Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Artist of the Week - Marja-Leena-Rathje

This weeks artist is the Finnish-Canadian printmaker and photographer Marja-Leena-Rathje

Her blog features really stunning photographs of rocks, landscape formationsand natural objects, sometimes stark, sometimes sinuously curved, always beautiful and never twee.

Monday, 30 May 2011

After the Gales

Last week's gales caused an awful lot of damage here. We lost two panes of glass from the greenhouse when it was at its worst. The whole house shook and it sounded like armageddon. I don't remember ever being quite so worried by the wind all the time we've been here, though it wasn't the worst we've had. I think it was because the trees are in full leaf. It may not be quite as fierce as a winter gale, but it was certainly noisy. And the trees along the river bank really took a hammering.

It's much quieter now, and the sun is out - a really good washing day. So that's what I'm doing.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Two recommendations

Please Note: One of my projects is to work with the Justice and Peace group of the Archdicese of Edinburgh and St Andrews to develop an environmental perspective on our work, so from time to time there may be posts on this blog which refer explicitly to Catholic teaching on various issues. This is not an attempt to convert anybody, nor to denigrate the wisdom of other faith traditions or philosphical points of view. If you're not Catholic, just talk amongst yourselves for a bit.

First the serious one. Lush cosmetics are promoting a petition from No One Is Illegal. I know that the shops smell like an explosion in an eight year-olds dressing up box, but Lush really do seem to live up to their ideals, and this about immigration really is an important issue to me.

To get a little heavy for a minute: there is a Papal Encyclical called Populorum Progressio which came out in 1968 and is at the foundation of catholic Social teaching, and it says:

"We cannot insist too much on the duty of giving foreigners a hospitable reception. It is a duty imposed by human solidarity and by Christian charity, and it is incumbent upon families and educational institutions in the host nations.

Young people, in particular, must be given a warm reception; more and more families and hostels must open their doors to them. This must be done, first of all, that they may be shielded from feelings of loneliness, distress and despair that would sap their strength. It is also necessary so that they may be guarded against the corrupting influence of their new surroundings, where the contrast between the dire poverty of their homeland and the lavish luxury of their present surroundings is, as it were, forced upon them. And finally, it must be done so that they may be protected from subversive notions and temptations to violence, which gain headway in their minds when they ponder their "wretched plight.'' (58) In short, they should be welcomed in the spirit of brotherly love, so that the concrete example of wholesome living may give them a high opinion of authentic Christian charity and of spiritual values.

68. We are deeply distressed by what happens to many of these young people. They come to wealthier nations to acquire scientific knowledge, professional training, and a high-quality education that will enable them to serve their own land with greater effectiveness. They do get a fine education, but very often they lose their respect for the priceless cultural heritage of their native land.

69. Emigrant workers should also be given a warm welcome. Their living conditions are often inhuman, and they must scrimp on their earnings in order to send help to their families who have remained behind in their native land in poverty. "

(you thought we only go on about sex? Silly you!)

I am including this rather preachy bit because there are various high-profile Catholic politicians who got asked to speak for the Church, and pontificated about moral values while at the same time bringing in laws ro restrict the rights of immigrants and refugees,lock up their children and use them as hostages to make sure their parents leave the country quietly.

Please stand up for the rights of people to find work and peace and stabilty for their children where they can.

The second recommendation is more fun. If you get the chance go and see Stirling Castle. They have just finished an enormous restoration project on the Palace Apartments, and they are wonderful.

Floss of Troc, Broc and Recup has also agrred to do the Green Chain interview. She is on a break just now, but do look out for it when she gets back!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

How Bad Are Bananas Mike Berners-Lee - Review

Published 2010 by Profile Books

This book is not so much about how to cut your carbon footprint, but attempts in a chatty and informal way to provide a way through the morass of information and misinformation on the subject. It takes many familiar issues - using dishwashers, food miles, flying and so on, analyses why they might present a problem and evaluates how big a problem this might be.

In other words, it gives a context for all your good intentions, exposes some myths (for instance, that cotton is always preferable to man-made fabrics, or that bananas are a problem), and enables you to set priorities and make sensible choices, instead of operating, as we mostly seem to do, on a mash-up of taboos and political correctness, for example, agonising over whether organic vegetables from Kenya are better than local conventional ones.

It also exposes the assumptions behind some popular assertions - that a dishwasher is more eco-friendly than handwashing (not in my house it isn't!) which enables you to check your own practice against the recommendations you get from elsewhere. All in all, a useful and interesting read.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Artist of the Week

I am tinkering once again with the Lúcháir website. I'm much busier now than I was last year, and so some pages are not being updated as much as they really should be. Also, I'm getting better at working out what a web-site can do well and what it can't, and shifting my focus to more of the former and less that would be better done some other way.

I'm particularly disappointed in the gallery page. Doing what I originally intended ie showcasing the work of the artists crafters and photographers I love, is beyond me, so I'm having a total re-think. In the meantime however, I did find a lot of truly beautiful artists' blogs that I'd like to share, and here's the first.

The Floating Bridge of Dreams

Roxana Ghita illustrates some very exciting poetry with the most beautiful, moody and evocative photos I have ever seen. Marion Macready is using one of her pictures on the jacket of her forthcoming poetry collection, so that gives me two reasons to be impatient to see it!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Green Chain Interview

This was posted yesterday, but I removed it when some difficulty arose with contacting green Chain. As the firm have been very prompt and helpful in resolving the issue, Iam very pleased to reinstate it.
Turning the heating down by just one degree in your house saves 240kg of CO2 a year. It would take eight trees to soak up this amount of CO2! Are you currently doing anything to make your home eco-friendly?

We draught-proofed and insulated as far as you can in an old house, and have the thermostat turned down as low as we can bear it.

- Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface, now they only cover 2%. How are you reducing your use of paper?

Working on-line saves paper, though I do wonder about our electricity consumption! In addition we re-use and recycle as much as possible. For instance I shred sensitive documents and add them to the compost heap.

- At PriceMinister we believe that trading second hand items online is a great way to extend the life span of products. Have you ever thought of buying or selling second hand items on or off line?

I buy a lot of second hand books! both on-line and off line. I think ourfirst flat was almost entirely furnished from auctions, but that's not so easy now, as we'd have to travel much further. Apart from books (where I know what I'm getting)I'd be less happy to buy second hand on-line. I like to look things over first.

- One of the biggest environmental challenges we face is Freshwater Shortages. Are you taking measures to reduce your water consumption?

We use a low-consumption shower and toilet, don't have a dishwasher and don't run the washing machine unless it's full. In this area we don't need to water the garden much, but I do plant with an eye to making best use of the rain we get, rather than allowing it to run-off into the drains and create flood risks.
- How do you choose the produce that goes into your shopping basket? (any favorite products?)

In order of priorities, I try to shop fo
fair trade (this includes British goods - farmers' markets give producers a much better deal than supermarkets)
organic. Organic is a complicated one, and I'm not consistent. I am aware of many high quality producers who do the work but can't be bothered with the hassle of certification. It's always worth checking out organic suppliers though, as those who care enough to go organic often also care about animal welfare, working conditions and community involvement. I'd recommend farmers'markets, but don't want to single out any one product.

- What is your favourite green space near home? (a photo would be great!)
Apart from my garden - which gets a fair amount of exposure on this blog already - I like this

It looks towards the Ochil Hills. It's always lovely.

- Which charity would you like to support and why?

I'd like to support Trees for Cities. Apart from the environmental benefits of greening up urban areas, it's important to remember that most of us live in cities. Green movements often focus on the countryside, but negative attitudes towards towns will only alienate those who live there. http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
If any bloggers would like to take part in this challenge, and raise money for one of PriceMinister's three designated environmental charities, please let me know, and I'll tag you.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Walking the Territory - Climate and Micro-climates

This is a photograph of the territory of rain in January, when we actually had some, and what there was, was augmented by snowmelt after the hard winter. Normally there is an awful lot of rain, especially in May, which has heavy showers and sunny intervals, so that you dash in and out with the washing and there are spectacular rainbows spanning the river, or across the face of the hill, or with their feet in the orchard opposite. Often this happens at the end of a cold dry spell with an easterly airdrift (too sullen and reserved to be called a wind) which doesn't bring frosts here, but keeps the gardens hanging dryly between daffodil and roses, and is hellish depressing. Then you get the winds from the south-west, and the air softens and brightens and all the green bulks up, and the gardens are full of nestlings fledging and harassed adult birds stuffing their bills with all the invertebrates that have ventured onto the soil surface.

Last week we had that rain, earlier than usual and now the wind is in the south and the sky is grey from Dumyat to Grangemouth - which fortunately I can't see from here, being too low down.

The village is just about at sea level, deep in the Forth Valley, and this has consequences for the weather we get. It is (mostly) marginally warmer than other places - Dunblane can have snow when we have rain - and sheltered from the worst of the winds. It isn't all good. when Falkirk had sun and wind and a thaw at Christmas we had mist and ice, and as the water pipe coming into our house had frozen solid, this was particularly disappointing. People who have hay fever and asthma often have more problems here than in other places too, because pollens and pollutants don't disperse so well. We have more rain than Edinburgh, but less than Glasgow, and tend to be a degree or so cooler than the BBC forecast in summer and a degree or so warmer than it in winter.

But even within the village there are differences in the climate. Sometimes we can see our neighbour's garden white wth frost when ours isn't. Ours is narrower and enclosed by a tall hedge on two sides, is more densely lanted and includes two good-sized trees and a pond which acts as a heat sink, just raising the temperature enough to keep above freezing point.

We have cooler areas to the north side of the herb patch and warmer ones, like the patio which gets all the late afternoon sun, and the south-facing wall of the house which is painted white. This only works in summer, though, when the sun is high enough to compensate for the fact that its lower than the rest of the garden which creates a frost pocket.

Winds behave differently in our garden too. The prevailing wind is from the south-west, but the one that does the damage is from the east, because the fence on that side creates turbulence.

All of this is going to help me get the best out of my garden. I'll be able to work out which plaants are going to need most watering. Pots of beans tomatoes and pumpkins can be moved to get the best of the sun, and plants which need staking can be placed where the wind won't be so fierce. Mints and parsley go in the shade of the herb patch, and strawberry plants will go at the top to catch the heat rising off the yard. I'll know where plants need to be brought into the greenhouse, and where I can take a chance.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

may garden

Eighteen months ago our garden looked like this:

It went through a lot of changes and looked a bit bleak for a while

but now it looks like this:

It has a kitchen garden

easy access to the pond, without getting too muddy

the herb bed got a makeover so it gets more sun

and we have a screen to hide the compost bins for honeysuckle and sweet briar roses to climb. This year the bed is half-hardy annuals for late summer colour, but next year I am trying to think of bee-friendly perennial plants, possibly heathers.

I am really chuffed!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hekla's Country

Polyolbion reminded me about the prograamme on BBC$ tonight about the sagas. It's part of the Iceland season, which I'm really looking forward to. So here's a poem I wrote about my trip to Iceland some years ago. It first appeared in Northwords Now in 2008, I think.
Hekla's Country
Hekla, 'the hooded', stands on the skyline.
She broods over a sorcerer’s country,
her bitter, burning malice cloaked in snow.
She is the origin of the sulphur reek,
the cinder tracks, the clouds of dust,
the streams which run ice-blue and steaming,
and the thin soil, bound with roots of lupins
like cobalt flames among the knee-high pines.

She is the gate of hell. When she erupts,
she fills the air with ash and poison
and, for months, the sounds of souls in torment.
She buried Gaukur's house at Stong
metres deep in tephra. Yet her fields are green.
The hills above the whale-backed sea are curved
as softly as the flanks of sleeping cats.
They chalice sun and wind like wine.

Her wiles ensnared Gunnar Hamundarson.
The witch betrayed him to a hero's death
with strands of Hallgerd Longlegs' golden hair -
that's how they tell it now. The saga says
Hlidarend was too beautiful to leave.
His horse stumbled, and he looked back
at golden cornfields and the new-mown hay.
I’m going home,” he said. “I will not go away.”

The afternoon I stood at Hlidarend
below the church, and looked out at the sea,
I thought of Gunnar singing in his grave,
and understood. My heart roots in this place.
I long for Hekla's country in my dreams.
I keep a piece of tephra on my shelf,
and sometimes sniff my jacket seams for dust
that smells of sulphur, rock and Iceland.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Least Incident

Over the brightening pool
a soft breeze shakes a cobweb.
Dewdrops scatter.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Walking the Territory - the Soil

It's not as easy as you might think to tell what sort of soil you've got from the plants growing in it. For instance, we have lots of foxgloves in the garden, so you might think our soil was a bit dry, and rather acid. However, they've actually self-seeded from cultivars I planted on purpose, so it doesn't prove anything.
On the hill, it's a bit easier. it's almost classic - heather and a little blaeberry at the top showing the soil is thin, dry and acid, bracken at lower levels - still acid, but trapping more water, and some nutrition from the leaf litter, and then at river level, rushes, which thrive on the river silt, and horsetails

showing where the subsoil is wet.

The soil is a bit richer at this level, too, so we have brambles

cuckoo flower, which likes moisture

and elderflower, which likes its soil rich and damp.

There are patches of thick sticky clay, too, but in the village, the ground has been cutivated for centuries, and, although it's a little bit acid rather than alkaline, it's good and fertile, and gardening is a joy apart from the slugs!