In the early morning silence I sneak downstairs and into my tiny writing room in the hope that today, I will write! With a freshly brewed cup of sweet tea in my hands, I watch the sun rise. A huge part of me is saddened by things going on in our world. More suffering. More pain. More loss of lives. I dig my feet into an old pair of green wellies and step out into my world, a world so peaceful and untouched by cruelty. Or is it? And all the while, my old faithful is close at my heals.
‘Good morning girls!’ I smile as my multicoloured feathered friends spill out from their cosy wooden house, into their world of love and safety. All but one runs off excitedly, bobbing their heads as they go. They head for an old greenhouse on the other side of the yard and almost bounce into the makeshift dust bath my kind and unassuming husband has made for them.
‘Come along Midnight,’ I call softly. A wee black hen appears. She’s old, ancient, but full of life and character. She just isn’t a morning hen, a bit like my kind and unassuming husband on weekends. I pick her up and carry her down to the pond where in normal times, the others would usually be. The pond is full of frog spawn and tons of other wildlife. Snowdrops and daffodils colour its boarder and I smile. I am still holding my mug of sweet tea, it’s soothing. Close by is a willow tree, bearing its dull winter coat but home to a host of birds just waiting to be fed. Thankfully, this is outside the hen run.
Back at the yard, I feel like the pied piper but with a string of hens following me. They long for the gate to open, to be set free. To scratch around the pond and eat my precious frog spawn. They know the allotment is just around the corner plus the dark places where yummy small creature live. That’s their world, usually. But for the time being, they seem to have adjusted well, just as we humans must. Bird flu, covid lockdowns, isolation, and the worst of all, war!
News from our home for waifs & strays
Ten more rescued hens arrived safe and well. Scantily dressed in ruffled or no feathers to speak of, but happy to be in their new home, nevertheless. Sadly, within days of them settling in, the rain hit us hard and two developed a cough. However, with the treatment of antibiotics, they were soon back to health and ready to greet the autumn sunshine.
A few weeks have passed, and we’re delighted with their progress. To say they are show-offs is an understatement. They hold their heads high and sometimes I detect a smile upon their faces…but try as he might, my kind and unassuming husband struggles to stretch his imagination in that direction. Believe me, happy hens do smile!
This week, while the sun shone, we harvested most of our crops. I’m afraid many failed while others grew like crazy. I must admit I had no idea what some were. Thankfully, a few of our knowledgeable friends came to the rescue and, as always, stayed and cooked a magnificent meal fit for a king. It’s so nice eating outdoors in early autumn. Wrapped up warm beside a fire, looking up at the stars. Talking and laughing with friends always makes me feel blessed. No matter how hard the day might be, they are always there when you need them.
It’s late now and I know for sure that foxes are prowling the boarders of our home for waifs and strays. But I can relax, knowing that our girls are tucked up in their beds safe from humans and all other predators.
Goodnight all, remember that it is later than you think!
There is something about shopping in the wild for food. Eating for free, my father used to call it. From a young age he taught me how to survive on food from the hedgerows. I often wonder if what I ate was meant to be eaten! But here I am to tell the tale.
Quite often we would sit by a fire outdoors, upon which a saucepan sat with something or another boiling away, usually nettles or rosehips. This was often followed by a bowlful of blackberries and the leaves (quite edible) or gorse flowers, red clover flowers and sticky grass. Sometimes we'de boil up cleavers, goose grass (galium aparine) which were also quite appetising.
My father would catch a fish or collect cockles, prawns and shrimps and we would have a feast, all for free, and cooked in the fresh air.
Looking back on those carefree days of eating for free whist my head was permanently in a book full of adventure, there is no wonder I turned out a free spirit. I can hardly resist anything growing wild that is edible and a stories full of mystery! But one should invest in a good reference book if you’re not sure of what it is that you can eat. Take for example mushrooms. These can vary enormously, from toadstools to the delicious girolles (yellow-orange mushrooms) so be careful what you eat.
During the summer months, my father would make a salad of hawthorn leaves, hedge sorrel and hedge mustard, sprinkled with the gorse flowers and marigolds. I can’t say that I liked everything he gave me, and sometimes I would fill my pockets with leaves I couldn’t eat, not to disappoint him. He made such an effort to teach me how to survive in the world.
And so it is, that I am happiest roaming through woods or along the beach near our home for waifs and strays.
Although I enjoy living by the sea, I am happiest when wondering through the woods around our home for waifs and strays. Just closing my eyes and thinking about trees can bring my blood pressure down to below normal. I can see the roots, anchored to the ground and the tree stretching upwards as if holding up the sky. Everything connected! And I am always amazed that some have the strength to live for thousands of years. Incredible! I cannot help but feel emotional as I walk through the oak woods of Wales. This brings to mind the words of William Blake....
"The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and
deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself."
- William Blake, 1799, The Letters
If you look at the picture, you will see the trees I stumbled upon after a storm. The earth had been washed away, leaving the knotted and twisted roots exposed. But still determined to survive! And they will, for a long time to come!
‘God is a fine artist,’ my father once told me. I was always thought that this was a strange thing for an atheist to say. But, I never said anything, of course, for I knew that deep down, his love and respect for all animals and nature was God enough for him.
All kinds of birds fly through the great oaks of Wales. But for me, I love to hear the owl at nightfall, when the torch is out and we sit beside a campfire and smell the damp air in silence.
In West Africa, the Oubangui people plant a tree each time a child is born. As the tree grows, so does the child but they believe that same child’s health will be at risk if the tree ceases to thrive. From time to time, gifts are left by the tree and when the child becomes adult and dies, the Oubangui people believe that their spirit lives on in the tree.
I think, just like the Oubangui people think, that I too would not thrive without trees....nobody would!
Just like the tale of A Chicken called Sandwich over on my ‘small page’, we once had a sheep called Sandwich.
I found Sandwich (named because there was more meat in a sandwich than on the poor lamb) in a field, close to death. It was obvious that he couldn’t walk though he did try to stand. I went to tell the farmer, but was told he had died that morning. The family informed me that they would see to the lamb straight away. I trusted this would happen, but a gut feeling told me to check on this the following day. Sandwich was still there and still suffering.
So I went to the farm again and told them about the lamb.
‘I will take the lamb myself if that would help you!’ I said to the obviously grieving family.
‘Take it!’ was the reply and so that’s exactly what I did.
Without even consulting my kind and unassuming husband, I carefully laid the tiny lamb on the front seat of my car and drove home. I didn’t stop to consider what I would do with it, apart from taking it to the vets for a check up.
Back at our home for waifs and strays, we were greeted by three fat cats and a curious husband.
‘I have something on my front seat that is very precious,’ I said seriously, ‘and there was nothing I could do but to bring it home.’
My kind and unassuming husband opened the door and stared at the little lamb sleeping contentedly on my coat. He picked him up gently and without questions, carried him into the house.
‘We have to take him to the vet,’ I said, so I went inside and called him.
With the help and advice from the vet on the phone, Sandwich soon had a bottle of proper lamb’s milk and a lot of love. He looked at us and bleated whilst his woolly tail wagged. He couldn’t walk but I took it that he was feeling a lot better.
But later that day the vet x-rayed poor Sandwich and we learnt that his back was broken, probably hit by a car. We decided to let Sandwich stay in this world until the following morning, with the help of pain relief, so that he would know what love and kindness was before being put to sleep.
Although Sandwich lived such a short while, even the daffodils lived longer, he died peacefully, knowing someone cared.