My A-Z of the Patch - part 1


Abor (tree) + lith (as in megalith - stone)
A tree like a standing stone such as this ash tree on the patch.

In April when I stand by the lake the morning sun climbs up the side the trunk, then for a moment seems to be embraced in its lower boughs.

Perhaps this is how standing stones were first sited by our ancestors - they noticed a certain tree / solar alignment which developed meaning for them and so made this more permanent with a stone in the same position.

A couple of years ago I compiled an A-Z of the Patch using existing regional or specialised words and focussing on the patch (Word Magic). This is a follow up in which I've come up with an A-Z of my own coinages and this is part one - A to M.

I think for anyone who pays close attention to single area - a patch watcher - it's fairly normal to invent their own names for certain corners of their plot that stand out. I have 'Stonechat Fence' and 'Wheatear Ridge'.

They may, however, have even more specialised terms. Every patch is, of course, unique  and everybody has their own way of relating to the world.  So there is an infinity of experiences - how many have words to describe them?

There will be existing words that approximate to the things we want to describe. But they are chunks of meanings that are often 'many things to many people'. Our own words are one thing to one person!

The Blackbirdrigal
The blackbird component of the dawn chorus

We’re lucky in the British Isles that one of commonest birds is also one of the most beautiful singers. the world probably.

To open a window at dawn in April or May is to be hit with a tidal wave of bird music. If the  dawn chorus is like a performance by a bird orchestra - then the blackbirds are the string section. All the blackbirds in an area seem to sing in unison their individual songs melding into  joyful bed of sound - chocolate rich, honey sweet.

The other birds - song thrush, mistle thrush, robin, wren and all the rest - are then soloists briefly coming to the fore then replaced by another.

It just so happens that the most beautiful soloist is also the blackbird - to my mind anyway. So you might get a nearby blackbird singing his heart inside out accompanied by all the more distant blackbirds and all the other members of the bird simphonia.

Each blackbird song is unique and every now and then you hear a real virtuoso with a heart stopping performance to rival anything by Mozart!

Chiffchaff + chuffed. ('very pleased' in informal British English)

The feeling of happiness on hearing the first Chiffchaff of the year.

The Chiffchaff is the first of the summer migrants to arrive on the patch - and hearing the song is a sure sign sign that spring has well and truly arrived

From about the second week in March, I strain my ears – willing those magical notes to come out of the dawn. My wildlife highlight of the year is hearing the first chiffchaff – every year. it’s a ritual with me.

The patch isn’t quite the same. What was wintery and grey is given a sheen of spring. The world is suddenly brighter – replete with possibilities – it actually feels warmer.

The Earth has travelled once around the sun while spinning on its axis - everything is right, for this moment at least  - with the world.

Other signs of spring produce similar feelings - so 'Swallowjoy' and 'Orange-tip top'.

Dandelion + light and also delight.
The delightful effect of sunlight shinning through a Dandelion seed head.

Dandelight is especially beautiful at dusk and dawn. It also applies to other translucent objects. So you might hold up a feather to the sun to see how it looks with dandelight.

Several of these words concern the effects of sunlight and  more specifically - sunlight  at  dawn. I suppose this is because I get up early!

l Iove to be out on the patch at first light. it's a magical time of day when you and often you alone - are privy to glorious dawn sights. These are all the more beautiful in that they so ephemeral - everything is in flux - the quality of the light, where it's coming from, what's it's shining on to, and what's impeding it.

Every single morning has a never-before-seen light show birthed by sun, midwifed by the night.

The glowing effect caused by the early morning sun threading through trees and picking out small areas of vegetation. Everything else is in half light so the reddish tinge of the beams that penetrate the trees bring about a sharp contrast.

The light is usually shining through trees in motion so there's a shimmering quality to the light and so these, short lived illuminated patches glow like embers. Suddenly new ones appear nearby and  soon the fire has spread across the whole scene.

Also 'Amberling' and I sometime think of this as the 'Burning bush Effect'.

The brief moment during sunrise when a part the horizon is lit in a thin bright line, or more often the top of a cloud. Like a fuse for an explosive - the very first inkling of the sun appears as a burning spark
...and also lights the fuse on the day.

Grain of Sand Grained

Finegrained + William Blake's "To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour."
To see the world in such fine detail that even the most, seemingly, ordinary thing reveals a wonderful intricacy and beauty. In the other words the subject of this blog! 

There's no doubt  that the Grand Canyon, Amazonian Rainforest and Victoria Falls are unimpeachable wonders but what about the everyday and the small scale - the world beneath your feet and outside yor front door.

If you look through the prism that primes you to see the 'awe' in ordinary then everything becomes Grain of Sand Grained.

(The picture is the pebble in the top right hand corner, zoomed in to different parts)

Homo Patchiensis
The patch-watching aspect of human nature.

We are all Homo patchiensis. To explore our surroundings - our patch - taking a close interest in the plants and animals is in our nature.

Our hunter-gather ancestors had an intimate understanding of, and connection with, their patch – their survival depended on it.  The change to agriculture, and seeing ourselves as apart from nature - controlling nature - happened only in a recent blink of an evolutionary eye. So, the brains that equipped us for hunting and gathering are the brains we have to this day - we're wired the same way.

10,000 years ago we would have recognised most of the plants that grew in our area – which were poisonous, which were good to eat, which would have fruits later on, which were medicines. We would have been avid bird watchers.  We would have been familiar with the mammals, which were dangerous, which needed a certain technique to hunt. Our Mesolithic brains could store enormous amounts of information about our immediate surroundings – just as our Chimpanzee cousins do today.

In the end though our connection to nature - though often obscured - means that Homo sapiens is Homo patchiensis.

Insect + photobomb
The previously unnoticed appearance of  insects on photographs of plants. (noun and verb)

I take a lot of photographs of plants. I frequently find when zooming to edit the photo that there are insects lurking there which had gone unseen before.

This photograph of an arrowhead  is being insect-a-bombed by a tiny dipterid on the bottom right of the flower and there's a larger fly on bud at the top.

I find insect-a-bombing somewhat reassuring. Despite the reports of plummeting numbers of insects - which is of course very concerning - there is still an abundance of them and the vast majority go unseen.

'K' + ice

A letter, or other symbol, formed from fractures on the surface of ice  (noun)

I was able to find a whole alphabet recently on a day when the lake froze over.

Whereas some letters are difficult to find,  'Q's for example,  'K's are easy!

(also 'kayticle', 'kayling')


Juv short for juvenile + spell as in period of time and also cast a spell

The time of year - usually around the beginning of June when a there's a sudden eruption of fledgling birds coming onto the the patch. This particularly noticeable in the garden when overworked parents come to the feeder near the window with ever-demanding youngsters. in tow.

The Lightning Tree
On my walks around the old golf course, on my patch, I always pay my respects to my favourite tree – probably in the world. I doff a mental cap to the Lightning Tree. I honour its plucky underdog-edness, its tenacity, its will to live.

With innards hollowed out so that only a shell of oak remains, it was almost certainly struck by lightning. When lightning hits a tree it can have a variety of effects, some get off lightly – but not this one. The strike may well have raised the core temperature so much that the sap boiled, some trees explode, this one is burnt out.

I can stand inside and survey the damage. What are now the walls of this trunk cubicle are charred to black, with a texture like the skin of a dark snake, greened in places by algae. I can look up and see the sky through a portal of burnt wood. I’m standing in the place heartwood should be – the place that fire has voided.

This winter’s morning it looks to be in a sorry state. The lightning tree appears to be on its last legs. Boughs lie strewn nearby like fallen dead on a battlefield. Other branches are walking wounded – still attached to the tree – but jacknifed into injured chevrons. The tree looks beaten, bent and cowed into a moribund husk.

But there is an amazing transformation in summer so that from afar it could almost pass for a regulation oak. Despite the fire wrought insults it springs back into leafy life – determined to carry – the oak undead.

The fact that it grows, seemingly as normal, is testament to the fact that most of the trunk’s living material is in the inner bark. The processes vital to the tree growth – the uptake of water and minerals from the roots, via the xylem, and transportation of food (sugars etc) through the phloem carry on unhindered.

Even on a  freezing winter morning I can see, indeed, that it isn’t giving in too easily.
Twigs are replete, tipped with buds. Next year's embryonic leaves are there, all present and correct. There's the promise of spring. Despite the odds, this is a tree not yet ready to give up its oaky ghost to the great wildwood in the sky.

Lightning Tree I salute you!

Joyful, ecstatic.

A lot of birds evoke a feeling on happiness for me, but perhaps the one that most embodies this is the House martin.

As they 
dive and and flutter,  swoop and arc, they seem to send arrows of joy into the sky.  The song, though maybe not quite so sweet as that of the swallow, is a contented babble - a bubbling up of avian laughter.

The House martins' arrival in April brings with it feathered packets of happiness.

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