Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Natural God

I am an atheist. At least, that is the theory.

But this morning I had to sacrifice (note, the religious-sounding word) a wee Maran chick who had fallen seriously ill. She was dying anyway, but it was the right decision. I confess (yes, more religious words) that I put up a wee prayer for her soul as I did so.

Working on the Croft with life and death, births and blood, sickness and Springtime, brings one close to the sensitivities that must have created the first religions. 

God, in the Croft, is Nature.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Tranquility and Chaos

Last night, around 3am, I looked up to the heavens and saw a sea of tranquillity. The stars in their constellations and the Milky Way slicing across the sky. The sky was sparkling hypnotically as we spun slowly below.

Down on spinning Earth it was a different story. A rat (Rattus rattus, the country black rat) had burrowed into the cage with the Maran chicks and had attacked one. There was blood and feathers everywhere – and one still-living chick. I took her inside and coated the puncture wound with StockholmTar. This morning she is still on earth…although her journey to the chicken Milky Way may be not far away. She is in a makeshift chicken hospital, the hen equivalent of M*A*S*H.

The other Marans had covered their wounded sister to protect her, and made enough noise to wake me (that’s a lot of noise.) They are doughty fighters, so I hope the survivors will make a strong brood.

Heaven and Earth. Tranquility and Chaos. Especially at 3am.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Crofter's Tiff

We had a typical crofter’s tiff last night:

Her, just arrived home after a hard day at the office: “The ducks haven’t been fed!”
Him, sulky: “I was busy”
Her: “But you’ve been here all day, working at your computer”
Him, more sulky: “Yes, I was busy”
Her: “But didn’t you have a moment?”
Him: “I was busy…”
Her: “During your coffee break?”
Him: “I was busy… drinking coffee.”

We do a funny thing when we, the urban, busy Northern Europeans attempt a smallholding. We import stress. We’re so addicted to our stressed working lives that we can’t resist recreating them even in the tranquillity of a Catalan smallholding. We manage too many animals, we manage too much woodland or too many fields. And we do it, just the two of us, living with (possibly enjoying?) the stress we have imported.

A hundred years ago this house would have had 8-12 people living here in an extended family – parents, kids, grandparents, an aunt… The four hectares of the Croft would have been easily manageable, allowing one or two members of the family time to get paid work.  We are trying to do the same thing with a modern nuclear family.

Sometimes the nuclear family is a bomb.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Les Poussins sont arrivés

The chicks hatched on Saturday – 12 lovely, strong, fluffy Maran chickens.

They had arrived by post from France, sent by a helpful member of the Marans Club of France.
Chocolate eggs, anyone?

I washed them and put them into a friend's incubator. 21 days later they started to hatch, chipping a ring around the shell from the inside and then pushing and pushing until the membranes broke. It took the first chick more than 12 hours to get out, but later hatchings took place in just a few hours.

Maran eggs are, like shaken (not stirred) Martinis, a James Bond favourite.  So our first chick will be Sean (Connery), the second James (Bond), the third M and the fourth Goldfinger. This means that one poor blighter will have to be Smiert Spionam ("Death to Spies", from The Living Daylights)...
(And just for comparison, here is our natural incubator  - a photograph from our bread oven chimney yesterday.)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Nature wins

A family of Great Tits (Parus major) has made their home in the chimney of our bread-oven. I see him, mornings and evenings, tirelessly catching flies to feed first the female and now the hatchlings. Bread-making is off, for the moment.

Look closely...
...and you'll see...

...a bird

This is how I imagine the world will be, after our next Silent Spring, when Homo “sapiens” finally kills himself off with a genetically modified E.coli or a fossil-fuel-fired blast of climate change.

The birds will be the first to occupy our abandoned houses, then the mosses will sprout from the walls and the plants will creep in.

There are squares of stones near the Croft, just a shadow of a marking on the slope. Once, a hundred or so years ago, these were homes. Nature, always, wins.

The Orchids are Out

I have been corrected by my friend Christopher Witty, who knows his Montseny plants. I thought that this was a Bird’s Nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), growing at the edge of a woodland of holm-oak (Quercus ilex) on the slope above the house, around 350m above sea-level. It is not. It is a Broomrape, a parasitic plant. Possibly a Bedstraw Broomrape, Orobanche caryophyllacea?

Orobanche caryophyllacea??

And this is a Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), growing on a more open area of shrubs.
Anacamptis pyramidalis??
But, please, be my guest and correct me.

An Udder Viper?

The photograph is a little graphic, but it’s an interesting case. This is the udder of Ballachulish. See the red spots, in pairs?

Spot the Udder
I did, when I turned her over the other day for a regular inspection. I called Pep the vet, who came the next day. We treated the udder with antiseptic.

Pep says that these spots may be puncture marks where a viper, possibly an Asp Viper (Vipera aspis) has bitten her. When a sheep walks over the spot where a viper is lying, it reaches up and bites the nearest pink flesh it can see – which, in poor Ballachulish’s case was her udder. He would normally expect the tissue around the bite to become necrotic (dead) but this has not happened – so maybe it’s not a viper. 

Maybe its an udder biter…