Archive | March, 2011

Spawning Glory

27 Mar

The other day I was traipsing disconsolately through the dusk near the wildlife pond, when the ground started to move. The leaf litter all around my feet heaved and crept like a scene out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Here is the pond on a sunny day such as today:

As the ground moved, I bent over and peered at it, then prodded at the leaf litter with my fingers. It was clammy.

“Ribbit”, it said.

It was alive with frogs, hopping and scrambling away from me. They were full-grown adults, and they were all over the field and the lane. I remembered that I had released a large bucketful of frogspawn into this pond a year ago, because Bunty’s mother’s teacup-sized pond was so choked up with the stuff that it had pushed out most of the water. The owners of the wildlife pond had shortly thereafter added a shoal of carp to their pond, so I had assumed none of my frogspawn would have survived. I was wrong!

I gathered up several handfuls of frogs and carried them gently to the wildlife pond’s edge. I don’t know whether they were looking for water, but it somehow felt like the thing to do – the pond can’t be seen from ground level, and it is reached over the top of a high bank formed from surplus soil when it was dug out.

I returned this morning, to see if they were still there so that I could photograph them. The leaf litter was stirred only by occasional breezes, and the frogs were nowhere to be seen. I did, however, find watersnails.

I found stubbly little Lymnaea trunculata, and long and elegant Lymnaea stagnalis. One L. stagnalis floated lazily past on its back. At first I thought it was dead, but when I touched its foot with a piece of reed, it curled its foot around it. Lymnaea have lungs and can breathe air, so perhaps it was taking an extra dose of oxygen.

I do love dabbling in ponds. I pottered around the edge, finding diving beetles and water spiders and then, suddenly, I noticed it: drifting among the weeds like the lovechild of a cloud and a coral reef, a conglomeration of frogspawn.

That's "frog eggs" to you Americans

It was close to the area where I had placed my handfuls of frogs. I therefore take full credit. These are my spawn. I made them.

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Climbing Cavies

24 Mar

Colin the guinea pig has taken to entering his cage via the permanent hole in the front, climbing up to the next storey, and nibbling desperately at the mesh like he’s been imprisoned for years. As you do.

Of course, we know what he’s really up to. There are other guinea pigs living in the upper storeys, and contrary to the rules of their genetic makeup, our guinea pigs climb. They can climb up the interior walls of the six-foot tower block I built them, using the chickenwire as a ladder and bracing themselves against the floors as they pass them.

It’s not food or mating or anything like that that fills them with this overwhelming urge to climb. They do it purely so that they can swear at each other and then have a big fight. On several occasions, Bunty and I have been woken up in the middle of the night by a noise akin to a flock of flamingoes being brutally murdered, and we have learned that this is the sign that a guinea pig has gone climbing. We grab the staple-gun and, while one of us separates the guinea pigs back onto the floors they have actually chosen to live on, the other makes a frenzied attack on the tower block, stapling down every piece of chickenwire that looks remotely baggy.

There have been no climbing incidents for some weeks and all has been peaceful in Guinea Pig Land. But Colin is on the hunt for baggy bits…

Tir na nOg

19 Mar

Tir na nOg is a fabled Celtic island whose position in time and space is not in keeping with the rest of this world. It is said that the people who live there never grow old or die. I found myself there last weekend, after my return to Scotland.

Having spent a fortnight watching my uncle fade away, I was in need of some form of personal rejuvenation. I found myself by coincidence at a health centre called Tir na nOg, tucked away among the hills. Bunty had spotted an advertisement several weeks ago, offering a 90-minute massage, a three-course vegetarian meal, and a £20 gift shop voucher, all for the price of £30. He decided that this was exactly the sort of thing his mother and I would enjoy, and two vouchers were promptly bought, to be redeemed last weekend.

Bunty’s mother, accompanied by Pipkin her ‘haggis hound’, collected me from the gatehouse and drove me through the wilderness to the old stone buildings of Tir na nOg. The three-course meal was tasty and fresh from their own garden. I spent my gift shop voucher on jars containing ‘trapped fairies’, as they appealed to the naturalist in me. “Or the sadist in you,” observed Bunty’s mother, who was very sensibly using her voucher to stock up on cereal bars. Bunty’s mother has fairies living in her garden, I have heard.

My massage took place in a warm attic room with a window looking up to branches and sky. I relaxed to the sound of birdsong amid the patter of rainfall. Places like this always have a CD of this sort playing in the background – but at Tir na nOg, the sounds were real, and came from outside.

While Bunty’s mother was having her massage, Pipkin and I explored the grounds. Tir na nOg stands in a grove of trees, from which a path leads past a teepee, across a footbridge, and along a burn. Pipkin enthusiastically collected sticks and branches for me to throw for her. She then ran off with them so as to prevent me from actually having a chance to throw them, and chomped them up into little splinters.

Ang nang nom hack hawk

Pipkin was bred as a sheepdog, but kept running away from the sheep. She was thus adopted by Bunty’s mother, who, for reasons I cannot fathom, thinks she is the most intelligent dog in the world. Maybe she is. Maybe she hides her light under a bushel, and that is why she never responds to words like “fetch” or “give me the bloomin’ stick”.  Either way, her slapstick approach to life makes it hard not to laugh when one is around her. Like the magical Tir na nOg, she is a tonic.