Saturday 30 April 2011

Z is for Zephyr – that is what Z is for ...

Zephyrus, the Greek God of the
west wind and the goddess Chloris,
from an 1875 engraving by
William-Adolphe Bouguereau 

The Zephyr wind prevailed yesterday keeping Boreas, the Greek god of the cold or wet north wind, at bay for the very British Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine.

Zephyrus is the Greek god of the west wind, which is the gentlest of winds and for the last month it has woven its way through the ABC stories in Positive Letters and here tells the final tale.

The Zephyr rustled the seeds of the Ash tree, floated in and around the Barn, tickled the Canal waters creating a gentle ripple; the Downs came next ... the beautiful chalk meadow flowers, including the Eyebright swayed as the gentlest of winds passed through.

Then the grip of the Forest, where the Graphite needed blowing clean, out into the fields to see the boxing Hares, ruffling the Insects wherever the Zephyr passes; another trip to the seaside to encourage the seas to keep the Jellyfish off shore.

A long Zephyr glide with the Kites as the lift takes them to the Lakes – a magnificent view ... the gentle breeze spots a moated Manor ... and dreams of history past, remembering the Naturalists it helped by tickling the flora and fauna .. so those meticulous recorders left something for the scientists of today to ponder over ...

... perhaps then as now many will sit under the teeming Oak, thinking about the world within its branches or mingled in its roots ... those Pigs of yore certainly were grateful to the generous oak ... did the ancients use their Quern stones to grind acorns for flour ... we may wonder.

The Palace of the Four Winds –
a baroque palace in Warsaw,
built about 1680.
The Zephyr finds those hidden spaces where Rare wild flowers may grow .. brushing them to ensure their seed pods spill; an Underground cavern is next - explored letting some freshness in ...

But Ratty, the Vole, is delighted to find his whiskers tickled by the Zephyr ... another lovely day for messing about in boats ... perhaps with a picnic ... after Toad, Badger and Mole have joined him in his bijou residence to watch the World and the Windsors celebrate that very British 21st century Wedding in Westminster Abbey.

The Zephyr is now sad that the Xerces Blue was not with us to enjoy the wonderful day, but the Yoke of burden must lift as the story of the Zephyr is remembered here at Happy Hilary’s positive home.  Success is attained in bringing the ABCs to their timely conclusion with the Zephyr – that messenger of things to come.

Ze end!

This is Zephyr  –  that is what Z is for ...

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 29 April 2011

Y is for Yoke – that is what Y is for ...

A tradesman delivering goods with a yoke
at the turn of the 1900s

When I looked I got directed to the beast of burden – the ox ... but the frame of wood – the yoke – early on had been used by man as a carrying frame.  The lightweight willow yoke fits across the shoulders, transferring the weight from the arms to the shoulders, making it easier to carry than by hand, as it keeps the containers away from the legs.

These pieces of rural farming equipment would have been essential in the fields, woods, or even on the sea shore ... the containers carrying milk pails or possibly maple syrup buckets in North America, and through the centuries adapted to each ‘modern’ way of life.

The early containers would have hung from twine or rope, then chain metal became available and would have made stronger fixings ... the baskets too changed over time – willow baskets of various shapes, hide buckets, before metal (tin) pails came into being.

Lovingly and beautifully hand planed, carved wooden yokes – giving the family a thing of beauty to be treasured, by caring for the wood, for its many years of work ahead ... each pair of containers appropriate to the job at hand .. .

... seed containers, fruit or vegetable ones, fish baskets, delivery baskets, milk, water, or used in industry ... hoisting coal, rubble and minerals ... even livestock and small animals transported along the highways and byways of the land.

Milkmaid's Yoke from Easdale Island Folk Museum, Oban Argyle
These yokes with their containers were man’s workhorse for the many tasks that life demanded for centuries ... smaller jobs, specialised jobs that were more appropriate to be done by hand through the use of these ‘hanging baskets’.

The yoke would be approximately 40” across, sitting on the shoulders, with a cut-out for the back of the neck, permitting heavier loads to be carried with less chance of spillage.

In an age where “time is money” ... there is now no longer a place for something that was labour intensive and long lasting ... perhaps the “milkmaid’s yoke” is now only of historical interest ... we do have the wheel ... but it’s good to remember!

This is a Yoke  –  that is what Y is for ..

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Milkmaid's Yoke from Easdale Island Folk Museum

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

PS .. I'll be Wedding Watching today .. back tomorrow ...  Cheers!!

Thursday 28 April 2011

X is for Xerces Blue Butterfly – that was what X was for ...

Xerces Blue

X is for blank ... I’m escaping across the pond to fulfil my countryside brief albeit in the Californian countryside .. and I’m sure you won’t begrudge me one slip away from my shores!

The Xerces Blue is extinct – sadly .. wonderful colour it must have been.   The species lived in the coastal sand dunes of the Sunset District of San Francisco .. and is believed to be the first American butterfly species to become extinct as a result of loss of habitat caused by urban development.

It was last seen in the early 1940s in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The species was first described and documented in 1852, being characterised by blue wings with white spots.

Seaside Bird's-foot Trefoil
Two species of plants from the legume family - Bird’s foot trefoils and the appropriately coloured lupins – were essential food sources for the larvae of the Xerces Blue; which together in a symbiotic relationship with a particular ant were essential to the existence of the Xerces Blue.

Settlement of the Bay Area brought in new ant species which slowly replaced the necessary ant species within the butterfly’s super habitat.

Efforts are on to re-establish related butterflies, such as the Palos Verdes Blue – which are being reared in laboratories.  A sub-species (Xerces-like) of the Silvery Blue has been discovered as well.

Wild Perennial Lupin
Up the coast to Portland ... an endangered invertebrate conservation group known as the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, named after the Xerces Blue, has now been in existence for forty years ... “protecting wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat”.

Another reminder to look after our habitat ... ensuring all species remain extant, while if we’re lucky new sub-species will continue to be found or evolve over time ...

X .. that spot in history denoting ten .. or a blank ..  or various signs .. let us remember the Xs in our countryside and ensure we care for these unknowns ...

This was a Xerces Butterfly    that is what X is for ..

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 27 April 2011

W is for Wedding, Westminster Abbey, the Windsors and William – that is what W is for ...

Royal Arms – borne by Queen Elizabeth II
(and will be borne by her successors)

A royal wedding is always a great event in British life, one of those milestones by which we mark our lives ...  and as we’re doing the A – Z Challenge with W falling on a Wednesday  - what better way to celebrate my W than by highlighting a few British Aspects ready for the Wedding Day.

The Collegiate Church of St Peter is the formal name of Westminster Abbey ... so called because St Peter, is the Patron Saint of fishers, and fishermen are thought to have seen a vision of St Peter at this site on the banks of the River Thames.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey has hosted fifteen Royal Weddings over the centuries, nine of which were in the last century;  Prince William will enter the Abbey through Poet’s Corner; the Dean of Westminster will lead the bride and her father down the aisle from the main door.

Afterwards the new bride is expected to maintain the tradition of placing the bridal bouquet on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in memory of the men and women who have died serving their country.

HRH Prince William and Catherine Middleton have chosen a traditional-language version for their marriage service, a decision taken partly to honour the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible this year.

The service is perhaps the most beautiful and resonant of the available options, rooted in the history of the Church of which Prince William will one day become Supreme Governor, but in the changes from the 1662 version, the service reflects also the realities of the modern world, permitting a wide choice of music and hymns.

Marriage of Victoria and Albert -
Painting by 
George Hayter 
The Archbishop of Canterbury, presiding, will emphasise the continuity between the royal weddings and the thousand of marriages taking place throughout Britain in ordinary parish churches up and down the land.

On 9 April 1952, Queen Elizabeth II officially declared her "Will and Pleasure that I and My children shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor, and that my descendants who marry and their descendants, shall bear the name of Windsor."

Street parties, large screen presentations in city centres, house parties and the streets of London will all be celebrating this Friday, our Y day, throughout the British countryside.

This is Wedding, Westminster Abbey, the Windsors and William    these are what W is for ..

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday 26 April 2011

V is for a Vole – that is what V is for ...

The River Bourne at Winterbourne Gunner,
a typical chalk stream, ideal for Ratty the Vole

A close relative of the rat and mouse, the vole has a blunt snout, tiny ears and short tail.  Voles spread into England from the Continent after the end of the Ice Age, before the North Sea and English Channel were flooded by the rising waters.

There are different voles ... short-tailed voles live in the hedgerows, rough grassland, borders of woodland etc; the bank vole lives in banks along hedgerows, deciduous woods and scrubby areas – he has been seen in Ireland, somehow ‘emigrating’ there!

... while the water vole lives along the banks of canals, slow-moving rivers and lakes, and in marshes – this is the eight inch long water vole .. and this is the one I’m going to remind us about ...

Ah ‘Ratty’ from “Wind in the Willows” ... the water rat (Vole) dives into the river and stays submerged, whereas the true rat keeps to the surface.

A Vole (Water Rat)
Ratty .. will sit upright on the bank-side feeding on a water plant or washing its face ... its home territory is a burrow, the entrance to which is sometimes just below the surface of the water.  A nest of rushes or grass is made inside the burrow ... as Kenneth Grahame describes Ratty the Vole has many enemies .. including weasels, cats, foxes, pike, owls and other birds of prey.

I can’t go without leaving you with some of Grahame’s evocative words to match this wonderful summer weather we’re having so early in our year .. and ‘messing about in boats’ is something Ratty is prone to do, while I am sure many a Briton has been doing the same this Easter weekend ...

Mole stopping on the bank of this marvellous chattering river ... a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea. 

As mole sat on the grass and looked across the river, a dark hole in the bank opposite, just above the water’s edge caught his eye, and dreamily he fell to considering what a nice snug dwelling-place it would make for an animal with few wants and fond of a bijou riverside residence, above flood level and remote from noise and dust.

As he gazed .. an eye appeared ... then a small face began gradually to grow up round it, like a frame round a picture.

            A brown little face, with whiskers.
                        A grave round face, with the same twinkle in its eye that had
first attracted his notice.
                                    Small neat ears and thick silk hair.
                                                It was the Water Rat! .... our V for Vole ...

A bank vole
Grahame’s words from The Wind in the Willows reminding us of the infectious enthusiasm of our British vole .. our little water rat ... one of the many characters that make up our British countryside ...

This is Vole    that is what V is for ..

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Some Words and Phrases taken from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 25 April 2011

U is for Underground Britain – that is what U is for ...

Speleothems in Hall of the
Mountain King, Ogof Craig
a Ffynnon, South Wales.
Beneath our countryside lies a world of unrivalled beauty ... the world of caves with their intricately eroded galleries, their hanging limestone curtains and their pillars of joined stalactites and stalagmites, all emitting a milky sheen.

The world of caves is one of silence, broken only by the drip of water – and colour, where the walls have been stained by minerals.

This world provided the earliest known dwellings in Britain ... the Neanderthals began occupying them just before the last Ice Age, approximately 130,000 years ago .. with Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age man occupying them, on an ever-decreasing scale, until about 2,000 years ago.

Other occupants over time included sabre-toothed tigers, beavers, tailless hairs, red deer, cave bear, hyena, wolf ... to today’s inhabitants - bats, spiders, frogs, beetles, etc

Llangollen canal: The final narrows
Caves are providing us with extra information previously unattainable via the topographical aspects of the earth beneath – and through historic remains – bones and skeletons, tools, cave drawings, artefacts ... including Roman occupants ... giving us pottery, bone pins, iron, bronze and silver rings, brooches and coins.

Since those days man has built new underground structures ... mine workings, deep tunnels quarried into the earth, or tunnels connecting one part of the country to another, cellars and undercrofts provide other havens for wildlife. 

Natural erosion occurs giving temporary underground cover ... rivers cut down creating their river beds, provide purchase for undergrowth to grow across creating a temporary bridge ...

Covered areas – pedestrian passageways, the underground (metro) system, sewage systems, service tunnels ... all spaces that will soon be occupied by creatures other than humans ...

The Herald Moth hibernates in
cool, dark places
We forget beneath our feet life continues, and continues to evolve ... spiders, hibernating moths, flatworms, springtails and ground beetles ... providing prey for bats; small pools support crustaceans; trout too have ended up in underground waters; flies, frogs ...  all are part of the cycle of life.

Most underground entrances or shafts provide suitable conditions for a wide variety of shade and moisture-loving flowering plants, liverworts, ferns and algae, while in caves themselves many species of fungi have been found on decaying animal and plant matter brought in by floods or cavers.

Underground Britain gives us yet another aspect of the British countryside hidden away in their silent locations ... a window into the earth  ....

This is Underground Britain    that is what U is for ..

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday 23 April 2011

T is for Trug – that is what T is for ...

A Sussex Trug

A true artisan craft is to be found in the Sussex Weald a few miles inland from the coast.  I am delighted that T for Trug came up ... as I’ve learnt so much and hope you enjoy the story too, the two websites and News links within one site enhance this post.

A trug is a wooden vessel or boat shaped article and is derived from ‘trog’ an Anglo Saxon word.  Originally they were used as measures or scoops for grain, feed or even liquid ... though a quick dash was required to safely deliver the liquid!

They became basket like and are now made in a variety of shapes and sizes, making them ideal for many home and garden jobs ... harvesting garden produce, gathering and displaying flowers, to storing fruit or eggs.

The stories on the two websites (I have linked to) are interesting .. reminding us how times were ... the handle and rim are cleaved from coppiced sweet chestnut, using a cleaving axe or froe, then held in a shaving horse and smoothed with a drawknife before being bent a around a former.

Peter Marden putting in
the centre board first
Then the boards are prepared from cricket-bat willow, again using the drawknife and shaving horse.  The coppiced willow too is sourced as off-cuts from a cricket bat maker.

Coppicing again is an old art ... maintaining trees at a juvenile stage, while regularly coppiced trees will never die of old age, giving the woodland a rich variety of habitats, which is beneficial for biodiversity.

The Truggery at Coopers Croft, Herstmonceux has a wonderful history ... the workshop and Croft house have been in existence for over 200 years plying their trug trade ... but there are records of trugs and makers dating back to the 16th century.

Trugs became famous after they were shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and Queen Victoria ordered a consignment for members of the Royal Family.  On completion of the order, the precious cargo of trugs was loaded into a wheelbarrow and walked to Buckingham Palace – a mere 60 miles or so.

Garden Trug from
The Truggery shop
Fortunately this wonderful artisan craft has been continued by a few master craftsmen, their stories told through the media ... and their art available for purchase direct, from The Truggery or local Wood Fairs – as there is nothing to replace the traditional Sussex Trug for its strength and durability.

This is a Trug    that is what T is for ..

The Truggery, Herstmonceux, East Sussex

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 22 April 2011

S is for Sea Gooseberry – that is what S is for ...

"Ctenophorae" from
Ernst Haeckel’s
Kunstformen der Natur,
We’re not quite there yet – but in late summer or early autumn, balls of colourless jelly the size of a gooseberry are washed up on the shores all around the British Isles.

They are also known as comb jellies and have wondrous qualities that are quite honestly amazing – nature is wonderful.  If sea gooseberries are dropped into a rock pool or a jar of sea water, eight rows of iridescent plates and pair of trailing tentacles become visible.

These plates are used to propel the sea gooseberry in the water, while the tentacles capture plankton, often herring larvae, drawing the plankton up into its mouth, which is on the underside of its body.

Light diffracting along
the comb rows
The right lower portion of the
body is regenerating from
previous damage.  
The comb rows produce a rainbow effect, which is not caused by bioluminescence, but by the scattering of light as the combs move.

Their chief enemy is a related species, whose diet is almost entirely sea gooseberries, and is itself eaten by cod.  Almost all Ctenophores (comb jellies) are predators .... preying on the others  in the food chain, or other plankton.

All sea gooseberries are hermaphrodites which cross-fertilise one another to produce the next generation of larvae.

While we’re at it ...S for shock extra information too! ...  I had always thought plankton were microscopic plants ... but in fact plankton refer to any drifting organisms – animals, plants, archaea (single-celled organisms) or bacteria that inhabit the upper layers of open water bodies.

Sea Gooseberry
Sea gooseberries is a generic name for a very prehistoric ancestor – and that the group Ctenophores came into existence after the sponges, but before the sea anemones and corals, which have a ‘sister’ lineage of the jellyfish and hydras.  

It is thought that the common ancestor of modern ctenophores was relatively recent, and perhaps was lucky enough to survive the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction 65.5 million years ago, while other lineages perished.

This large-scale mass extinction of animal and plant species in a geologically extremely short space of time is believed to have created a major boundary in life’s existence and lead to a massive disruption in Earth’s ecology.

Who thought that a simple creature such as a Sea Gooseberry would provide such interesting information ...  or that we would travel in time so far ... or that I would stretch the British connection a little ...

This is Sea Gooseberry    that is what S is for ..

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories