Fritillaries, or The deeply underwhelming spring flower post, part two

_IMGP3969_IMGP3961_IMGP3967_IMGP3933_IMGP4053_IMGP3944_IMGP3923_IMGP3914But once I went through the lanes, over the sharp
Tilt of the little bridges; past the forge,
And heard the clang of anvil and of iron,
And saw the founting sparks in the dusky forge,
And men outside with horses, gossiping.
So I came through that April England, moist
And green in its lush fields between the willows,
Foaming with cherry in the woods, and pale
With clouds of lady’s-smock along the hedge,
Until I came to a gate and left the road
For the gentle fields that enticed me, by the farms,
Wandering through the embroidered fields, each one
So like its fellow; wandered through the gaps,
Past the mild cattle knee-deep in the brooks,
And wandered drowsing as the meadows drowsed
Under the pale wide heaven and slow clouds.
And then I came to a field where the springing grass
Was dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries,
Sullen and foreign-looking, the snaky flower,
Scarfed in dull purple, like Egyptian girls
Camping among the furze, staining the waste
With foreign colour, sulky-dark and quaint,
Dangerous too, as a girl might sidle up,
An Egyptian girl, with an ancient snaring spell,
Throwing a net, soft round the limbs and heart,
Captivity soft and abhorrent, a close-meshed net,
—See the square web on the murrey flesh of the flower—
Holding her captive close with her bare brown arms.
Close to her little breast beneath the silk,
A gipsy Judith, witch of a ragged tent,
And I shrank from the English field of fritillaries
Before it should be too late, before I forgot
The cherry white in the woods, and the curdled clouds,
And the lapwings crying free above the plough.

The spring was late that year, I well remember.
The year when first I came on the field of fritillaries;
So late, the cottars meeting in the lanes
Would stop to marvel mildly, with that old
Unplumbed capacity for wonderment
At Nature’s whim. The calendar told spring,
But spring was heedless: April into May
Passed, and the trees still wore their livery
Of lean black winter’s servants; very strange
Most lovely Easter played three days at summer,
A heavy summer over winter’s fields,
Three days, and then was vanished, like a queen
Dropping the lifted flap of her pavilion.

Vita Sackville-West – “Fritillaries” from The Land

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Port Meadow afternoon

Port Meadow is a common pasture just outside the Oxford city centre; it’s a completely unremarkable patch of land, covered in cow and horse and bird dung, for most of the year, but occasionally either rain or other weather conditions turn it into something quite magical. Couple of years ago, the whole meadow was flooded for weeks, turning it into a lake hundreds of acres wide, full of birds. The flooding this year hasn’t been nowhere nearly as severe, but the meadow is still doing its job, catching the overflow before it reaches the city. Thousands of birds – ducks, geese, mallards, gulls of many kind, waders – feed on the meadow when it’s flooded, making it an amazing place for wildlife watching. I have seen herons, crested grebes, cormorants, a stray pelican… there are apparently kingfishers there too, though I have never seen them. Sometimes there are empty mussel shells on the riverbank, and there are also perches, pikes and trouts in the river – not to mention the big animals, cows and horses. The time to catch the myriad of wildlife is really during the winter and spring months – once the floods recede, the meadow will turn into hot, dusty pastureland, with nothing much going on.
IMGP3191IMGP3204IMGP3220On a sunny weekend day, don’t expect to be alone. Sometimes it feels like the whole town (and half the tourists, in the their designer sneakers or high heel boots, trying very hard to not to step on the ever-present mud) is there. The local sailing club will host races on most weekend afternoons, and the meadow side will will be full of people training dogs, flying kites and playing with the radio control planes and drones. The Binsey side is more interesting (and with less cows), so that’s the way I tend to go.
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The last leftover snowdrops, and some early signs of spring.
IMGP3237IMGP3282IMGP3265I am the photographer who still can’t take a continuous focus shot to save my life. The greylag geese are not very graceful birds, and they take to flight with great noise and effort, but once they are in the air, they are powerful and rather beautiful.
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IMGP3379IMGP3392IMGP3370IMGP3396IMGP3394The bright, sunny day faded into perfect pink dusk, a bit of mist rising from the river. I love horses, but there’s something almost feral and terrifying about these fellas, a herd of dozens of happy, muddy ponies and heavy draft horses. In that perfect, purple evening, there was something magical about how they roamed the meadow, galloping in the water.
IMGP3405IMGP3407IMGP3410The perfect sunset.

Material comforts

IMGP1931IMGP1929 IMGP1914 IMGP1923 IMGP1838 IMGP1824 IMGP1743 05 04 03 02 01 IMGP1857 IMGP1856 IMGP1898 IMGP1887 IMGP1873 IMGP1872 IMGP1867 IMGP1865 IMGP1858IMGP1911 IMGP1927I first visited Blenheim Palace in my first year as undergraduate in Oxford. That was eight years ago, and I only went back few weeks ago now. It is an interesting place – the house is impossibly grand (think Downton Abbey, multiplied by six and then turbocharged), and by now it resembles an “English country house theme park” more than a private, lived-in house with its champagne bars and visitor centres. But leave the house to walk the park, and even in a bank holiday weekend, magic happens. Not many people venture into the far corners of the park, and we had a bench by the lake all for ourselves. We sat there for a long time watching the birds and listening to the slightly menacing noises of the woods. The whole park a marvel – it was redesigned by Capability Brown in the 1760s, who built the (by British standards) huge lake with its waterfalls and planted the enormous trees. There’s something uplifting about the idea that 250 years ago, he set out to create something he knew would not reach its peak until many generations after his death. I’m not sure if I’ll ever visit the house itself again, but I definitely want to go back and sit on that bench again.

And we are here as on a sparkling plain

And I have loved thee, ocean! And my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward: from a boy
I wanton’d with thy breakers-they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror-’twas a pleasing fear,
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane – as I do here.

IMGP0399_IMGP0392IMGP0386IMGP0389IMGP0351IMGP0356IMGP0374IMGP0357 IMGP0396IMGP0422IMGP0429IMGP0433IMGP0446IMGP0451IMGP0455IMGP0414There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Poem excerpts from The dark, blue sea by Byron.

Apologies to Matthew Arnold.

Blow, blow thy winter wind, Part 2

Winter in England has been rough too, but in entirely different ways. It has rained. And rained. And then rained some more. In hard, sudden bursts, water hammering the already saturated ground. This is a photo of the Wolvercote/Godstow end of the Port Meadow, early December – when things were still mostly normal. Most of the photos below are from the same general area, few hundred feet up and down the river.
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The same spot yesterday.
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The Port Meadow has pretty much turned into a lake. I have never thought much of this “beauty spot”, so I actually prefer this vast, shining stretch of water it is now, and feel a bit sad knowing that it probably won’t be there much longer.

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A slightly different angle of Oxford.

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The weather was full of surprises. I was standing under a tree, cursing the sheeting rain, when suddenly the clouds scattered, a brilliant, breathtaking sunshine coloured the landscape, and the brightest, most glorious rainbow I have ever seen arched across the sky. I felt like I could touch it. It almost felt – if I was one to use such words – like a blessing. The beauty of it was overwhelming.

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So many rainbows. So much dirt on my sensor.

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After a slightly dull morning, the afternoon was glorious.

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The Godstow Lock. This is the closest I got yesterday – the path was flooded, and my bootlegs were not high enough to wade through the waters.

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Louisiana in Oxford?

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So much wildlife! My reflexes – or my lens – are not quick enough for the rabbits, but I managed to snap some birds, all looking rather spring-like.

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I never knew there are pikes in the Isis.

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A Port Meadow horse. One of these guys followed me as I crossed the meadow, his nose pressed against my back. I love horses, and feel quite comfortable around them, but that was still a tiny bit unnerving. This fella, on the other hand, paid no attention whatsoever on me.

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Almost missed the snowdrops this year. My secret bluebell place is also my secret snowdrop place, it turns out. And my crocus place. It’s a small cemetery somewhere in Jericho – not a particularly photogenic place, but a true secret garden – so few people know it’s there. I won’t give you directions, but look for it, when you are in the neighbourhood.