Saturday, 20 December 2014

Calton Hill

We enjoyed a walk round Edinburgh's Calton Hill today. Always a great place for photos, there are so many interesting buildings and follies up there, great views of Salisbury Crags too.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Update on my novel

As many readers of this blog know I'm currently working on a novel that is basically about climate change refugees in a future independent Hebrides.

I wrote a very rough first draft of this novel for NaNoWriMo on November 2011.

Today I finished the current draft. It still needs a final edit and polish and may need extra scenes, but at least I have something that looks properly novel shaped.So that's my early Christmas present to myself!

Whether I ever find an agent or a publisher for it is another matter entirely!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Woodland Trust leaf identification swatch book

I was delighted to win this leaf identification swatch book in a recent Woodland Trust online tree identification quiz.

It is a beautifully produced guide to 32 of the most widely seen trees of the UK. The book is small enough to fit into a large pocket but large enough that most of the leaves are shown at life size. It's laminated for easy use in the rain and with the pages easily displayed alongside each other so you can compare and contrast the different species.

Each tree is represented with a photo of its leaf and bud

with on the back of the page some facts about the species

I'll definitely be using this with my nature walk groups.

This is just one of a series of Woodland Trust wildlife identification swatch books. You can see the whole range here.

I reviewed the Woodland Trust fungi identification swatch book here.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Colinton Dell on a wintry day

It's a lovely winters day out there, cold and slightly frosty but still and clear.

A couple of months ago someone had told me there were earthstar fungi in Colinton Dell, but foolishly I never asked exactly where, so I've been searching ever since. Finally today I found them, past their best, their stars almost rotten away, but still worth taking a photo of, and next year I'll know where they are and I'll see them earlier in the year. Assuming they come up again next year, I know fungi can be unreliable like that.

The larch tree that I've been stusdying for Tree Following looks beautiful in the winter sun

Also an amazing selection of birds today. A total of 15 mallards (unusual for this stretch of the river these days), 5 goosanders (a record for my observations in Colinton Dell), 8 bullfinches in one tree (probably the most adult bullfinches I've ever seen in one place), two medium sized flocks of redwings and lots of long tailed tits everywhere. Plus other birds too.  

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Two Edinburgh parks on a cold winter's day

Inverleith Pond in Inverleith Park, the water almost entirely frozen

One of the ponds at the Royal Botanic Gardens, not quite so frozen

one of the several grey squirrels we saw, note its dirty nose from rummaging through the fallen leaves

a beautiful cat stalking another of the squirrels

the grey squirrel that the cat was stalking, it was onstantly making alarm calls while the cat was around.

For Weekend Reflections

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other web pages where you can find out more.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

In the 1970s nomadic Mongolian herders lived in balance with their environment, moving from one area of pasture to another to gain the most benefit from each type of grassland and to ensure that the grassland and its wildlife had the best chance to survive and thrive. They revered wolves even as they feared them, hunting them when necessary but recognising that the wolves ensured that gazelles, rabbits and mice couldn't overrun the grasslands and reduce them to desert.

Wolf Totem, the semi-autobiograhical novel from Jiang Rong, focuses on a year in the lives of two Chinese students sent to Mongolia to work alongside the herders. Chen adopts a wild wolf cub (after killing its siblings) and tries to study its development as a top predator. His love for the cub is very touching as is his gradual realisation of the crime he commited against nature in ripping the cub from its natural way of life.

This story is set against the wider story of the settlement of the area by Chinese farmers who don't understand the relationship the herders have with the landscape and the wildlife. Gradually the grasslands become overpopulated by people and livestock and wolves are over-hunted, gradually creating a sandy desert where once there was a vibrant ecosystem.

This is a heartbreaking study of how inappropriate human development can destroy a natural ecosystem and ultimately destroy too a human community that had evolved over centuries to co-exist with that ecosystem.

My only criticism of the book is that the dialogue often sounds as though the author has taken chunks out of ecology and soiology textbooks and put them into the mouths of his characters. Otherwise it is a truly insightful and sobering exploration of a lost way of life.

Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong (translated by Howard Goldblatt) published by Penguin.