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honey bee

Withered Balsam

Tuesday, 24th September 2002, West Yorkshire

old balsamThere are a few flowers left on the Himalayan balsam by the streamside path. The lush screen of foliage that bordered the path a month ago has thinned away, leaving yellowing stems, especially at the foot of the slope where the cold air, rolling down the valley side, has had its greatest effect in withering the leaves.

Himalayan balsam There's a sense that 'the party's over'; a few honey bees dusted white with floury pollen zigzag around as if in a daze, like the last revellers staggering home. There's some song, I think from the fin de siècle that goes, in French, if I remember rightly, 'I am the ghost of the rose that you plucked last night at the ball . . . '

There's that same melancholy decadence about these last canes of balsam. In the nineteenth century, when Himalayan balsam was introduced to this country, it was considered a greenhouse subject. There's still a touch of the exotic and the decadent in these yellowing stands of it, living out their last days of fading beauty in a corner of the wood.


heronheron sketchesA young heron (its head is still greyish) flies up from the edge of the canal and flies over to the marshy field. Later I try to sketch the scene (right), but I can't get the angle of the wings right, nor can I remember exactly how it held its tail and legs. The next day I was on the phone and, through the studio window, I saw one flying over the wood. I scribbled the little sketch (left) as I chatted. It's turned out better than my previous efforts.


AlsatianComing back to today, Tuesday, the peace of our evening walk is disturbed by two stray Alsatians on the prowl. The Alsatian or German shepherd dog was originally bred to fight wolves and, if these two are the pair I'm thinking of, they've already attacked at least one cyclist and savaged a goat, which died of its injuries, so it's as well to keep away from them. One sloshes through the water by the reeds on the opposite bank but when they see us coming they run to the bridge and bark down at us. I pick up a large stick, just to be on the safe side, but they loose interest in us and we get past them safely. next page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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