Meadowland and Brambly Mice
Meadowland taught me the meadow ants can live up to TWENTY YEARS. That’s longer than a lot of things. You could have three Great Danes in that time, if you found yourself in the position choosing between an ant and a big dog for a pet. And ‘dry downland areas they will take the larvae of the chalk hill blue butterfly into their nests and raise them.’ Cool! That’s like the ants are having butterflies as pets.
That is one of the many gems of countryside knowledge in this book. It’s the diary of a year by a Herefordshire farmer, John Lewis-Stempel. He likes sitting in a meadow, in all weathers, documenting the changing seasons, the flora and fauna, and throwing in bit of poetry. I know a lot of farmers, and while many have a deep knowledge of the natural world, they are more of the John Deere hat-wearing variety than the poetry-quoting sort. A one point Lewis-Stempel watches ‘a ladybird climb a skyscraper of grass’. Try asking a farmer the last time he took the time out to do that, and a raised eyebrow and probably swearing would follow.
The prose is occasionally quite flowery –
Standing in the middle of the field at night: someone has stirred the clouds into milk pudding.
And a lot of the time it highlights the beautiful yet utterly brutal nature of, well, nature –
When I stomp through the bone-cold mist, the kite is still there, tearing with its beak. Only when I get to within thirty feet does the kite launch up; it makes a half-hearted attempt to carry the lamb off but only succeeds in dragging it for a foot or two, before insolently making its way towards the mountain wall.
I had flashback to Being a Beast by Charles Foster with regards to the constant DEATH and suffering of everything, everywhere. In that book, I learned otters fight to the death and it sucks to be a badger. However, Lewis-Stempel does add enough tranquil hedgerow beauty and fun facts about cuckoo spit and curlews to balance it out.
And even some sex scenes –
…badgers, though, are not big on foreplay. Grunting furiously the boar clambers on the back of the sow, clamps her neck between his teeth to keep her in place…my mind, for reasons not difficult to fathom, recollects that Victorian fathers of the bride gave tie pins made of badger penis-bone to the new son-in-law to ensure fertility.
Niiiiiiice. And my favourite because it made me exclaim ‘Yuk!’ out loud in the hospital waiting room, is –
A pair of black slugs circle and lick each other, their mucus-covered bodies as moist as the grass on which they lie.
I could type out almost all of this book, there passages on every page I want to share. The monthly format makes it easy to dip in and out of. I got this out of the library but will invest in my own copy, as it’s great for weather nostalgia. To open a page and feel the warm September dampness that makes slugs go all Marvin Gaye (‘Yuk!’), or the ‘Frost. Frost so hard that the grass is as white as fronds at the bottom of the ocean’ is a joy.
And finally, this book made me remember, or rather crave, Brambly Hedge. I adored the Jill Barklem books as child, and had some large framed prints on my wall which I got rid of as a teenager, and wish I had back now. Dammit, I want to live in a tree, in a countryside where mice make jam and baby animals get to grow up.