Friday, 22 January 2010

Postcard 63: Festival of the Trees - The Rufus Stone

Festival of the Trees

Festival of the Trees

Welcome to the UK and to my Festival of the Trees post!

Summer evening in the New Forest:
mare and foal

The three-sided Rufus Stone

"Here stood the oak tree,
on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag,
glanced and struck King William the Second,

surnamed Rufus on the breast,

of which he instantly died,

on the second day of August, ANNO 1100."

The Rufus Stone, stands in a shady glade in the New Forest in Hampshire, UK, set back from the A31 road, near the village of Minstead.

The stone memorial has three faces (and is a bit like a trig point). It was erected in honour of King William II, aka as William 'Rufus', son of William the Conqueror by John, Lord Delaware (who had seen the oak tree) in 1745. The Conqueror's son died in the immediate vicinity on 2 August 1100 as a result of an arrow fired by Sir Walter Tyrrell. The killing was said to be an accident rather than a murder. On hearing the news, Henry, the youngest brother of the departed monarch, was hurriedly proclaimed king by the barons, in a bid to beat his eldest brother, Robert of Normandy, to the throne of England.

The bones of William 'Rufus' lie in a mortuary chest (press link, then scroll down) in Winchester Cathedral, along with those of other members of the Royal Family, such as King Cnut and his wife, Emma. You may be wondering how the body turned up in Winchester for burial. A man known as 'one Purkis' laid the royal corpse in a cart and took it to the cathedral city. The original Rufus Stone became defaced and hard to read: a replacement memorial was erected in 1841.

The face of the New Forest

The New Forest today is a wildlife paradise. The following species of vertebrates and invertebrates can be found: ponies, deer, cattle, badgers, foxes, donkeys, bats, mice, water voles, adders, grass snakes, owls, warblers, curlews, spiders and butterflies. The ponies, donkeys and cattle belong to commoners, who receive grazing rights for a small fee. I imagine that there is a similar arrangement for pigs and sheep.

Above: a Lapwing
Below: a forest pig enjoys a wallow

There are also many species of tree, e.g. oak, beech, holly, sycamore, alder, ash, silver birch, sweet chestnut, horse chestnut, crab apple, blackthorn, hawthorn, viburnham, whitebeam, pine, redwood and yew. Some of the trees are very special: you can read here about the Knightwood Oak, the Adam and Eve Oaks and the Eagle Oak. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the White-Tailed ('Sea') Eagles returned, albeit with a bit of help? We so enjoyed watching these magnificent birds on the Scottish islands of Skye and Raasay last summer. There was great excitement in 2009 when a new kind of fungus, a yellow form of Phellodon melaeucus, was discovered in the New Forest. The fact that this area has been managed in traditional 'commoning' ways, without the intensive use of artificial fertilizers and chemicals may contribute to the amazing biodiversity and number of rare species.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Postcard 62: Philippa Scott of the Wetlands - a tribute

Swans in flight over WWT Llanelli, Penclacwydd
Photo: David Gill
(click on picture to see detail)

I hope you will join me on a winter ramble
through the WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) site
at Penclacwydd near Llanelli.
Not surprisingly, there are many signs of winter,
but there is also an indication
that spring is not too far away.

But before we set off,
I want to draw your attention
to The Guardian obituary of Lady Philippa Scott,
widow of Sir Peter Scott, who set up the WWT
and did so much else besides in the field of conservation.

Lady Philippa Scott died on 6 January 2010, aged 91.

Lady Scott, also known as Phil, was a keen photographer, scuba diver and writer.
Her publications include two autobiographical accounts,
Lucky Me
(1990) and So Many Sunlit Hours (2002) -
and a book on one of her multi-talented late husband's passions,
The Art of Peter Scott

The Scott family legacy will live on in the minds and hearts of many of us.

The sun is low at this time of year, so we had better hurry.
There was a Bittern in this vicinity a few days ago,
but sadly there is no characteristic boom from the marsh today.
The snow has all melted;
and to my surprise, there is a great bloom of algae
on the waterways around the scrapes
by Vole City.

A flash of brilliant red overhead.
A Bullfinch - no, a pair of these beautiful birds.
Watch as they dart in unison
along the winter hedgerow.

There is no mistaking that steady flap-flap of large wings
as a Grey Heron soars majestically overhead.
The lichen sparkles in the fading sunlight,
and the reeds and rushes make a wonderful backdrop
to this water-world.
Can you smell the salt from the Loughor estuary?

The Mute Swan over there seems quite obsessed with her fine reflection.
That Cormorant, on the other hand, seem content to stand in a stark pose,
like those sad statues in Narnia.

I find it quite hard to believe
that this land of small creatures
was once the home of huge mammoth and bison.

Did you know that a Pleistocene hippo tusk
was found beneath nearby Loughor Bridge?

Wouldn't we have a shock if we encountered an Ice Age survivor
emerging from the shadows,
around the next corner?

It's almost 5pm.
We had better begin to make tracks,
and leave the Robin to his worm .

But what about those signs of spring?

Well, if you look up now,
you will see the silver sparkle of the sun's ebbing ray
on those bursting Pussy Willow buds.

It's time for tea!

Thank you for joining me.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Postcard 61: Chris Kinsey, BBC Wildlife Poet & Greyhound Laureate

Above: Chris Kinsey reads from her book,
Kung Fu Lullabies
published by Ragged Raven Press

(photography: courtesy of Chris Kinsey)

Below: Greyhounds in the snow

I was delighted to receive a package from Romania this week. This time it was the special issue [Anul II - Nr.9 (14)/Nov.-Dec. 2009] of 'Contemporary Literary Horizon' magazine/'Contemporan Orizont Literar'. The publishing concern responsible for the venture is a media partner of MTTLC at the University of Bucharest. I am very grateful to Daniel Dragomirescu, editor-in-chief, and his team of translators: they do a terrific job in producing a publication that is always thought-provoking and highly 'international' in outlook.

The current issue contains features and poems from writers in Romania - of course - like Mihai Cantuniari (Director of CLH); from India (Vinisha Nambiar and Venkata Ramanan); from the USA (Michelle Brooks, Bert Rashbaum and Mike Essig); from Slovakia (Allan Stevo); from Nigeria (Abiola Olatunde); from Mexico (Marina Centeno) and from Australia (Mark William Jackson) ... to name but a selection.

Wales is not forgotten: this issue contains my interview, 'The Otherness of Creatures' with Greyhound Laureate and 2008 BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year, Chris Kinsey. My thanks go to Chris for her informative answers - and to Daniel for publishing them! If you are thinking of taking out a subscription to this innovative magazine from Romania, you will find a poem by Chris in English ('One February Night'), with a Romanian translation undertaken by Roxana Mindrican-DRĂGUŞIN. Thank you, Roxana.

There are a number of arresting pieces in this issue: I found myself pausing over a poem called 'At the Laundromat' by Mike Essig, mulling over the shades of whiteness, the stories, the silence... Daniel Dragomirescu has written a substantial review article, translated by Alina-Olimpia Miron, entitled 'Poetry and Logos', in which he touches on the part played by suffering in the creative process, with reference to Dr Theodor Damian (Philosophy & Ethics, Metropolitan College of NY and President of the Romanian Institute of Theology and Orthodox Spirituality, NY).

Why not visit the C&LH site: you will find out a bit more about the current state of international culture - from a Romanian perspective!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Postcard 60: Anne Frank's Amsterdam

The Netherlands

Have you begun a 2010 diary?

I struggle to write a regular diary; but I enjoy the discipline of trying to keep one going on a somewhat erratic basis. I wonder what works for you in terms of the actual book or folder that you use - or do you prefer to keep your diary in electronic form, and if so, is this primarily so that you can reach the world or save the trees? I like to use a Folio Society diary (usually for the wrong year!), which has been passed on to me. I love the feel of the paper and the illustrations. The hard cover makes writing easier, particularly if one is on the hoof; and the built in ribbon marker helps to keep my place, since my entry for 12 January 2010 might fall in the slot for 24 June 2003!

One of my most memorable trips abroad was to Amsterdam, with a visit to the Anne Frank House. The canal boat ride was delightful and the sun was shining; yet despite the passing of all these years, a certain sangfroid gripped us as we landed near the Westerkerk with its haunting bells. I took faltering steps towards Prinsengracht 263-265a, that house with a million secrets.

Do you know the evocative poem, Anne Frank Huis by Andrew Motion? You can read it here on the Poetry Archive. The two words that stand out for me are 'whispering' and 'loneliness'.

You may have heard that Miep Gies, the 'guardian angel' of the Frank family, has just died, aged 100. You can read an account of her extraordinarily sacrificial life in The New York Times.

P.S. As I was posting a link to Miep's obituary from my Facebook page, the Word Verification letters that I had to type included the word 'paragon'. Serendipity - for if ever there was a paragon of virtue...