow up later on in the year .. to see who visits once the winter feeding frenzy is over. Enjoy Spring as it does seem to be a-coming ... roll on, roll on!

"JackDaw of Rheims" poem via Bartelby

Dear Mr Postman ... all is peaceful and I read to Mum or offer to chat – often declined ... but I’m there and then sit and read a book to keep her company. We still laugh and interact, and she loves her flowers .... daffodils, agapanthus, crocuses, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, more daffodils and primrose .. some in pots, some jugs full of flowers ...
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 2 February 2011

February Creative ... that unusual month ...

Today is Candlemas, Groundhog Day or Jannie the First day – see my post last year ... this time I thought I’d concentrate on February – who would have thought we could be creative with the month of February .. but it has some fun facts ...

There wasn’t a month of February, nor January, the Romans originally considered winter a “monthless period” .... I think a great many of us would agree with that thought in this year of topsy-turvy weather ... they only named ten months.
February, from the Très riches heures du Duc de Berry

Some ancient Roman obviously realised there was a moon, and decided that they could count to twelve – so they added two months with February becoming the end of the year – this was before 700 BC. They named February after the Latin term ‘februum’, which means purification.

Due to the seasonal variations, February was truncated to 23 or 24 days, with an additional 27 day month (intercalary) and at some stage in the next 300 years January was dedicated as the first month of the year, with February becoming the second.
Bust of Caesar from the Naples National Archaeological Museum

Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BC offering regularity, so that Roman citizens living outside Rome would know the current date – helpful: I thought! The intercalary month was abolished, leap years occurred regularly every fourth year and in leap years February gained its 29th day.

The Gregorian calendar eventually superseded the Julian one, so that the solar year, which determines the cycle of the seasons was realigned, as the leap year drops three leap year days across four centuries and mathematics had improved so these calculations could be made.

The Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, via a papal bull, on 24 February 1582, is now universally accepted – the last two countries to formally adopt it were Russia and Greece ... both in the last century.

This year being a common year – and as February 1st was on a Tuesday, the months of March and November will commence on a Tuesday, and should it have been a leap year .. this would apply to August too. February ends on the same day of the week as October every year, and January in Common years.

It is the only month that can pass without a single full moon – known as a “Black Moon” month.

The Anglo Saxons called February the “Sprout Kale” (cabbage) month or Solmonath ‘Mud Month,’ while in Finland it is known as the “month of the pearl”, when the snow melts on the tree branches, it forms droplets, and as these freeze again – they are like pearls of ice.

Curly Kale

February’s symbols consist of its birth-flower the Violet in Britain (while it’s the Primrose in the States) – the symbolism dates back to Roman times when the Gods were honoured by decorating their altars with flowers.
Viola odorata (type species)

There is an old verse which gives the flowers connected with the Christian year, and starts:

“The snowdrop, in purest white arraie,
First rears her head on Candlemas daie;
While the Crocus hastens to the shrine
Of Primrose love on St Valentine ..”

To comment on the weather is more than I care to do at the moment, the whole world seems to be in the grip of some strange winds, rains, snowstorms ... I seem to remember that the months were fairly predictable ... ie November – mists and trees losing their leaves, December – gloomy .. lightened by the fact Christmas was a-coming, January and February – positively freezing: this year it’s now relatively mild, but last November and December we were ‘frozen out’. Yet – Australia is getting is more than its fair share of weather-wrath; while there’s still snow-storms in the States.
Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, 1565, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Linnaeus in his Flower Calendar in the year 1755 in Uppsala, Sweden differs from other calendars as he divides and describes the growing year ... calling winter time the ‘Reviving winter month from December 22 to March 19” (from the Winter Solstice to the Vernal Equinox) – he made a few jottings:

“- Butter shrinks and separates from the sides of the tub.
- Ice on the Lake begins to crack.
- Wooden walls snap in the night. Cold frequently extreme at this time, the greatest
observed was 1755-1757 (now known as during the period of the Little Ice Age)
- Horse dung spirts.”

The last sentence is followed by a note which says” that horse dung, in very severe frosts, throws out particles near a foot high, and that no other dung does the like, and we are full of joy that spring is round the corner and the horse dung is spirting.”

And finally Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) advises that “February is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August and October”!
Pearls .. could be ice-drops

So the month of February, which rhymes with ‘bleary’, ‘topiary’, various berries, statuary ... and more – has lots to offer in the way of creative information .. including the few pictures I’ve posted by artists I’ve never heard of .. another way of learning new things. Also reminding us of the Little Ice Age.... two – four hundred years ago ..., that Australia had only just been discovered in 1606, and that horse dung spirts!

Roll on Spring I say – real Spring ... longer daylight hours, warmer weather, some settled days ... then we must take each and every minute and enjoy that time .. before the extra long ‘Reviving Winter Month’ comes around again – go away first, please!
An oaked white wine from Stellenbosch produced from Chenin Blanc.

One very last thing .. I’m very grateful to Mynheer Jan van Riebeeck, the founder of Cape Town, who on this day in 1659 produced the first bottle of South African wine.
Last year’s post: Ground Hog Day, Candlemas and Jannie

Dear Mr Postman – my mother seems really quite well at the moment, talking at times quite happily, other times enjoying my company in quiet peace ... she enjoyed a little of the Australian Open tennis ... a change!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories