Rotting, Not Wasting

A ‘hard work’ kind of ride – nothing in the legs and not a lot of inspiration or motivation; nature’s closing in and it seems to be making me feel the same.

A dead fox - rotting but being eaten by something

Rotting, but not going to waste.

Where I was today around Shiplake, the Thames Valley floods are all too obvious but away from the noise of the media, what’s going on isn’t anything that out of the ordinary in its own right; floods of this magnitude have happened many times before.

The issue, from a climate change perspective, is the frequency of these events; that and the combinations. We’ve run the gamut of floods and droughts already and the year’s not out.

A bright spot for the day was a close encounter with a Buzzard. He was just sitting on a hedge, no higher than five foot, on the side of the road. As I came up to him he merely looked at me. I stopped, we looked at each other and only after a while did he decide to stretch his wings and languidly take off, to wheel away across the field behind him.

I rode away, he was soon overhead and then ahead of me, crossing over to the other side of the lane before landing higher up in a tree.

The dead fox we both passed can’t have been fresh enough for him – it looks like it’s been there for a while. I guess it won’t go to waste; even at this time of year the corpse will be being consumed by something or things.

The fox is a missed meal from a Buzzard’s perspective if he’d come across it earlier, but give it enough time and there’ll be nothing to show that fox ever died there – just like you and me; just like all those householders battling the flood waters. Sooner or later they’ll lose; sooner or later the water will win.

Nature Notes From On High

Up on the Ridgeway for a ride with Charli – it seems like a long time has drifted by since our last ride up there. The difference is marked.

Of course, rain falls everywhere and it’s been very wet of late, but somehow you expect it to be dryer up high. It wasn’t, and the combination of chalk, flint and clay can make for more sideways travel than is ideal, but it wasn’t that bad; neither of us fell off.

The wind was strong and cold; all in all it would be easy to call it unwelcoming and, certainly, there were even fewer people around than normal, but it was by no means a hostile day. As always, making the effort has its rewards.

Cycling in the cold, with Didcot A and B power stations working hard as a backdrop.

Cycling in the cold, with Didcot A and B power stations working hard as a backdrop.

The change in the wildlife is marked. In addition to the ‘normal’ hedgerow birds you’d expect to see there were flocks of Starlings and Red Wings, plenty of Crows and any number of Rooks – in the main rooting about on the ploughed fields. There were more of both Buzzards and Red Kites than I’d noticed before too, and a few Kestrels around to complete the compliment of hunters. It’s been a good year for Pheasants; they’re everywhere – including up where we were.

Depressingly, humanity doesn’t change. A fair way away from anywhere, someone had gone to a stupid amount of trouble to dump a fridge. Pretty well where ever they’d come from, it would have been just as easy or easier to take it to a council tip. It is possible to despair when you think about who you have to share the planet with. People like this can drive cars, vote, breed …

A dumped fridge on the Ridgeway

We share the planet with the idiots who do this.

Dripping and Salty

And just like that, it’s now unseasonably hot. After the unusually cold and the unusually dry, we get the unusually hot. And still no-one seems alarmed … which is perhaps odd. Perhaps we’re all fatalists.

Perhaps it just demonstrates how selfish we all are at root: yes, I can see climate change is a problem and I’ll go the extra mile and recycle an extra cardboard box, but don’t expect me to actually change anything significant. Don’t ask me to give up breeding or foreign holidays or driving everywhere or … or … or …

The first red poppy of the year

The first red poppy of 2012

Hot weather changes things: there were Red Kites flying higher today than they have been for a while, turning gently in big lazy loops, and there were Buzzards slowly circling even higher; even the crows mobbing the lower-flying Kites didn’t seem that fussed.

The swifts chasing insects in the lanes below Woodcote weren’t flying as fast as they often do; the blackbirds and the unidentified LBJs* criss-crossing between hedges didn’t have any urgency either.

Nor could I muster any speed, in the long plod up the hill to Woodcote itself. It’s fair to say I was dripping at the top and salty by the time I arrived home: not exactly delightful but it’s not a problem – just drink a lot during and after and enjoy being out.

In fact cycling is one of the few things I’m happy and relieved to be doing on a really hot day; as long as you keep moving it’s fine and even warm air passing over you is cooling when the temperature’s nudging 80F. When you stop, get indoors and guzzle and you’ll be all the better for the ride and none the worse for sweating.

As with any other weather, the trick is to get on with it and enjoy it for what it is and don’t fall for the notions of good and bad – it’s all just weather.

The hot weather doesn’t just bring about changes in animals: there’s a little more colour appearing in the vegetation now – more yellows, more blues and a lone red poppy made an appearance today too. I think it’s true to say that the more I look, the more I see. Noticing the things around you does make being alive more satisfying.

(*little brown jobs)

Germander Speedwell

Germander Speedwell

Enough Is Enough

It was almost warm enough for shorts today; nothing’s really warmed up yet but the temperature was in the high 60s. In the shade it’s cooler than it would be if it were a summer day, but even so, that’s nicely warm. What was perhaps more notable is the dryness; a couple of times today I was tasting dust after lorries passed me. It seems a bit early for that. The prospect of drought gets ever more real.

Twice today, near Christmas Common and then on the outskirts of Henley, the birds that caught my eye were buzzards rather than red kites; they’re a very distinctive shape and they often seem to be flying higher than the kites do. In a first for me, the kites near Stonor caught me out by calling their distinctive call but being nowhere to be seen – until I noticed three of them on the ground, several yards apart in a field. I’ve never before been aware of them calling to each other when they’re on the ground.

I guess because of the combination of the foliage not being out much yet but the weather being good enough to encourage looking around, today I noticed a few obviously expensive houses that I’d either not seen before or hadn’t really registered. Most of them are the old stately pile type of place but not all – there are some more modern ones in amongst them. What I wasn’t sure about was how they made me feel.

Jealous? Not really. Angry? No, again not really. Some of them will probably be the result of old money being handed down. So it goes – that’s not going to change overnight. Some will probably be owned by people who’ve made a packet by doing something anyone would call honest and decent. I’m not going to carp at that. And some, probably, will be owned by grotty, greedy individuals who’ve climbed the greasy pole grabbing whatever they can, crapping on anyone they can, and not giving a damn along the way, and I wouldn’t want to be like that.

And there’s the question of sufficiency too. Even if I was behaving thoroughly decently throughout, I don’t want to put the time in to earn more to just buy more – more rooms, more garden or whatever. I’ve a roof over my head already. It’s a long way from great but it’s sufficient. I’d rather be able to take advantage of a decent day like today, go for a bike ride and pass the gates of these places than be bogged down in earning more money to buy a ‘better’ house.

I think I’m just becoming more aware that time is far too finite to waste on acquiring possessions I don’t really need. I’m not preaching a life of sack cloth and ashes – far from it. I’ve plenty of luxuries in my life, by any sane measure. I hope I know what constitutes enough though, and I can’t help but suspect a lot of people would ultimately benefit – be happier – if they assessed what’s sufficient more rigorously. It’s easy to get sucked in to buying more for buying more’s sake.

Bad Ambassadors

Pootling along today, I was overtaken by a group of five cyclists. Three of them were in a team strip – a local shop’s team; two were in other colours but riding with them. They came by me without a word, riding very, very close to me – unnecessarily so, it wasn’t on a narrow lane. It was unfriendly; you could argue it was sort-of aggressive. In either case I don’t care – I’m big enough and ugly enough to look after myself.

What I do object to was that they made me jump and if I’d be a less experienced rider that would have been either unnerving at best or downright dangerous. If it’d swerved – startled, or to avoid a pot hole for that matter – I could easily have brought them down. It would have been ‘them’ too, as they were dumb enough to be riding tightly together with overlapping wheels, which is a sure-fire way to have a mass crash.

I more-or-less kept up with them for a while, gapped only by the breaks in the traffic. The three in their uniforms went ahead of the other two and I lost sight of them. Tailing the other two, after a while I saw them coming up to a pair of horse-riders. I can’t swear to it because I was several yards back, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t give any warning to the horse-riders that they were approaching – i.e. they treated them with the same rudeness as they did me, but that’s far more dangerous with horses. Certainly, by the time I got to the horses, their riders were well hacked off. Presumably, the three in uniform had been just as inconsiderate.

All in all, it was tedious and wearisome. Whether we like it or not, non-cyclists tend to lump ‘bloody cyclists’ all together. Pretty well all cyclists struggle to be treated fairly on the roads. Cyclists like these five do that struggle no favours at all. They will have won no friends for cycling today.

What’s more, I’m not sure it’s a very sensible thing for the local bike shop to be sponsoring riders like these. Sure, having a sponsor’s presence at race meetings and what-have-you is probably going to help win trade from racing cyclists. I’d wager that there’s far more money to be earned from non-racing cyclists though, and all these ‘brand ambassadors’ are going to achieve are thoroughly alienated casual cyclists. Cycling at any level beyond the most utilitarian can seem very arcane to the outsider. If I were new to riding and had received this kind of treatment from this shop’s team out on the road, then you can be sure I wouldn’t be going to that shop to be similarly looked down upon by the staff, which I’d be quite reasonably assuming would be of the same ilk.

Later, between Wargrave and Crazies Hill, I came across a dead squirrel being eaten by a buzzard – one of those pale-variants with a light coloured head and neck. As he or she was tucking in, a crow was hopping about very nearby, not quite bold enough to grab a bit to eat but nearly. Of course, as I neared they both flew off. When I looked back the crow was tucking in but the buzzard was nowhere to be seen. Curious to see what would happen I stopped (which is unusual for me) and watched for five minutes. In that time three cars went by and each time the crow flew up but was back as soon as it was safe. A magpie turned up but wasn’t brave enough to take on the crow and after the third car disturbed them, didn’t bother to return. The buzzard never showed up again and that’s the bit that struck me as odd; I’d have imagined that would be the dominant one, top of the pecking order, and the one most keen to retain the prize. We imagine all sorts of wrong things.

The Smell Of Water

A day of quiet roads and bad road surfaces. I thoroughly detest the gravel-smeared-on-tar approach to road maintenance, which achieves nothing for any road user. It soon gets pitted and rutted for both four- and two-wheeled vehicles, and for two-wheelers particularly it’s dangerous because the new uniform veneer of a surface hides holes and lumps. There’s no attempt to fix these before the new layer is smeared on top – the faults are just hidden.

Crossing over the Thames at Goring/Streatley, the smell of the river was strong today and for me that’s very evocative – of nothing specific I don’t think, just ‘nice days’ by river sides. The smell of the sea is similar.

Of course I know I’m not alone in finding the smell of water – sea, (clean) river or both – redolent of unspecific good times. What I don’t know is whether that’s a simple cause-and-effect: we’re an island, we traditionally take holidays by the sea, that’s what we associate with happy childhood days and so on. Failing that we often gravitate to other water – rivers on moors, lakes and so on. Or, if it’s not cause-and-effect, whether there’s something deeper going on there, whether the smell of water strikes a more primitive chord somehow, something beyond mere association, even if it is sub-conscious. I don’t know. I’m waffling.

Plenty of Red Kites around today, and a couple of buzzards circling up really high. I only saw the latter in Cornwall. I don’t know if the lack of trees down that way will stop the spread of the Kites. I suspect I’m seeing more dead badgers than I used to – I saw two today. I don’t have the information to be able to say if that’s indicative of their success and spread, or of there being more cars on the road to kill them, or of farmers shooting them on the sly and dumping the bodies.