Woodland Genitalia

Now that I have your attention … a return to plant spotting while out walking and riding, and two bits of information about plants to be found out and about at the moment that were news to me.

Firstly, Cowslips. It was only after reading about this native plant that I remembered I’d heard of Cowslip Wine. It seems they’re so popular for this very purpose that they’ve become relatively rare. And you thought a little rustic wine-making was an innocent past-time …

Cowslips: good for a drop

Cowslips: good for a drop

And secondly, ‘Lords and Ladies’, a fairly common woodland plant, is so named because of the plant’s likeness to male and female genitalia – suggesting copulation. (It’s known by other male-female names such as Adam and Eve, but there are plenty of other options too – snakeshead, adder’s root, cuckoo-pint – which I’d heard of – and so on.) And on top of all that ribaldry, the berries are poisonous. Arum maculatum is just a whole heap of fun.

Lords and Ladies: oo er missus

Lords and Ladies: oo er missus

Reality Changes

A few days away, no cycling and doing more walking than I normally do, and if legs could make a noise they’d have been creaking today. Mind you, matters weren’t helped by the fairly cold, fairly strong north-westerly wind – it made it a bit of a grind at times.

As I rode by the river in Pangbourne there was a pleasure boat on the river with a family onboard – very much looking the part of holiday-makers. At least it wasn’t raining. Seeing them was a reminder of just how late in the year it actually is, and how early in the year it feels. If you can remove yourself from the dictates of the clock and the calendar and instead go by feel – how time feels to be passing, what time of year it feels to be because of the weather and so on – then ‘reality’ changes significantly.

Photo: Buttercups filling a field in Spring

Yellow in abundance, here near Upper Basildon, Berkshire

On the other hand, if you ignore the temperature and the wind and look at the vegetation then it’s looking like late Spring. Many plants have come on early this year … but some others have made a start but are now ‘on hold’ as nature waits for it to warm up again. Nature is nothing if not responsive – and remarkably adaptable. (It’s also looking very yellow now in parts, complimenting the white hedgerows of recent weeks – buttercups as well as rapeseed fields.)

I guess the foolish thing is how un-adaptable we humans are. In the ‘advanced’ countries at least, we’ve devised such complicated social systems that we can’t respond to anything as elemental as the weather unless we’re forced to – floods or similar. Holidays have to be taken when holidays are taken. Hours have to be worked as pre-ordained. When we sleep, when we eat, when we do pretty well anything and everything is all dictated by external absolutes – clocks and calendars, contracts and commitments and all their concomitant consequences. We’re largely incapable of being responsive in our actions, either to how we feel or how the world feels to us. It does make you wonder how sensible our sophisticated systems actually are.

White Nature

Photo: Dead Nettle

Dead Nettle - called that, so I'm told, because it doesn't sting, not because it's dead

And all of a sudden, blue skies! Not unbroken blue but it’s not raining … That is progress. Off road – as today’s ride with Charli was in parts – it remains pretty soggy and it will take a few days to dry out so you don’t come back splattered, but it’s feels like a bonus to be able to ride without worrying about being caught in a downpour.

But being a happily mud-splattered 50-something year old is pretty good.

Over the last few days, the thing that’s struck me on the plant life front is how white the hedgerows are. An awful lot of the plants in the hedges at this time of year are putting out white flowers.

I’m not complaining; I have nothing against white flowers. It’s a reflection of my ignorance that I find it odd that there’s so much of more-or-less the same colour. I would have thought there’d have been some kind of competitive advantage in differentiation between the species. Presumably, there’s more to be gained from being white(ish). Perhaps it attracts those pollinators around at this specific time of year. Perhaps it repels things that would otherwise munch them. I am totally at a loss for an explanation.

And talking of losses, today the thing that strikes me in the news is JP Morgan’s massive losses. Yesterday, in the rain, I drove by a team of litter-pickers working on the verges of the road to Woodcote. Back in March litter pickers prompted me to muse on pay not reflecting value to society. Now, as JP Morgan’s losses show, we see that in the financial sector obscene pay doesn’t even reflect performance for the jobs people are employed to do. I am left at a loss to know why society should put any store by these people, bestow them any respect. And I am at a loss, too, to know how the fourth estate – the media – can continue to protest its value to society when it does so much to prop up this iniquitous value system that so bedevils us.

Photo: Lady's Smock

Lady's Smock

Photo: Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Photo: Field Mouse Ear

Field Mouse Ear

Photo: Jack By The Hedge

Jack By The Hedge


One trouble with Making The Most Of It is when do you stop? Another problem is whether you can.

With a forecast for a week of proper, heavy, unpredictable April showers – much needed but a right pain – I should have gone out for a long, long ride to make the most of the dry day. It sounds laughably melodramatic but there was a sense of having to make the most of it, an urgency, a feeling of being under pressure. The trouble is, work intervened and I ended up doing a short stint on a fixed wheel, squeezed in to the day’s schedule.

Photo: A fixed wheel back wheel with a half-link chain

Fixed Wheel: the half-link chain makes a difference

It was OK, if surprisingly cold. Very annoyingly, I found I had to fight the urge to be resentful that I couldn’t do more to make the most of it. The only proper response was to be pleased that I could do something. I suppose my resentment boils down to greed – I had some free time and my first instinct, rather than being pleased about it, was to want more.

There’s no two ways about it, greed is ugly. I’m not pleased that that’s how I found myself thinking.

I ended up not really thinking about anything else or noticing much going on around the lanes, apart from an abundance of pheasants and blackbirds, all of which seem to have a death wish.

The blackbirds’ willingness to dice with death, by flying out just in front of cars and cyclists alike, at least has a hefty dash of bravery and daring; pheasants merely seem cursed to risk all by dint of their stupidity as they stroll out on to roads without the ability the realise that motor vehicles aren’t forgiving. They often appear not that dissimilar to those slightly confused old ladies you can find wandering around most market towns.

Antropomorphism may be stupid but it’s a very powerful inclination.


Photo: Wood Anemones

Wood Anemones

A short ride out with Charli and, following up yesterday’s resolution, two plants caught my eye – which she told me are Flowering Currant and Wood Anemone. The former really stood out in the dull beech wood near Hook End – dull because it’s too early in the year for the beech trees themselves to be out, and it seems not much lives beneath them. The bluebells are pushing through but they’re barely showing any colour yet.

Photo: Flowering Currant

Flowing Currant - that probably shouldn't be there

I’m not qualified to make any comment about what’s a native plant, what’s not and what might be right and wrong on that front, but Charli said the Flowering Currant will have been carried there – that it wasn’t its natural habitat – and once it’s pointed out that seemed to me to be obvious. It just looked out of place – as simple as that.

I wonder if it’s fanciful to imagine that it’s possible to discern what plants would naturally be growing with each other just by looking, whether there’s some kind of harmony to how they visually interact with each other, even if we’re not consciously aware of it. I have no idea.