N is for Newt

N is for Newt

N is for Newt

When I taught English as a foreign language, playing word games was a nice ten minute filler at the end of the lesson. Going through the alphabet and finding a word for a series of categories was a pretty standard exercise but the letter N always stumped students when it came to the animal category. There really aren’t many animals starting with N. I usually ended up supplying the word, either Newt of Nuthatch.

Newts are (as you all know) amphibians. Contrary to popular belief this doesn’t mean they spend most of their time in and around water; newts like damp places for certain but the only time you’re likely to see them in your pond is during the breeding season. Our pond has at least once species of newt that breeds in it (as well as frogs and toads), and they’re utterly delightful to watch.

This one was caught when we were weed-clearing last year and was returned immediately after the photo opportunity.

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A Thinking Place

A Thinking Place

Do you have a place you find yourself drawn to when you need to have a good old think? I suspect most of us do. Over the years there have been many, some close to hand and others a good distance away from home.

When we lived in Nottingham in the early 90s I had a thinking place almost on my doorstep, which is just as well as I had a toddler at home at the time. The house was the first we’d had which had a proper garden and it was quite a decent size for us; room for a swing and plenty of space to run around but also nice for us adults. My thinking place was half way up the garden path, where the garden sloped upwards and there were a few steps. I’d sit there, summer or winter, with a mug of coffee, and think.

In the years that followed there were many more. When we lived in north Yorkshire, there was a place up in the forest above where we lived, about a half hour’s brisk walk. The mountain stream that meandered down from the moors passed close to the path and down a cascade of waterfalls over rock formations left behind after the last ice age. There were four stages to the waterfall, and the sound of running water and bird song was intensely calming and conducive to deep contemplation. I’d walk up here with the dog, sit down for twenty minutes and let it all sink in, and the knots in my head slowly untangled.

In Norfolk, there were several close enough to my home that a walk often took a couple of hours as I spent time in each. One was a huge tree trunk that had been dragged off the path and left. Here I would sit, among the woodland, and listen to nightingales and watch for wildlife and the fae. Further on, deeper in the woodland, was a vast black poplar, larger than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It was clearly the queen of the wood, twin- trunked and massive. In the gap between the two huge trunks I would stand and think; I remember being there with my friend Claire, singing native American chants together, in tune with the spirit of the forest. There was a small clearing further along, on the edge of the common, where I could sit unseen and be at one with the trees.

In the Midlands, I had several areas along the river Soar where I would stop for a while and watch the river, one close to the lock gates, another further along the tow path. When we lived in Suffolk (until about 3 years back) I had a few along the beach, sitting on a particular groyne, or among woodland clearings. Here I have one or two, by the giant old oak or on the bridge over the stream in Starston.

Despite the changes in landscape, all these thinking places had a lot in common. Each was a place where wildlife came, even in the city, though there was nothing visible that would obviously attract birds or animals. My waterfall place was the first and only place I’ve seen a merlin (the smallest of our raptors). It had not come to drink or really to hunt; it just appeared on the other side of the stream, watched me for a while and flew off. My thinking spot on the Soar brought me into contact with a weasel I lifted from the river; for example, and the further one brought me face to face with a mink. My thinking spot on the bridge brings me close contact with kingfishers, dippers, waterbirds, rodents, owls, egrets and many others. The fallen tree and the black poplar was also places where the usually invisible beings of the countryside allowed themselves to be seen. At night time, the wood was alive with the fae.

The characteristics of my own thinking spots mark them as places a shaman would call power spots, a seer would call them nexus points where earth energies peak. You can dowse for them, even, or just sense how a place feels. Often your body just knows (just as it can know when a place is somewhere you need to steer clear of!) It’s this convergence of power that seems to call wild things close, and which keeps them there when a human is present (when all their instincts are to high-tail it out of there). I’ve had a young seal virtually sitting on my lap, on a winter beach, unafraid and almost affectionate; deer, and hares, and many other creatures have come absurdly, marvellously close to me, looking me in the eye and coming so close I could have touched them.

Places like this are truly magical and to be treasured.

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twelve

Day Twelve

Birds in the garden

As winter arrives a variety of migrant birds arrive in Britain; not just the overwintering geese for whom our climate is like a spa holiday compared to their usual honking grounds, but familiar birds like blackbirds, robins and starlings, come from continental Europe and beyond to take advantage of our milder weather and our love of feeding the wild birds. Blackbirds from the continent can be recognised by their brighter yellow beaks. Murmurations of starlings coming to roost make winter evenings spectaculr events. The robins’ song is a challenge to a death match, fighting over good territory.

But it’s a simple and beautiful thing to watch visiting birds feeding on a bird table; after pairing off for breeding, goldfinches and other small birds now group together in flocks. Many will huddle together in great roosts, hidden away in your shrubbery, sharing body heat like minute, temperate penguins.

The robin has featured on British Christmas cards for a long time, but despite folklore linking the robin to Christ on the cross, the reason for their link to Christmas is more prosaic and amusing. Originally the first postal delivery men in this country wore bright red coats, and became known as Robin Redbreasts, and since greetings cards for Christmas were delivered by Robins, it soon became a jokey theme to use the birds on the cards. As a child I remember a book called The Christmas Robin about a little bird who ended up in a house and perched on the top of the tree and sang on Christmas day; the connection has now become so strong that the robin is the quintessential Christmas bird.

Be more Badger ~ calling afresh on an old ally

Be more Badger ~ calling afresh on an old ally

A few nights ago, I caught the end of a nature programme I’d seen before, “Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem” and I had an enjoyable twenty minutes watching the antics of captive honey badger Stoffle (he was hand reared, I believe because he was found injured as a baby and couldn’t be returned to the wild). It reminded me of my ties to Badger medicine.

My first proper job after I graduated was in nature conservation, working in the capacity of education officer on an SSSI reserve in the north east of England. One of the many wonderful aspects of my job was the badgers. We had several colonies of them and one sett was perfect for badger watching. Dug into the sides of steep yew woodland, the sett had many entrances and it was possibly for us to scramble down at nightfall and sit among the tree roots and watch the badgers. I’ve written more about it in a post from some years ago. https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/badgers-bums/

The European badger is a more reserved beast than the South African honey badger but it shares powerful characteristics. Tenacity, strength, connection to roots are all part of its medicine. According to my usual favourite site on such matters http://www.animalspirits.com/index8.html , the badger is:

Keeper of stories, Bold self-expression, Aggressiveness, Single-mindedness, Passion, Cunning, Revenge, Perseverance, Control, Antidote to passivity or victimization, Persistence in the service of a mission, Groundedness, Knowledge of the earth, Earth magick and wisdom, Creative action in a crisis, Protection of rights and spiritual ideas.

 

One thing it doesn’t mention is the fact that the European badger has the thickest skin of any mammal native to Britain. This means that not only is it able to avoid the kind of injuries creatures with thinner skin might get, it can also move within its skin if pinned or held down in a fight. This gives greater manoeuvrability in conflict.

They also head deep underground during the winter, not to hibernate as such but to go into energy conservation mode, sleeping and dreaming the winter away. Who knows what their dreams are?

 

I need more of the badger attributes. And I need a thicker skin. I shall Be More Badger.

Frog medicine, Duck medicine

Frog medicine, Duck medicine

All in a rush, Spring arrived and in our garden it came with enough frogs to almost walk across the pond. For a few weeks, there was a party in the pond, and each evening I went out to put food out for the returned hedgehogs, to hear the contented song of mating amphibians. I’ve always loved frogs; the metamorphosis from spawn to tadpole to froglet to full frog is mind-boggling. Tadpoles apparently can decide when they make the transition. If conditions aren’t right, they can remain a tadpole, getting bigger and bigger, until they mysteriously start to change into frogs. In many animistic traditions, frog is a being of significance too. According to one favourite site (http://www.animalspirits.com/index4.html) this is some of Frog’s attributes:

Singer of songs that celebrate the most ancient watery beginnings, Transformation, Cleansing, Understanding emotions, Rebirth

There’s plenty more information out there, though it does tend to repeat itself. Frog is a water totem, and connects strongly with emotion and cleansing, new starts and transformations.

Frogs

Frogs

On Friday, we had a delightful discovery. For a couple of months the garden has been visited daily by a female mallard duck, sometimes with and sometimes without her drake swain. We wondered whether she was the same duck who came last year with two half grown ducklings; on Friday morning she appeared as if from nowhere with thirteen fluffy little pom-poms. The likelihood is that she had a nest somewhere secluded in our garden and the ducklings were brand new, fresh from the egg. Ducks, too, have their medicine attributes:

Grace on water, Water energy, Seeing clearly through emotions, Spirit helper of mystics and seers

 

http://www.animalspirits.com/index5.html

The alignment of the two symbolic sets of meanings is striking, and with my own mystical aspirations, I cannot help but assign meaning to the apparent coincidence of our garden visitors, and begin to see a slow, but accelerating change in my internal world.

 

Mother Duck and ducklings

Mother Duck and ducklings

Hedgehog Medicine- on the value of literal and metaphysical prickles

Hedgehog Medicine- on the value of literal and metaphysical prickles

When my daughter was small, a story at bedtime was one of the things we treasured and like many parents, we had our own favourites. The Winter Hedgehog was one we all loved.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Winter-Hedgehog-Red-Picture-Books/dp/0099809400/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417864863&sr=1-1&keywords=the+winter+hedgehog

It tells the story of a young hedgehog who refuses to go to sleep for the winter and sets out to explore what winter is. Without spoilers, I can tell you he found it to be “beautiful, dangerous and very, very cold.”

Last month, I had a series of baby hedgehogs needing rescuing. All (probably) from a late litter, I found them in my garden at night, one at a time, and all were tiny, hungry and riddled with fleas, lung-worms and ticks. A few days before I’d seen a dead adult squished at the side of the road, and I am pretty certain that was their mum. In total, we took five little hogs to the rescue centre, and I am pleased to report that most recent report has them all thriving and doing well. This is against the odds, as usually only 20% of youngsters rescued at this size survive. If they all make it through to the spring, we will bring them back here to release in our garden.

I’ve handled a lot of wildlife in my time and I have been privileged to handle many hedgehogs. They’re at a critically low level in the UK, and there are fears we may lose them altogether. There are lots of things we can all do to help, and for more info, do look at the Hedgehog Society’s website for advice http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/

on feeding and more general information about their lives. We put out food every evening, because contrary to what most have believed, they don’t sleep the entire winter but will come out during mild spells and will need food if they do.

Now, as far as I am concerned, there are messages that come to us from within our own souls and from the outside world: oracles, if you like. The arrival of quite so many spiky little beings coincided with a time of needing to withdraw and of going within, but also of the need to protect myself. I have often felt raw and with too few skins and the hedgehogs remind me of the need for psychic protection for the sake of staying safe while being able to go about my daily life. I’ve talked before about armouring and becoming vulnerable and this encounter with hedgehogs has been a reminder that while I need to protect myself I should not do so by becoming cut off from the world. Hedgehogs are agile, and are good climbers, despite their apparently cumbersome outer layer. Each prickle is actually a modified hair and is very flexible and quite light.

One of the very curious things about this litter of hoglets is that I found it much harder to pick them up. I’ve scooped up hedgehogs with bare hands in the past and not been prickled, but when the rescue centre lady handled them she showed me these ones have a different pattern of prickles. They seem to have a number of extra prickles that are longer, thicker, sharper than the others, and which are also paler. It would seem they have been adapting and changing too. One of the few predators in the UK that can do anything with a hedgehog is the badger; they turn them inside out and eat them. I imagine that these new pricklier versions may well be harder to do that with. The other curious thing is the fact that FIVE babies have made it thus far from a late litter. Hedgehogs can have up to ten babies at a time but it’s rare for more than three or four to survive to leave the nest. All of ours have this new pattern of prickles and so are almost certainly litter mates. This gives me hope that they are somewhat better protected than others.

In terms of personal psychic protection, the use of metaphysical prickles is the same as for literal ones. No one gets hurt by prickles if they are not actually attacking the hedgehog; psychic prickles are the same. You are not choosing to attack anyone else, but should they attack you, it will hurt. If you are curious about protection, there are a lot of excellent books I can recommend, but I’ll leave you with some medicine information about the hedgehog as totem or guide or guardian.

Wisdom of the female elders

  • Fertility

  • Defense against negativity

  • Enjoyment of life

  • Understanding weather patterns

http://www.animalspirits.com/index18.html

The Hedgehog teaches how to be on the defence and how to protect yourself.
It shows how to protect the soft inside – your inner self.
Hedgehog shows how to be gentle, yet protective at the same time.
How to build defences and protective barriers that discourage negative people.

It also is the symbol of the Wisdom of the Female Elder, with close ties to Mother Earth. People with a Hedgehog totem often understand weather patterns –
they know when it will rain.

http://www.linsdomain.com/totems/pages/hedgehog.htm

Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast

Spring, you sexy beast, you’re back!
Blowing hot and cold again,
From pheromones and feathers fluttering,
Pistils and stamens at it,
Hammer and tongs,
To nights that end in ice,
Frosted grass and ruined plants
Pricked out too soon, too tender.
You’re so full of juice
You might explode with green.
Stiff new leaves, quivering catkins
Open-mouthed flowers
And frantic frogs, a-courting,
Birds, oblivious of envious eyes,
Bill and coo and shag.
That’s a bird, too, right?