Lombardy Poplar

Friday, 10th September 2004
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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I've got a few minutes and a choice of trees to draw as I wait outside Ossett co-op for Barbara and her Mum. The neat whitebeams in the car park aren't very appealling - they're too much like the lollipop trees of architect's drawings - while the large laburnum growing from the pavement on Kingsway is so severely pruned that it looks like a candelabra.

Only a short row of Lombardy poplars have been given the freedom to grow as they'd like to - which, fortunately for them, is mainly in a vertical direction. I remember rows of Lombardy poplars being a more frequent sight in the 1960s. One towered over my Mum's back garden, just across the garden wall, and when it was finally removed it took some time for me to fully realise that this landmark of my childhood years had gone. In my mind it was still there.

Morning Dew

Fuzzy spiders' webs along the edge of our front lawn were picked out in this morning's dew (or do I mean spider's fuzzy webs? - no, they might after all have been made by fuzzy spiders).

Ospreys at Easter


I've been looking at a sketchbook I kept as a student in the spring/summer of 1971, half a lifetime ago. So much has changed: in those days I'd occasionally see a barn owl in the valley; I haven't seen one locally for years.

As a second year graphic design student I somehow found time for such extracurricula activities as collecting oak galls and drawing the gall wasps that hatched out, preserving a dead coot that I found as a cabinet skin and (and this forms the main central section of the sketchbook) making the journey to Scotland to help guard the ospreys at the RSPB's reserve at Loch Garten for a fortnight.


How did I find time the time for all this? Well, unlike in my present Wild West Yorkshire nature diary , there are no comments along the lines of 'got my accounts finished, at last!', 'five rooms decorated, now there are only two to go!' or 'I'm falling behind in trimming the hedges again this year'.

If I can believe the sketchbook I just walked, drew and travelled as I wished, on the slender budget of a student grant. Bliss! But was I happy?

On the first page of the sketchbook I find myself in the valley, down by the canal, complaining:

Regiments of bungalows are approaching this small remnant of a natural environment. The land remains as it is only because it is too boggy to build on or the wooded slopes too steep.

I was 19 at the time! Yet I sound like the grumpy 53 year old that I am today!

Caught in the Lights

However, like today, there were the special moments that make up for feeling such a burden of concern for the natural world:

The oak has retained some of last years leaves now brown and stiff sounding like a medieval library as they blow about in the wind.

I noticed a Roe deer its eyes luminous in the headlights; dark shape against a darker background. Driving through the woods of stout, straight trunked pine in the silence of night was like driving through an organic Gothic cathedral. A viaduct as it materialized from the chaotic blackness seemed to be a row of pines.

If you'd like to browse through the full sketchbook follow this link:

Ospreys at Easter


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Richard Bell, richard@willowisland.co.uk

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