Back from Africa

Monday, 25th April 2005
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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martinsTen to nine this morning: the house martins return, back from winter in Africa, but they're not here for long; one swoops in, takes a brief look at one of the dried-mud nest cups under the eaves of the house across the road, and swoops off again. I don't see them again during the day.

I've been expecting them back during the past week but each time I'd seen a bird there it turned out to be a sparrow or a blue tit that was investigating the guttering. When the house martins appear they're unmistakable because that white rump shows up conspicuously against the darkness under the eaves.

pheasant Sun bather

What is that female pheasant up to? Whatever it is I don't want her making a mess of our potato bed. I go down, expecting her to fly off as soon as I open the back door but she stays there, hunkered down, with a vacant, glazed expression in her eye (but then pheasants often have a glazed expression).

I sit on the low wall of the raised bed just seven feet from her and she still sits there in her little scrape; surely she hasn't decided to nest there! She looks at me for a few seconds before she composes herself and gets up and flies off down the garden.

Pheasant Health Spa

blackbirdI've seen blackbirds do something similar: they squat down on the lawn or a on a flower bed on a sunny day and seem to go into a reverie. Considering the danger from passing predators such as sparrowhawks or cats, sunbathing must be an important, or particularly pleasurable, activity.

I think the pheasant was enjoying a combined sun and dust bath at the same time; the fine tilth of the soil amongst her breast feathers would help dislodge any ticks and mites than might be lurking there while the sun on the fanned out feathers of her wings and back would also help deter invertebrate hangers on. I guess this is a regular dust wallow because there's a trail of debris across the fleece in the next bed.

I spread a piece of garden netting across the bed so that our Kestrel potatoes, which are just starting to show green shoots, can grow unmolested.

Health Spa

Dust Therapy
Sun Therapy
The Works
(dust and sun combo)
Chef's Special
Richard's natural wild flower lawn seed mix, now being served at the end of the garden
(it's only £3 for a miniscule packet, so you just peck about down there and have as much as you like!)
100% organic pond water with tadpole garnish

The Chickenproof Sketchbook

Title page roughSo much for my attempts to make the potato bed pheasant-proof; we've been back from holiday almost a week but it's only today that I've been able to settle down to my Chickenproof Vegetable Garden sketchbook again.

In the Freehand design program I drop the drawings I've scanned from my main 2003 sketchbook onto A4 page layouts, then print them out. This gives me 3o or more double-page spreads, some of which work better than others.

Although there are lots of incidents I could put in (things like the pheasant dust-bathing) the spreads that appeal to me most are the simple pen and ink drawings of docks (the weed on the title page rough, left) and rhubarb.

rhubarb spread Room to Grow

As I've said before, when you step into a garden you step into the natural world; you leave your busy life behind you for a while and begin to tune into the cycles of life and growth. You see new shoots, unfolding buds and the fruits of your labours over a long period, compared with the instant results we expect in our 'real' world.

If I crammed the book with incidents I think I would lose that feeling of space and the organic sense of time you experience in a garden, particularly in a vegetable garden, but I'm going to have to put some incidents in amongst the restful contemplations of dock and rhubarb or my readers will all have fallen asleep by page 43.

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

Chickenfeet text

Rhubarb text in my Chickenfeet typeface

My efforts to produce my own typeface, Chickenfeet, have been frustrated because of the incompatibly of my old font design program, Your Handwriting, with my current Windows XP computer but even the rough, rudimentary typeface that I somehow managed to produce is proving useful at this page layout stage.

It may not be readable (left) but it does give a good impression - in weight and rhythm - of what my final handwritten text will look like. I find that Comic Sans (right) gives a rather mechanical effect.

This is going to be a big difference between the book and this online nature diary: I have far more opportunity to design the text to fit in with the flow of the pictures and the story. Next Page

Rhubarb is a trouble free crop for us. The leaves are so loaded with oxalic acid that nothing eats them, not even the young rabbit that I saw popping out from under their umbrella-like shelter during a rain shower this morning.

Rhubarb is a commonplace of old allotments and it's still grown by the acre between Wakefield and Leeds yet there is definitely an exotic, stately quality about it. The frothy flowers and the swagger of the edges of the leaves remind me of Rembrandt pen and wash drawings: of lacy ruffs, rippling cloaks and slashed sleeves.

The same text in Comic Sans

Richard Bell,

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