Summer Days and Thirsty Hedgehogs

It’s high summer in our village, the sea is postcard turquoise blue, and scored with white wakes from little fizz boats having fun. I watch the big game fishing boats with tourists going out with tall fishing rods at the ready, poised to hunt giant marlin and other innocent creatures of the deep – and disapprove. All around me holiday houses are filled, and laughter and calls of children punctuate the buzz of lawnmowers.

Yesterday a homemade cricket match with children and adults on the grass across from our oak tree, filled the afternoon with joyful noise. The click of ball on bat, the shouts, the laughter, the groans, the cheers, the guffaws sounded like the archetypical holiday games of childhood that fertilise the memory, so that looking back in later years, all summers seemed sunny and filled with laughter.

This morning I sat outside in the sun having my breakfast, and watched monarch butterflies flirting, fluttering and feeding among the pink flowers of the mutabilis rose and lavatera, and rose-red cannas. Reading Anne Dillard I learn that monarch butterflies smell of honeysuckle… do they really, or was honeysuckle the last flower they’d been sampling when the researcher sniffed their beauty? The other side of the garden where it’s shady, blue hydrangeas are blooming amidst the foliage of acanthus and queen of the night, the blue African primrose is flowering profusely on the edge of the ivy, while blue agapanthus spring out of the greenery further away.

Pale blue petunias echo the colour of the faded painted wrought iron chair on which their pots rest. A tiny green silver eye dived determinedly past me and into the trellis where wisteria, honeysuckle and red and purple fuchsia tangle with each other. He rustled noisily and industriously among the leaves, eating aphids or grubs, and then flew into the plum tree and wiped his beak on a branch… didn’t realise that eating aphids was a messy business for birds!

And now, as I write this, a speckled cream-breasted thrush has just quietly hopped past the open French door, followed closely by a bumble- bee, buzzing and bouncing along the ground in an irritated sort of way. Ever since I got home from Tai Chi the neighbour’s black cat has been purring, first at my feet, then on my lap, and now on the chair beside my chair. What with the gentle susurrations of the wind in the flax bushes and the pururi leaves, the whirring and clicking of cicadas in the trees outside the window, and the receding low-tide sighing softly across the exposed sea-weed – though there is no sound of spoken word – it is not a silent world this afternoon. And since every sound is the sound of the earth getting on with the business of being, it is sweet and satisfying.

The wind which has blown across the Tasman from the terrible forest fires in Australia, has been unceasing, and the ground is dry and hard. Ponds are drying up, and birds are spending much time not just at the bird bath, but also at the dog’s drinking bowl outside on the road. Thirsty birds as well as dogs keep me busy re-filling it.  Yesterday when I went up the path with a jug to top it up, someone had dropped three one dollar coins in the bowl. I love it  – a random act of fun – and yet obviously my bowl is very tempting because it’s the fourth time in the last few years that I’ve found coins in the water!

I’ve heard several people talking about finding hedgehogs in their swimming pools, unable to get out… they don’t seem to realise that they’re looking for water. As I drove back down our road after shopping the other day, I saw a hedgehog weaving an unsteady path across the road. I stopped the car, jumped out, and picked up the little ball of prickles, and carried it home. As I delicately carried her, so as not to be impaled on the prickles, she uncurled, and I felt her warm leathery legs hang down. I stood her in the flat water bowl in the garden, so she knew in her confused state that water was right there. I left her there drinking, while I walked back to retrieve the car.

She’d shuffled off (into the piles of dead leaves, I trust) when I got back, but I’m putting out cat-food, in the hope the hedgehog gets to it before any other wild-life – like rats. I’ve also now got shallow plant pot holders all over the garden filled with water for little creatures. I hope the little thing sticks around…I like the thought of a hedgehog in the garden.

They are amongst the oldest mammals, fifteen million years old. They have between five and six and a half thousand prickles, and beautiful quizzical little faces framed by their prickles. Anyone who grew up on Beatrix Potter is unable to resist them – shades of Mrs Tiggywinkle and Fuzzypeg –  there are hedgehog hospitals in the UK, and patrols to rescue hedgehogs trapped at the bottom of cattle grids. Conservationists in this country don’t like them as they eat native birds eggs as well as all the garden pests. I am a one- woman Society for the Protection of Hedgehogs.

I found a pair of snails crawling up a big deep bowl of water I always have in the courtyard, and to my amazement, found them at the water’s edge some time later. Wasps also drink from the dog’s water bowl. With streams and ponds covered over in towns and cities, there’s little water for thirsty creatures. A hundred and fifty years ago, an English millionairesse and philanthropist, Angela Burdett-Coutts donated horse troughs and  fountains for animals in English towns … but if anyone tried to do the same now, I could imagine the red tape and town planning regulations and resource management restrictions preventing anyone from re-instating drinking places for thirsty animals.

When I lived in town I always had a drinking bowl on the pavement outside my gate. It was a big deep blue and white china bowl I’d brought from Hong Kong, and everyone told me I was mad, it would get stolen as all the students on their way to lectures, and cleaners on their way to hospital trailed past our house. But it never was, and even late at night I’d see cats drinking from my bowl, the only water around.

When we moved I asked the doctor who bought the house if he’d keep it filled if I left it there. He promised, but when I met him six months later and checked that he was still filling it, he told me it had been stolen two days after we left!

Here in my village, everyone respects my drinking bowl, except the birds who bath in it, so I’m always changing the water because it gets so dirty. Who knew that birds were so dusty! I see dogs straining at the lead to get to it – they know it’s waiting for them. And being a village, people stop to talk to me sitting in my garden, and thank me for the water. And then there are the ones who drop coins in it – I hope they make a wish as they do!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This is a lovely summer starter, and cheap withal! I’ve used it since I was a very new wife fifty years ago, so you could say it’s stood the test of time! You need one orange per person and some black olives. Peel it so that all the pith has been removed, cut it in half, and then slice thinly across, keeping the juice, and taking out the centre line of pith.

Arrange the slices in individual dishes, dot with olives and then pour this vinaigrette over. For the vinaigrette peel and finely chop an onion, chop two to three tablesps of mint, and one of parsley, and make up the vinaigrette – one third wine vinegar, two thirds olive oil. Mix all the ingredients together, and add salt and black pepper to taste. I add any orange juice that has run out, and only pour the vinaigrette over the oranges just before serving.

It’s summery and refreshing, and the mint and onion with the orange is tangy and different.The oranges and black olives and green mint look beautiful too.

Food for Thought

Education is identical with helping the child realise his potentialities. The opposite of education is manipulation, which is based on the absence of faith in the growth of potentialities, and on the conviction that a child will be right only if the adults put into him what is desirable and suppress what seems to be undesirable.

From The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm  1900 – 1980 social psychologist, philosopher and writer.

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47 Comments

Filed under animals/pets, birds, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, happiness, life/style, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, wild life

47 responses to “Summer Days and Thirsty Hedgehogs

  1. “If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected.” CHIEF SEATTLE OF THE SUWAMISH TRIBE, letter to President Franklin Pierce (Valerie – your post exemplifies the spirit of these words.)

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    • Hello Rebecca, what a lovely quote, both apt and true. I suppose this was the time when the bison were wiped out, and here we are now in the middle of the Sixth Great Extinction, and no-one seems to realise the seriousness of it….

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  2. What a quietly satisfying visit I feel as though I have just made, sitting in your garden, listening and observing the thrum of nature. You evoke all of that life so beautifully and your tenderness with all those creatures is so touching Valerie.

    I wonder if the coins come from the same source? A delightful mystery.

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    • Thank you for such a beautiful and poetic comment, Claire, so glad you enjoyed the visit. If you did visit, I’d give you a long cool drink of elderberry cordial sitting in the garden! Yes, aren’t the coins delicious! I laugh out loud each time I find them !

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  3. In our area (northeastern US), birds are much more likely to die from lack of water during the winter than severe cold. I have both a heated birdbath and a pond with a bubbler to keep an area unfrozen and I get a lot of traffic from the smallest chipmunks and birds to deer and everything in between.

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  4. Beautiful imagery, Valerie. You have such a powerful gift!

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  5. Amy

    I’m remembering the shouts, the laughter, the groans, the cheers…the joyful summer days in the old time. The drinking bowl is so thoughtful! Thank you for the beautiful post, Valerie!

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  6. wonderful, how wonderful to know that somewhere in the world, though I breathe through the cold winds of winter, there is a summer that blossoms in another part of the world… where monarch butterflies flutter and roses and wisterias bring forth their delightful fragrances, and the thrushes and the butterflies fly through the warmth of the summer breeze. Thank you for this lovely post that transports me to the sweetness of summer where you are, Valerie!

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    • Thank you so much for your beautiful reply, it was like poetry to read it. So good to know that you enjoyed it. I vicariously savour your winter and the glorious pics of frost and snow that people post, while you savour our summer!

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  7. What a delightful read, and a delightful idea also to be leaving out a water bowl. Thank you Valerie, I shall be doing the same from now on.

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  8. I didn’t realize hedgehogs had been around for so long, the darling things. I love your description of holding it in your hands; I could almost feel it in my own!

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  9. How nice to rest in your garden for a bit, Valerie! Here in NYC we’ve had an overnight coldsnap: it’s gone from mild to freezing temperatures in a flash, and the streets are coated in slush. It feels like a time for recalibration, since we don’t know what to expect from Nature from one day to the next. The rhythm of continuity we’ve known for some years is shifting and we’re not quite sure how to handle it…Love the blue flowers in your garden! xoM

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    • Oh Margarita – I hope that lovely cherry tree you showed us the other day will be able to weather the storm… and you of course! Yes, nature is unpredictable these days isn’t it… we find the same – summer in winter and winter in summer – today I have both the heater and a cardigan on!

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  10. Alice

    How lovely to find this oasis of summer in the chill of winter! I am going to buy some oranges.

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  11. Your writing has brought to all of us in the frozen northern hemisphere a touch of warmth and a promise of summer, which we sure need right now. Like a touch of color to our bleak worlds!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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    • Linda, thank you for your comment, I’m glad if my post cheered you up. It does sound a long hard cold winter in the northern hemisphere, and I know how January and February drag. Hope the worst is over soon for you… do you have snowdrops and crocuses where you are?
      Love to Fuzzy and Boomer, hope Fuzzy is going on well….

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  12. This was so beautiful. I wish I was there since it’s clearly warmer than where I am with the sun and the tree and the cricket match and the butterflies!

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    • Great to have your comment – sorry I can’t share the warmth around – it sounds as cold as… everywhere else…even -13 in UK, which is not usual. So many bloggers tell of birds and animals look for food and water in the ice and snow…Keep warm !!!

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  13. What a lovely visit I have just had. I love your water bowl. I have one out in our back yard, I suspect we have birds who bath as I am frequently changing it. My dog shares it with others quite frequently though. It is more a trough then a bowl, given our hot summers I fill it every day.

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  14. Valerie, Did you write that or did you paint it out on a large canvas for us ❤ I 'saw' each line happening…bumble bee buzzzzzing….the dog straining on the leash to get at the drinking bowl…friendly words wafting thru the air…holding warmth and familiarity..oh what a lovely picture you have painted there, Valerie…Bless you for making my day warmer (oh we are below freezing right now and it has not stopped snowing since last evening) Truly a beautiful piece of writing.

    Thank you and warm regards xx

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    • What a lovely comment, I so value your lovely words, and I ‘m glad if it cheered you up in the cold.. It sounds very challenging living in the temperatures I’ve been reading about…Hope you can keep warm, warm wishes from Valerie

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  15. This post brought a smile to my face. Charmingly done, Valerie!

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  16. Oh Valerie…thank you so very much! I’m feeling punky right now, but just had to let you know how much I admire your gestures of kindness to all God’s creatures. Blessings on you, Saint Francine!

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    • Amy, thank you so much for your appreciation, but as you would know, it’s not even a labour of love, but a joy to share our world with the other orders of creation… Blessings to you, good friend

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  17. I so love your writing. The paragraph on sound and sussuration is particularly lovely. There’s a house down our hill into town that always has a dog bowl which I think is lovely too. I hadn’t realised how dusty the birds might be either.

    It is especially lovely to read this in the depths of winter and that salad! I shall have to copy that and put it in my Valerie’s recipes folder! 🙂

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    • Hello Sally,
      So good to hear from you, and I love knowing that you’ve enjoyed my posts – I so enjoy yours!
      I particularly love those pictures of lanes and gates, and ivied walls and elegant town-scapes..I can smell the damp earth, hear the rooks cawing, and feel the winter mist in town…lovely!
      Hope you enjoy the salad, I got it from one of the first issues of the Daily Telegraph colour supplement back in 1963/4!!

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  18. I so love how you nurture the creatures, Valerie. My thoughts, too, go to the ones that suffer in the fires. It’s unthinkable. Thank you for taking such good care of the wild 🙂

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  19. Please check my latest post, Valerie…I’ve nominated you as one of the “Blog of the Year Awards for 2012”. Even if you don’t want to bother with awards, I’d like you to know how much I appreciate your work.

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    • Amy, I’m so touched and thrilled by your comments and your gifts. First, congratulations on the award to your lovely blog, and I loved the way you introduced it.
      And so many thanks for thinking of me, for your lovely words of recommendation and your lovely message. The last few days have been so tough that I feel I’m on my knees, so it was lovely to have your appreciation…love, Valerie

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  20. Pingback: Blog of the Year Award – One Amongst Equals | Soul Dipper

  21. I love hedgehogs, when we heard on in our beach garden as kids, my Mum would send us to the bottom of the garden with a saucer of milk, and then we would lay in wait in the evening not moving a muscle waiting for the hedgehoggy snuffle and shuffle as he came out to drink his treat.. There was always little bowls and saucers of water in my mothers garden, something i have kept going all my life for her.. lovely post.. oh so lovely to sit with you in your glorious garden. c

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  22. It took me a while to reply to this, as your memories of your mother stirred up a lot of my sadness about not having a mother … yours sounds such a darling – and lots of trust and love between you in all your mentions of her….:
    Lovely to hear from you as always, and maybe one day you can sit in the garden with me!!! – iced coffee or chilled elderflower cordial- or if the sun is over the yard-arm, you know what!

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    • My mother died when I was 27. I think this is why my memories of her are so clear. Elderflower cordial sounds quite divine. I should not have given in so easily when I was home. I was silly. I should have found some time to meet you where you are. I hate it when I make a mistake like that. Unless something happens I will be back in December 2014. Then Gods willing we will have a lovely sit down in the sun and inspect the yard arm!! .. c

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