If I were to describe my most idyllic summer scene it would have to include sweeping meadows of rich green grass, dotted with dandelions, buttercups and daisies (perhaps a clover or two), the sound of doves, the damp scent of soil and meths from a roaring Primus stove, the song of a sky-lark singing under pillowed clouds, and, most importantly of all, a large Weeping Willow tree beside a gently flowing river. I have a real fondness for this tree. Perhaps it is because we had one in the garden when I was lad. It stood beside the pond and from time to time, I would grab a handful its slender branches and use it to swing out over the pond below.
There are a couple of reasons why I have included Wild (or common) Madder (Rubia peregrina) for this wildlife challenge. The first is very personal. I have mentioned in earlier posts that my mother was an avid botanist and, for some reason, I associate the plant with holiday forays into the country. Distribution of this plant is restricted predominantly to the south west regions in the UK – see the helpful interactive distribution map produced by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) and so was not common to where we lived. Consequently, if we happened to by holidaying or visiting the south west or Wales, spotting ‘Madder’ was very much on her ‘botanising list.’ There we would follow Keble Martin’s (a battered copy of his book was Mum’s botanical bible) cryptic clues:
There is something special about encountering deer. Increases in population has meant that, in many woodland locations and at certain times of the year, they are fairly easy to spot. Many country parks and estates also keep herds and can allow some very close encounters with them. Despite their antlers, and the rather fierce reputation of stags, deer seem to hold a very special place within the British psyche. This attitude appears also to be reflected by some of the biblical writers.
I am very fortunate where I live as the neighbouring fields are often frequented by a small population of hares. It is a real joy to watch them about their daily life or, early in the morning, racing down the lanes. As we we see, the hare can evoke a number of different emotional responses in us. Although, in many ways similar to the rabbit – on first sight, our initial reactions are often, ‘is that a hare or a rabbit?’ – the engender an altogether different set of emotional and psychological associations.
It is apt that the hare has an equally emotive, some times poignant, and sometimes enigmatic place within biblical and post-biblical tradition.
Possibly the most redolent sound of summer is that of the soft, lazy hum of bees among sun-warmed lavender. Out of all flying insects, it could be argued that bees are the most well loved – or at least well tolerated. I’ve known people renowned for distractedly swatting away flies, wasps and all kinds of insects, sit for (what seems like) hours patiently coaxing a grounded bee to with sugar water or honey.
The recent concerns over declining population has also helped to promote a re-assessment of the bee and our attitudes to it. Tracey Thorn’s recent tweet exemplifies this beautifully.