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Posts from the ‘Life’ Category

Community? Alive and well. Think Job Clubs, Timebank and Funnuity.

Earlier in the year with a ton of practical jobs looming, a few friends and I decided to set up a Job Club. Big tasks can sometimes be a little overwhelming and hence get procrastinated or aren’t enjoyable. I’ve been aware of this for ages but thought that it might just be my issue or I just couldn’t see a way around it. However, Leo, over at the lovely blog Zen Habits talks a lot about us all (human beings) suffering the same problems. I guess understanding this on an intellectual level is the easy bit, making the emotional leap is different.

I had noticed however that people, including myself, often struggle with the amount and nature of certain tasks. I know from my years of working in gardens that having company can make things rock along just fine. Not that I’m knocking the solitary sphere, just that sometimes many hands do make light work. Which is another point made over at Zen Habits Sea Change – the usefulness of making habits social.


Tulip Paul Scherer and Spring Green

The idea is that we all go over to one persons house and set about the chosen job for a few hours plus social breaks. We’re running the Job Club on a credit system, as not everyone is around all of the time. I’m in charge of the spreadsheet, oohps better get on with that…

I was luckily the first name to be drawn (not fixed, honestly your honour) and five of us tackled the weeding and sorting of my polytunnel and assembled some wooden staging I’d bought. I forgot to take pictures I was so excited about getting stuff done – and the homemade cake which turned up with two participants. It only took about 3 hours on a Saturday morning which left the rest of the day free. Yesterday we went to P’s, she needed her garden sorting out.

Meanwhile, back at the farm…

Yes, you just relax

Don’t get up, you just relax

That's right

That’s right

As you can see the cows have been enjoying all this fine weather too, though they are slightly miffed that I won’t let them have more grass as I am trying to keep them slim for the AI in May.

Anyway, I was telling my brother-in-law about the job club and he told me about the organisation Timebank where people swap skills, simply an hour for an hour. What a good idea. I know these kind of schemes have been going for years, but they seemed in the old days, though innovative, dominated by people who offered theraputic massage and other such healing things, which didn’t really get you very far when you needed a plumber. Or an architect. Or an IT specialist. Fast forward a few years and it’s gone a bit more mainstream and you can find out all about it here. I’m sure the internet has been totally transformative for things like this. I think I might sign up.

Our pole barn finally died in the winter storms. We will be putting up a new barn (all being well with the planners) soon

Our pole barn finally died in the winter storms. We will be putting up a new barn (all being well with the planners) soon.


Some of the unusable wood sawn for next winter. We’ll put it in the closed stove as it will spit like mad. It burns fast so excellent for heating water quickly.

Despite the sunshine the trees still looks pretty wintry down here.

Now on to Funnuity, I bet you’ve been intrigued about that. It’s a social enterprise blog/project set up to tackle the challenges of retirement without a huge pension pot…

The future should never feel more like a threat than an opportunity. That’s the starting point for funnuity – making lives worth living at any age’ 

With a huge aging population in most affluent countries the challenge to carry on living well into old age is a hot topic. There’s some great ideas on there for making extra cash and it’s just at the start of its life so expect lots of interesting posts about innovative ways to live into retirement.

Enjoy earning in later life!



The Perennial stall is up and running again. I’ve now got a plant hospital as well as growing from scratch – rescues from other gardens. The charity is trying to raise an extra £175,000 this year. Some friends and I are planning a coast to coast walk in August in Cornwall, hopefully we can contribute something to the pot after our effort…it’s not a massively long one, just 3 days. Better get into training nevertheless. Wish me luck!




The Dream

The following poem is by Theodore Roethke.
The Waking
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I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close behind me, which are you?

God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,

And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?

The lonely worm climbs up a winding stair;

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do

To you and me; so take the lively air;

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.

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Theodore Roethke.

The Places We Have Travelled – on Friendship, Life and Death

This post is because I can’t quite believe that you my friend are not somewhere, opening your computer, a glass of tea or a macchiato to hand. You told me many times that you loved to read my posts. You were there from the beginning, a loyal follower, even though you were slightly puzzled by my love of cows. But you were constantly encouraging and supportive nevertheless, as you were in all my new endeavours and reinventions over the years.

Four months ago I was with you in Regents Park. We went there by bus and sat together on a downstairs seat. It was bitterly cold, the sky a leaden grey, the park bleak, like it had been swept by a giant wintry broom. We linked arms and I think I covered your hand with mine – I am muddled by all the other hand holding we have done in the last month. You of course would probably remember. If only I could ask you.

It was unusual for us to be walking like this but these were unusual times. We laughed about feeling like two old ladies on a regular afternoon stroll, slow and careful, and there was comfort in that. You in your immaculate black coat, slightly stooped from the pain in your back, your beautiful face pale. I thought how Italian you looked. Because that is what I had taken to doing lately; not looking forward, which appeared to be something of a narrow funnel, but to the past, which fanned out behind you in an expanse of people and places. We talked about the people we knew (not unusual) and how we had both come to a place of appreciation for the small details of life; for the ripple of wind through the grass, or a drop of rain on a pool or for the whole landscape to be seen in the iris of your lovers eye.


On the way back we tut tutted and growled at the young men playing with death on Baker Street, dodging speeding cars on the crossing.  If only they knew.

There have been so many places.

How has it come to this? you asked, not for the first time.

I looked back. It now seemed impossible that we were at one time scrambling up a mountain in Scotland, breathless and excited, chattering all the way about our plans.  This was the time you took us to visit M in the bothy, just outside Dundee, for New Year. And being silly, our giggling and snorting ringing out into the cold sharp air. Until, feeling a change in the atmosphere, we looked up and what had only a minute ago been a clear view of the mountains all around, shining with spectacular clarity in the low winter sun, had turned with startling speed to an impenetrable fug of white, the blizzard obliterating our bearings so that all we could see were each other. I had never seen anything like it but you and M were all too aware how things could change in a blink of an eye. Each bombarding snowflake was the size of an egg and we looked up and let them fall and settle on our screwed up faces before we made an escape strategy. We listened hard through the muffled and blinding air for the sound of water, clutching each other, still laughing, though now with the slight hysteria of alarm. Luckily we found the stream which we’d been roughly following on the way up and we clambered down, keeping it close, relief flooding through us. Later we fired the woodburner  back at the bothy and ate mince and potatoes. We drank whisky and you both enveloped us in your Scottishness. We recited Rabbie Burns around the dinner table and my attempt had you in stitches. Your turn of phrase, your inclusive laugh, your warm gaze.

I look at the photographs from that trip now. I remember how cold you were on the beach at Auchmithie, how we urged you to run about to warm up. There is one of me and N on the glistening sand, wrapped up, looking young and stern, posed against a dark grey sky shot through with yellow ochre. You have jumped into one corner, grinning, inhabiting your inner troll with glee, a persona you often joked about in those days. Troll didn’t go away entirely but eight years in Paris took their toll – perhaps there just wasn’t room in the 14th Arondissement for the both of you.

I loved to hear you speak French – and Italian for that matter. I remember in the south of Italy staying on the Amalfi coast when we followed you around like ducklings while you chatted with the market traders, searching out the best salad or the tastiest cheese. We’d go back, eat, and watch the sea below, brittle and sparkling in the afternoon sun.  A stand of tall pines gave us shade in the heat of the day, breathing out their resinous treasure, hammocks strung between them. Here we lay, reading books and snoozing, or just hanging about talking. What are we going to have for dinner? might well have been an important topic. We loved to chat.

A narrow path led us steeply down to a tiny beach, flanked by rocky outcrops and the singed remains of spring flowers, the limestone cliffs climbing up in a tumble of tiers high above. Here we swam and got endlessly chewed by hungry wasps, their jaws rasping away at our skin as we lay on the rocks. Later, in the cooler evening, the sound of cicadas humming through the air we took to the roof and danced, the stone still warm beneath our bare feet. Any excuse.

If I counted the acres of dance floors on which I have travelled with you it might wrap around this land twice. Oh the joy of all that shuffling, jumping, knowing. The last time was in your living room, on E’s birthday, on a freezing February weekend. We’d all been up in the hills, walking on the goatherds and hunters byways, the sky a bright clear blue and the sun shining, the ground crackling beneath our feet, filled with the brittle tawny leaves of sweet chestnut. We could see where the wild boar had been and the waterfalls were frozen, static, amazing. You’d stayed behind, to be godmother, and also because those long walks were too much for you now. After dinner, we jigged around to some tunes and I thought how amazing you were, that despite all the suffering you had found a way to live. How love had softened you and some of the things which had plagued you had dropped away like a stone.

The Cevennes

Your mother’s family had emigrated to Scotland from a village in the mountains in Italy. You took a trip there one time in the 1990’s and I remember you saying you could see yourself living in a place like that one day. And how disconcertingly funny it had been to find a fair few people there had spoken with thick Glaswegian accents, having found their way back.

In the end it was France which called you and it was in the Cevennes where you and P made your beautiful place together. It was also where you tapped into something deep; a connection with the landscapes and nature surrounding you. They gave you solace and unleashed your creativity, something which you’d always sworn was not inside you, not even the tiniest bit. We all knew different – just by knowing you.


While out roaming the thin rocky soils and riverbeds of the Garrigue you found its crevices and ravines studded with lavender, thyme and arbutus. And here you found the shapes which inspired you – the dessicated, twisted branches of cistus, box and rosemary or the flow of fast water over rocks.

The Garrigue

Water ring

The Garrigue

In a bigger river, not far from you, we swam one summer. The water was glacial, chalky blue and fierce. For fun we launched ourselves upstream and let ourselves be carried in the current through a procession of massive boulders, squeezing through a narrow channel into a quieter pool. It was too cold to stay in for long and we climbed out into the baking day, shivering, and let the sun beat down on our backs as we lay outstretched on the flat stones, feeling the warmth returning. In the last month you worried that we would all forget you, that even though you loved us you couldn’t bear for us to be having fun without you.

Don’t worry G, you’ll be there.

As Ardu says in his poem, dedicated to you:


‘I want to tell my friends,’ you said.

‘I’d like to give them this gift.

I want to tell them:

Most of the things we fret about

Don’t matter, and how

I have learnt to love the life I have.’


When we were alone, you asked

What was troubling me?

I found some words

For my condition (forgetting your condition)

‘Sometimes, I concluded,

I feel like I’ve been lobotomized.’

‘That’s bad’, you said. And then we both erupted.


Your lovely spluttering, hiccupping

Helpless, breathless, waterfall laugh

Cascading over us.

Relief, semi-hysteria even

To spit and gurgle at the pain

To chortle and show our teeth,

Your lovely teeth.


A little later, I asked, nervously,

Do you think, without death so close

It is possible to know what you know:

To cherish life and love?

Can you get there some other way?

‘It wouldn’t be the same,’ you say.


You knew how we’d all go on worrying about

Bills and stains, and who does best.

We’d all go on arguing about who’s right

And why we always fight when driving.


And yet, you showed us

You will go on giving us

Your life and how you lived it:

The light in the trees, a swim at Sumenette,

Your mountains, a dance…so many dances.

Your eyes, your hair, your smile – your buttercup skirt –

Your life and how you lived it.




In your last days by the side of the canal you were so glad to be out of the hospital. And despite your fear, to have those who loved you all around. You spoke about the tall silver birch just outside the window of your room, how sometimes, though not enough, the way the light danced through the leaves gave you comfort. And if there is such a thing as a good death, then yours was it. I am so grateful that I was there, that I could be present in this final place; to have a chance to say goodbye, to hug and to hold you, to allow our tears to mingle.

I Declare an International Day of Inefficiency

Swallow 2

pic CHOG

Today we call M and tell him the first Swallow has arrived. It’s a moment of joy, admiration and awe for its arduous cross continental journey. Now it is perched on the telephone wire which stretches across part of the front yard, preening each wing in turn. Not long before, it was whooping and swooping above the pond and flying low, in and out of the shippen. Its song is peppered with dolphin like clicks. I am sitting on the top step, the slate warm, feeling the sun on my face, my body slowly unwinding, finally released from being huddled, bundled and wrapped. There is a delightful din of a world waking up. Ten years ago there were almost thirty Swallows lined up on the wire by the end of the summer; each subsequent year there have been less and less.

I abandon the ‘to do’ list. I think, today will be a day of inefficiency

I experience anxiety as I hope and wonder about a mate for the Swallow arriving. And if they breed successfully will there be enough insects for them to feed their young?

The massive decline in bee populations catches the public imagination, but all insects are being put under similar pressure by loss of habitat and pesticides. In a farmland setting, loss of habitat means less wild flowers, the planting of monocultures of rye grass or other crops without provision for invertebrates. And why does this matter? Well, in a nutshell…

Biodiversity means the variety of life, in all its forms. It includes the variety of species and ecosystems (communities and interrelations of species) in the world, and also genetic variation. Human beings are dependent for their sustenance, health and well-being on fundamental biological systems and processes. This includes all of our food, many medicines and industrial products, as well as the air we breathe. Without insects and other invertebrates, human life on this planet would be impossible. The enormous diversity of life is of crucial value, providing resilience to organisms and ecosystems.

Why thank you for that, the Amateur Entomologists’ Society!

I go over to the cow field. I can hear sheep and lambs from across the valley, plaintively calling to one another. Standing there, the sky a bowl of blue, I count fourteen Buzzards above, wheeling on the thermals and crying their eerie cries. I don’t know, but I would hazard a guess that they are simply, like me, having a good time. Rabbits run in and out of the gorse bushes down the centre of the field, flashes of white and brown amongst the acid yellow and though their numbers are too plentiful (breeding like…! and no serious predators, apart from a ginger cat) who could begrudge their hoppity heaven today?

The cows are looking pretty, their ruddy coats shining in the sun. After a while they approach and both Lucy and Mary-Rose ask to be scratched. They stand happily either side of me, while Belita tentatively sniffs my face with her gentle pink nose. To think they were so terrified when they arrived and now this. Happy.

Traditional Hereford Heifers

Coming back I meet Mr. Pheasant who has made regular visits this winter. A little Wren dips in and out of a thicket, and a Wagtail, the first I’ve seen this year, sits atop the shippen roof surveying the scene.

Male Pheasant

Violets, Stitchwort and Celandine are beginning to peep out from the hedgebanks. Dandelions are waiting for the bees. Where are the bees?


I’m waiting for you bees…

I nibble on a disc of Navelwort.


I could be salad material

A bout of spontaneous seed sowing comes on…

Orlaya grandiflora

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana Lime Green

Seed sowing

Ammi majus

Cosmos sulphureus Cosmic Orange

Rudbeckia hirta Prairie Sun

Seed Sowing

Then I admire B’s artwork…

Barbed Wire Ball Artwork

Later, I lie on the grass under the big sycamore. The still bare branches reach toward a pale moon, bursting with shimmering buds. I can feel the earth is still damp and cold but the warmed grass is an eiderdown beneath me. I am lost. My eyes close.

Sycamore Buds

Sycamore Buds & Moon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comLooking Up through a Sycamore

What about an International Day of Inefficiency? Come on, we can do it!

On the Upside – A Few Beautiful Things Made from Wood – if a King Penguin Can Be Called That

Blurry Type

I can’t see that

…was a phrase which seemed to crop up rather regularly on a recent trip to London. Cue myopic hilarity from myself and friends who’s eyesight is degenerating but who haven’t quite mastered the art of remembering their glasses.  Still hoping, perhaps, for the twenty twenty vision of yesteryear and incredulous that this thing is actually happening.

So, wine lists and menus in cafes and restaurants, exhibition texts and departure boards at train stations became something of a mystery. I even got lost with a friend in Walthamstow in search of the refurbished William Morris Museum as I could neither read the A to Z or grapple with my friends iphone as she valiantly drove us through the chilly grey wastes of east London.

I won’t do a review of this most excellent museum, as fellow blogger Hamer from the The Rowley Gallery has done one here which inspired me to make the visit.

After the bad news about Herald, I thought I’d balance it out with something more uplifting.  One of the great things that has happened since I have more time to think, is that I also have more time to look. Slowing down really makes you see stuff in detail, whereas visual appreciations before were more momentary, passing by at a great rate in an unmemorable blur.

In this post I just want to share with you a few beautiful things which have been made with craft, the kind of things that William Morris and his gang would have approved of very much.

have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful

is his most famous quote, but I quite like

the true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life

First up then is this oak swill basket, which came into my possession recently as a present. There is only one person left in the UK who is making these and you can find out about him and them here, including a fascinating look into the history of these amazing baskets.

I reckon it will last a lifetime.
Oak Swill Basket

Oak Swill Basket www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comOak Swill Basket

Secondly, this yurt maker crafts these wonderful nomadic houses by steaming hand split local ash. I love the form and the clever way it is all put together… shame to put the canvas on really…

Yurt in Field

Yurt Workshop

The yurt maker also made this wonderful curved stair rail, also steamed. Every time I grip this as I go up and down the stairs I am aware of what went into making it.

Steamed Ash Bannister

And the brackets for the stair rail are hand made in a small forge in Devon, where the metal worker also makes woodburning stoves to any specification.

Metalworkers Workshop

Metalworker with Gutter Brackets

These aren’t the stair brackets these are the gutter brackets…but you get the picture

Thirdly, I have been meaning get our books onto shelves for quite a while as they are still languishing in piles. So the other day I started dusting them off and came across this lovely set of King Penguins.  Ok, not strictly speaking made from wood, but there’s no shame in expanding the criteria to get into the Beautiful Things post. What a joy and a pleasure to rediscover these treasures among the dust (MUST get bookcase).

I wonder if all the books of the future will become more like art. Perhaps most of our reading material will be consumed on e-readers but books may become beautiful objects to collect and savour, like paintings.

Arachnophobes, there are spiders ahead.

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Lastly I like wood because it’s really useful. Here’s some chestnut fencing.

Chestnut Mortice and Tenon

Chestnut Mortice and Tenon

And I saw these handsome wild ponies the other day, the beauties of Bodmin Moor .

Wild Ponies on Bodmin Moor

Wild Pony Bodmin Moor www,

Home – The Death of One Tiny House and the Birth of Another

There are plenty of advantages to living in small spaces: fewer possessions, reduced impact on the earth, and lower living expenses are just a few of them. More people are choosing to live more simply, and for some that means using the bare minimum of living space. writes Jane Roarski in a recent post on the

This is the story of the tiny house we used to live in while we were renovating the cottage and it’s eventual demise, happening now as I write.

caravan in countryside

It all started with a caravan

Then we realised that this was going to be far too small even as a temporary measure, not to mention the cold. We estimated that we’d be in it for approximately 2 years. The photo above was taken in 2002  and we finally moved out in 2011…do the math (s), as they say.

We set about building a straw bale extension onnto the caravan

We set about building a straw bale extension onto the caravan

Nearly there. My dad was still alive at this point, pictured here with his partner and B. Even though he was a bit of a hippy at heart he never graduated from his sensible leather shoes

Nearly there. My dad was still alive at this point, pictured here with his partner and B. Even though he was a bit of a hippy at heart he never graduated from his sensible leather shoes

The finished Balehouse

The finished Balehouse. The join between the caravan and the bale structure was achieved with strips of newspaper and tar paint, a waterproof papiermache.

Tiny house Bale House

Pretty cosy

Tiny House Bale House

Tiny House Bale House

Entrance to the attached caravan where we had a kitchen and eating area

Sheeps Wool Insulation

Home renovating can be fun

Some of the sheeps wool insulation we used in the house. Maybe living in a tiny house is good for you.

But eventually the big damp pile of stones was ready and we moved out of the tiny house.

A year later the tiny house is dismantled.

Tiny House Bale house www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comTiny House Bale House

Tiny House Bale house

Tiny House Bale House

The floor was made of pallets with ply screwed to it

Tiny House Bale House


While we love our new house, in some ways we miss the tiny house. I think it may be a way forward for housing. It was really warm and took barely any resources to heat, once that log burner got going it only used a few logs a day to keep it ticking over.

But there is good and exciting news. My sister C is bravely embarking on her own tiny house project. It’s a bit bigger than the two room job but is to be so well insulated that she expects incredibly low bills. Here she is modelling her model.

Tiny House

A sun capturing verandha and a green roof

Tiny House

Clad with boards

I can’t wait to set foot in it.

Jobs Getting Done Frogs Getting Busy

There’s always a slow period in winter when necessary renewal needs to occur at a fundamental level. A kind of hibernation. I find that living close to the land it’s easier to get a sense of this.

Does anyone else feel like this dormouse?   (No, not you, you southern hemispherans…)


But jobs still need to be done.

The incredible amount of rain we’ve experienced over the last year has not made things easy.

Drip on branch

Very drippy.

However, in the last couple of weeks a few projects have started to get underway.


Digging out the corral and filling with crushed stone to make hard standing instead of quagmire.

Cattle corrall near completion

The small gap to the left of the gate is where the crush will go.

Hedge cutting winter 2013

Hedge cutting before the nesting season. We cut ours every two years to allow the animals and birds a chance.

I also move the cows to the Triangle Field to graze down the grass there. It’s only just across from the Cow Field so I hope it’s going to be pretty straightforward. I get some sheep hurdles at our local farmers shop which provide, along with a couple of cars, a corridor to the Triangle Field.

They follow the bale of hay quite obediently (I make sure there is a long interval since their last feed) until H’s dog gives an excited little bark which sends Belita (the nervy shy one) careering back into the Cow Field. She then becomes very distressed at being separated from the others and runs up and down the boundary on the other side. H rounds her up and I keep the other two from escaping while calling her name at the same time.

Gratifyingly, she is following the sound of my voice and then H says I should show my face to her (she’s a vet so she knows the ways of animals well) so I leave the gate closed on the others and go towards her. As soon as she sees me she comes running and lets me guide her into the new field. And very glad to be reunited with Lucy and Mary-Rose.

They are all quite excited by the abundance of grass and after a few high kicks get down to munching, moving excitedly from place to place as if they both can’t quite believe it or get enough, snatching mouthfuls from each sweet patch. This is before they realise that there is no shelter in this field. They have now been out in the open for a couple of weeks. They really don’t like the rain on their backs.

But I am very pleased that Belita trusted me enough to come with me. This is definitely progress.

H manages to capture the moment on her phone

H manages to capture the moment on her phone

Traditional Hereford Heifers Lying Down

The girls taking advantage of some morning sun after a hard night

Traditional Hereford Heifers in Hedge

This is where they try and shelter from the rain.

I also went over to T & N’s where I was able to catch up with Herald, our bull. Unfortunately he got lice, possibly brought with him from the other farm, which has left him a bit patchy but it’s all been treated now. T says he is very good natured and doesn’t mind a stroke.

Moose, their gentle shire horse whom they rescued when they found her in very bad shape in a field not far from them a few years ago, towers above all the others. She is definitely the top four-legged-hooved-animal in the pecking order here.

Shire horse with cows

Moose, Daisy & Herald (looking very small!)

Traditional Hereford eating Hay

They really like hay

Traditional Hereford Bull

Aw look at that face…

Shire Horse with Yurt

Moose leads the way

Before this current sweep of arctic air the temperature was unseasonably warm for a few days ( = more rain). This has confused the frogs and the tulips. There was much croaking from the pond and when I went out in the middle of the night there were lots of frogs congregating for a bout of procreating. The pond is now full of spawn.  The tulips are poking their heads out too.

Frogs mating in pond

Frog spawn

New Tulip Shoots

I only hope it doesn’t freeze in the next couple of months.

Rhythm and Ritual, Feeding Cows & Birds & Humans made this

It’s been almost a fortnight since the pastry was all rolled out, the decorations put back in their box and the festival holly crackled its last breath in the fire. Eager footsteps to the postbox have been replaced with a slow trudge in anticipation of the tax return demand, bank statements and catalogues for work wear.

While of immense significance to us, our celebratory feasts and festivals have absolutely no impact on the cycle of daily life for the cows. For them, the sun rises and sets in what I imagine is part of a reliably certain chain of events which mark their time. And usually at roughly the same point on this light changing scale, someone will come and give them some hay. So they come to know the routine and are found waiting and lingering near the hay shed just before sundown.

And the ritual of feeding them has brought a steady rhythm to my days too. Usually I look forward to it but sometimes I might think I’m in a hurry, my schedule is tight, or I’ve got too much to do or the mud is too sticky or it’s raining too hard. Then I have to dredge deep to find some enthusiasm for the chore.

Muddy Lane Cornwall

I walk up the road towards the cow field which is on the opposite side of our lane, head down, hood up, hands in pockets, waterproofs rustling, eyes squinting. I open the gate. I hear the snap of the clip on the chain and see the curve of the iron hook which keeps the gate in place. By now resistance to the chore is receding of its own accord.

This is what I do.

I feed the cows.

Gate Hook Cornwall

The smell of summer is tightly packed into the slender dry stalks as I shake the hay free from its pink stringed prison, grassily sweet as I release the stiff segments. I can almost feel the buzz and heaviness of those brief days of heat back in August, the rows of cut grass, deep and still moist underneath, the sweat underneath my straw hat as I turn it with a pitchfork at the edges of the field where the tractor has missed.

But reflections quickly fade as the cows come running, jostling around in excitement before settling down to a steady munching. For me this is the best time and I stand around talking to them, all other concerns temporarily suspended. Both Lucy and Mary-Rose are easy to approach now and don’t mind a stroke, though Lucy is by far the most tolerant and dare I say it, may even like my attentions. Belita is still incredibly nervous though yesterday she didn’t run away entirely as I reached out to her shoulder, preferring instead an irritated shrug and a mistrustful glare.

Traditional Herefords eating hay

By the time I leave them I always feel calmer and wonder what my hurry or hungry intentions were all about. It takes me out of myself and lands me in the present moment, and reminds me that it is the rituals of everyday life which are the balm and rhythm of the soul.

Something else to be savoured is watching the birds on the feeders and round about. To date we’ve seen Long Tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Jackdaw, Wren, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Sparrows, Bullfinch and Starlings. I also found a dead Goldcrest in the barn during the cold snap, it was extremely small.

My favourite is the Nuthatch with its neat compact body of grey and pink and its upside down wanderings along the peanut feeder. Most of my pictures have been rubbish so I’m borrowing one.



Bird Feeding Station

The Feeding Station – a lot more birds normally!

Every day at sundown while the cows are being fed, the starlings fly down the valley in large groups and sometimes settle in the trees nearby on a temporary stop before they make their way to the huge roost on Bodmin Moor. This spectacle is worth a post in itself so I will get up there soon.

Starlings in Winter trees

Starlings in Flight


And then there’s the regular appearance of the vegetable box.

Which doesn’t fill me with quite as much joy as the other things. I try, I really do. But after all, just what are you going to do with a whole lot more carrots, cauliflower and parsnips – those seasonal wonders of rooty and brassical loveliness?

The Object of Life – Moo Cow – She Came, She Saw, She Stayed

Toy Cow

Moo Cow has travelled with our family for at least five decades, a witness to everything, patiently putting up with the touch of many hands, both tiny and large (maybe she could teach Belita, Lucy and Mary-Rose a thing or two…). I’m not sure how she’s finally ended up in my eldest sister’s house but I’m borrowing her for this post. She seems to feel at home.

Toy Cow

I cast my mind back. I’m eight or nine years old, sitting under the branches of an old stone pine in our garden. I dig my fingers into the ground, through the first crispy layer of needles, through into the damp peaty leafmould below. I bring it up in fragrant handfuls, inhaling deeply. And then the most amazing thing happens. Those tiny earthy granules are so real to me, almost like they’re charged with a never ending thread of connections, popping like tiny bubbles deep down into centuries. I feel an intense union with life, with its tragedies and potential. Maybe it is a reaction to the crazy instability of our family situation at this time, but whatever it is it exerts a potent force on me.

Under a Pine Tree

The physical objects of our lives can do the same thing. As soon as I look at Moo Cow and roll her wooden wheels and hear her funny moo, I am transported somewhere else, my four year old cheek pressed against the scratchy carpet on our upstairs landing because I like to look at the sisal weave close up. Beyond this, across the plain, still within my field of vision, there is Moo Cow, hanging about at the foot of the bookcase, and behind her the spines of the stories which we have heard again and again – The Tomten, Where the Wild Things Are and The Happy Lion.


Her wooden are wheels sturdy and solid, her tightly coiled tail is jaunty, and her compact body is familiar to my hand as…what? This is where I get stuck. Do I actually remember playing with her or am I just imagining it?

Now I see her in her present state, I’m not really sure I can recall a time when her yellow plastic horns were intact or her paper hide fresh from the Fisher Price factory. But because I know what she must have looked like, due to others’ recollections and the tell tale scraps of information still sticking to her sides, before one of us filled in the gaps with some creative paint work, I can conjure her up, nearly new, complete with her perky horns and glossy black and white skin. But isn’t that the way that memory works? We remember certain things and not others, we unconsciously blank stuff out and make other stuff up. I once thought it was linear and fixed but that was before the complexities of living had exerted a kind of alchemy on the events of the past. It seems to me that when we revisit places again and again, memories seem to change and merge, and are sometimes as clear as – well, mud.

Toy Cow Reflection

I ask my three siblings what they remember about Moo Cow and it sets off a train of reminiscing, leading among other things to our memories of listening and singing along to Pete Seeger and his album God Bless The Grass, introduced to us by our dad. In a way, his dying seems to have, for me anyway, fattened out the past and made it more present. It feels good to remember.

God Bless the Grass Album Cover    This is a really nice version of the title song.

The cyber conversation went something like this…

Well I liked the yellow plastic cog mechanism and the little yellow horns. Also the cow was always there, and generally stood in when we needed to populate a game. And was free of the obsessive attachment I had to my dolls. It was an old friend even when less battered than now!

 She was always there, with her springy tail and strangulated moo; I can remember investigating how the moo was activated – all linked up to the head oscillation as the wheels turned – and working out why she didn’t always vocalise on shiny floors (another reason to lament the absence of fitted carpets that so blighted our early lives)

That moo was really unconvincing wasn’t it :)Haha remember that grid pattern on our knees as we relaxed in the sitting room listening to Pete Seeger.

 That would be “God bless the grass” – I still know all the songs; even quite a lot of the words…. it’s available as a MP3 download…. and, according to a recent passenger of mine, the old greenie himself is still belting it out.

 You could never get comfy on that stuff!

 You didn’t by any chance saw the horns off whilst fiddling about – they have disappeared….

Off thread a bit but thinking about Pete Seeger reminded me that (just found out) ‘Midnight in Moscow’ by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen was in the charts in 1962 This has put to rest a humiliating episode at my primary school, when we had to paint a picture about our favourite pop song. I didn’t actually know what a pop song was…Anyway I did a very dramatic picture of ‘Midnight in Moscow’ – mainly BLACK paint, whilst all the other pictures were of flowers and bees and mainly pastels. The whole class gawped at it with incomprehension and the teacher seemed rather concerned. DAMN IT – if only I had known the facts I could have wiped the silly expressions from their faces and saved myself an uncomfortable hour of feeling as if I were from another universe. Having spaghetti bolognaise for supper was bad enough!

Ha ha your painting was too cool for school!

While the particulars of this conversation may only be really poignant to its participants I hope it shows how a beloved object from the past can transport us – besides, I’ll use any opportunity to get a bit of cow chat in…

And how fitting it was that today, when me and my sister of the painting were shopping in our local town, Kenny Ball’s Midnight in Moscow should waft down the aisles of the shop we were in. There was jigging about amongst the muesli and the steel cut oatmeal I can tell you.

1279733415_kenny-ball-and-his-jazzmen-midnight-in-moscow A gravelly croony Russian version of the traditional song with words

In a culture which is so fearsomely forward looking, it is sometimes easy to forget in the mayhem of everyday life that it is these shared histories we have with family and friends which are most important; it is what connects and shapes us and can help us remember a person who has gone and give solace in the difficult times. So much of life is spent forging ahead that we barely draw breath to consider and reflect, to pause and look behind, or even just to value the present moment.

A buddhist might say that this is the endless dance we enact to escape the reality of death, the only one thing that is absolutely certain in a human life. I can’t argue with the fact that becoming aware of one’s own and others’ mortality can stop us in our tracks. And perhaps it’s part of a general middle age rite of passage too. As with most things, reasons and motivations are complicated. How nice it is then, that at this point I have the simplicity of Moo Cow to help me pause and remember. I’m so thankful that one of us decided to keep her, when at the time I probably would have been one to disavow the need for a shared history as I veered off a bit blindly but resolutely down my own path.

Moo Cow helps with the bulb planting

Moo Cow helps with the bulb planting

We are so often exhorted to get rid of stuff, by the culture at large or by ourselves, to clear out, to live minimal lives without clutter, and encourage ourselves to view our stuff as the detritus of life which in an ideal world would miraculously evaporate without us having to make any heart rending decisions. We dream of empty spaces, order and a life lived out in perfect balance. We have fetishised the unobtainable – and believe that then we will finally be on top of things But, as Alain de Botton puts it: we seldom succeed in laying claim to lasting equilibrium, traversing our lives like stubbornly listing ships on choppy seas (The Architecture of Happiness).

While I also haphazardly aspire to a little more tidiness and order (retraining still in progress), I’m also voting for the positive rehabilitation of the culture of saving stuff, the personal archaeology of time, special earthly objects to help reignite the threads of memory and illuminate some of those never returning moments.

The Ark

The Advent of Winter – Stuff on the Farm

Over the last few months I’ve been recording some of the stuff which has been going on outside. It’s a time of change and senescence, of storing and stowing.

Blackbird on Ivy

Jackdaw in Dovecot

Mr or Mrs Jackdaw checking out next years nesting accomodation

Wild Carrot in Winter

Wild Carrot

Crows in Ash Tree

Dogrose Hips

Willow and Wild Carrot

Dogrose Hips Sycamore Pollard

The cows are getting their winter coats and eating plenty of hay.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers

Traditional English Hereford Heifers

The light is low and gentle.

WinterTree Shadows

Sycamore in Winter Light

Light Shaft in Barn

Winter Sunset

It’s sometimes easy to get over attached to the indoors in winter, driving wind and rain causing mine and many a bottom to become welded to an armchair as a result. Having spent a good part of life doing an outdoor job I know that the only way to get-over-it is to get-out-in-it.

Thus today found me togged up and trowel wielding as I finally decided to plant the tulip bulbs in the tubs in the front yard. Luckily tulips are quite forgiving of procrastinating ways, people have been known to plant them in January. Gasp.

I go into the barn where I left the bulbs and all I find is a couple of empty nets. Storing and stowing. Storing and stowing. Hmm. I get on the phone and order some more.

Bulb Nets

Luckily, there is one bag which has escaped the mouse/squirrel/rat assault so I get down to business. What is it about about preparing soil for planting? I don’t know, I just love it…I did mention to fellow blogger Fran about my cruel ways with ditching plants and I thought of her as I gaily tossed last summers pelargoniums into the death bucket (wrong colour – another procrastinating moment – leaving it so late they only had deep pink ones left at the shop. Sigh. It’s the Cornish air).

Belfast Sink with Plants

Clearing out summer pelargoniums

This is a cunning trick which keeps the squirrels off your bulbs (if they haven’t already stolen them that is). After planting you tread the ground firmly, then get some dead leaves and scatter them over the area. This really foxes them – they look for disturbed ground and signs of digging. This method always worked for me in the city, though pots can be more vulnerable than the ground, depending on squirrel numbers and ingenuity.

Belfast Sink as Plant Container   www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSink

Tulips in, treading down and leaf method deployed.

Back in September when it first started to get cold I posted about wood including how much we were going to need over the winter.

Firewood Basket

Empty Wood Pile

The woodpile three months on

The wind has damaged a barn, lifting old slates right off. This scaffolding tower was found dumped on the streets of London years ago and came in very handy with renovations.

Dislodged Slate on Barn

Scaffolding tower by side of barn

Baler Twine in Wood

I’m trying to think of things to do with baling twine. Any ideas?

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