The Water Meadows Chronicles part 11 (mid May 2020)

Iain Carruthers-Jones looks on the bright side. Earlier parts of the Chronicles can be found here.

There’s been a bit of a gap since the last edition of the Chronicles. The coronavirus put us all into lockdown and the volunteer work programme shuddered to a halt. Much to everyone’s chagrin both from a “doing enjoyable worthwhile conservation work” point of view and from a social point of view. It was always rare to hear nothing when a work group was working. There was the teamwork-oriented effort and the chatter that went with working together and there was the chatter which covered everything from politics (how dumb can some politicians be?) to what’s growing well in the allotments. And then there were the tea-break goodies. The camaraderie was palpable.

For some of us, the lockdown felt like a prison sentence, perhaps especially for those living alone. We all recognise that these guidelines are essential but for those over 70 the realisation that restrictions may last into the new year is a difficult pill to swallow. It feels like an eternity; we have had a mere couple of months and there could be another seven months yet to cope with.

So this is where I apply the Pollyanna Principle. Some of you might remember a story written by Eleanor H Porter about a girl called Pollyanna. Newly orphaned, she was sent to live with her Aunt Polly, a spinster without a kind thought or deed to her name. Her life was orderly and austere. Pollyanna was an unwelcome burden but Aunt Polly knew that she must take on this responsibility.

The first weeks were difficult for Pollyanna. A happy natured girl, she was always being scolded by her aunt. Everything that Pollyanna did was too noisy, too unself-controlled and totally lacking in dignity. When she tried to introduce Aunt Polly to the Glad Game she was scorned. Eventually the two were reconciled and there was a very happy ending.

So – what is the Glad Game or Pollyanna Principle and how is it relevant to the Water Meadow Chronicles? It is simple really. With my psychologist hat on I would call it relentless optimism, with my whimsical philosopher hat on I would call it seeing the silver lining in every adversity and with my Cognitive Behaviour Therapist hat on I would call it reversing the negative cognitive spiral. So every difficult or problematic situation can still allow a positive perspective.

The Glad news is that the Watermeadows are still there. We may not be able to do our volunteer work but we can walk (with or without a dog) even if we have to “social distance”. We can say “Good morning, another lovely day” without getting fined. I walk every morning with my dog Luna and it has been a joy. We don’t see many people but most are polite and courteous and we all play the Glad Game. There are cows on No Mans Meadow and if we wait patiently more often than not one of the cows comes across to greet us. There are sheep and lambs in several meadows; Luna is fascinated by the lambs and, anthropomorphising, I think she is disappointed that they don’t come across to play. She certainly makes the noise she does with other dogs when she wants to play.

And the trees and flowers. I am amazed (again) at how leaves open in what seems like moments. The cherry blossom was beautiful – I wish you were there – and now the cherries are forming. I think this year we will have a good crop. The hawthorn has flowered; a cloud of white. The horse chestnuts are in flower – both red and white – and are graceful and elegant. The willows are that acid green which almost makes your eyes hurt. The hedgerow plants are in full flow. The cow parsley is wonderful, especially in the Great Churchyard (it’s only 100 yards from the Crankles!!)

While that is the star for many people, lots of other plants feature and in the last few days in Ram Meadow, the Crankles and No Mans meadow we have seen, among many, common comfrey, green alkanet, red campion, creeping groundsel, ground ivy, alexanders, burdock, white deadnettle, red deadnettle, hedgerow crane’s bill, garlic mustard, creeping buttercup, germander speedwell, red valerian, black mustard, hogweed, dame’s rocket, and garden yellowrocket. We have also our fair share of hemlock which though native is a bit of a thug and liable to take over if we don’t deal with it before it flowers. I chose to mention these because most of them are in flower.

To add to the artist’s palette of flower colours there is an orchestra of birdsong. Birds are everywhere. Most are heard but not seen. But those that are include pheasant, egret, mallard (of course), magpie and rook. Further along No Man’s Meadow there are lots of Jackdaws. A couple of weeks ago I saw something I’ve not seen before. Jackdaws were clustering around some sheep. I thought at first that they were attacking lambs but on closer inspection I realised that the sheep were quite placid and that one corvid was perching on a mature sheep’s back and tugging wool. It was passing the wool to other birds which then flew off with wool in their beaks. No doubt to line nests.

As I write, we have no news of when restrictions will be lifted. Obviously BWMG is hoping that we can get the volunteer programme going again. One key factor is when the 2 metre rule will be relaxed. The other key factor relates to when the over-70’s will be liberated. We have to “watch this space” however much it irritates us.

In the meantime, get out for a walk. You will feel better for it. The fresh air and the natural beauty of plant life and bird song are a powerful combination to impact “wellness”. We can improve our knowledge as well. A series of lectures has been organised; via Zoom, we have heard experts talk about a variety of topics including how we can help the insects, how chalk streams can be brought back to life, how we can use herbs for health and cooking and very practical support to help swifts when they return on their long migration. The talks are proving very popular and all you need is a computer, a tablet or a smart phone. Visit our events page on the website for more details.

 

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