Small Tortoiseshell on Goat Willow

Waking After Winter

As the days grow warmer and longer, some of the creatures who have been hibernating at Sun Rising are waking.  Here’s a beautiful picture taken by David of a small tortoiseshell on goat willow catkins, taken by the pond.   This butterfly is in great condition after its winter sleep.

Small Tortoiseshell on Goat Willow

Small Tortoiseshell on Goat Willow

The air doesn’t quite smell of spring yet, but we’re almost there …

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Sun Rise in Frost

Sunrise in Frost

Many ask why we named the burial ground Sun Rising.  Our answer is, of course, that it is a local name: the part of the Edge Hills escarpment behind us is called Sun Rising Hill, and the name felt appropriate, suggesting the promise of dawn after the long dark night of grief, the promise of spring after the cold of winter.

In reality, we have so many wonderful sunsets at Sun Rising, but very seldom do we have the special light of sun rise – the hill being so high that, by the time the sun breaks its horizon, it is already broad daylight.  However, now and then, in winter, the light that creeps over the hill is golden.  Here’s a view of the roundhouse on a day of thick frost, just as the sun is breaking over the hill.  The teasels (out of focus in the foreground) are still offering the occasional seed to interested goldfinches, but these will soon be cleared.

Sun Rise in Frost

The Golden Light of the Sun Breaking Sun Rising Hill

The first snowdrops are now flowering at Sun Rising.  Most are little white droplets, but the sturdiest are opening their petals.  If you look carefully, you’ll see primroses in flower as well, and the catkins on hazel and silver birch.  A new year of growth is just beginning.

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White Dove on the Roundhouse

A Dove of Peace

A rather beautiful creature has been seen at Sun Rising over the last few weeks of the Christmas period: a perfect white dove.  This little fellow has brought real delight, with many families telling me wonderful stories – of the dove sitting on the top of the roundhouse, or landing by a grave, or on the path before them.  In many ways, on cold grey difficult days, such a sight can seem magical, a sign of peace, a miracle.

White Dove on the Roundhouse

White Dove on the Roundhouse

You can see the dove puffed up here in the photograph, trying to keep out the cold.  Of course, this is not a wild bird.  There are a good few organisations that offer ‘dove release’ for special occasions; some use trained homing pigeons, strong birds in good condition which, when released, circle two or three times to get their bearings before heading straight home.  Others, however, are not so reputable.  This lovely white bird is the only survivor of three that were released at Sun Rising before Christmas, and I’m amazed that he is still alive.  Our birdfeeders are certainly helping, and perhaps the good will of all those who have seen him at Sun Rising, giving thanks for his calm quiet presence.

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Frosty Leaves in Young Woodland

Winter

The transition into winter has crept in slowly this year, perhaps because the dry cold of November allowed autumn’s leaves to remain on the trees longer than usual.  Now, however, there’s no denying it: winter is here.  After clear starry nights, the white of deep frost remains, lingering throughout the day in areas the sun doesn’t reach.  Not long after three in the afternoon, the silence of dusk descends over the landscape.

Frosty Leaves in Young Woodland

Frosty Leaves in Young Woodland

At Sun Rising we’ve been tree planting.  Over half of our memorial trees have now been planted, and a new copse planted near the top car park.  The frosty ground has meant it hasn’t been too muddy, and beneath the top few inches of cold ground the soil is perfect for planting.

On clear winter days like these it is easy to find beautiful moments: frosty leaves, the fieldfare eating rose hips, the dunnocks and wrens visible in the bare hedgerows where they’ve been hidden all summer.  The trick will be to continue finding those beautiful moments when the clouds return and the days become damp and grey …

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Autumn Mushrooms and Rose Petals

Autumn Fungi

Fungi is one of nature’s celebrations that I have not even begun to study.  While it is possible to have an idea that a mushroom is this or that, I know enough to be fairly sure I’ll be wrong most of the time …  At Sun Rising at the moment, there are a good number of different kinds of fungi, at different stages of emergence and decay.  There are tiny pink caps, and thick hand-sized caps, there are patches of fiery orange mushrooms and brackets on old wood and deep in the cracks in the soil.

This photo is not of the most dramatic I have come across, but with the rose petals it is a picture that moves me.  I lifted the bouquet, an offering of love on a grave, the blooms wilted in the frost, and underneath the mushrooms almost blinked at me in the sudden sunshine.  Just beautiful.

Autumn Mushrooms and Rose Petals

Autumn Mushrooms and Rose Petals

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Wild Service Tree in Autumn Colour

Welcoming Autumn

Here in the heart of England, the colours of autumn have been breathtaking this year.  With so little wind and rain over the past few weeks, the leaves have had a chance to burst like fireworks into a thousand hues of autumn, and remain on the trees for that little while longer.  The most exceptional at Sun Rising are the guelder rose, field maple and wild service tree, now at their very best.

Wild Service Tree in Autumn Colour

Wild Service Tree in Autumn Colour

Even the blackthorn is finding tones that it doesn’t usually have the chance to find, in soft oranges, copper and bronze.  The silver birch are glorious with pale yellow leaves scattered amidst the fine green.

With the first gusts of wind, this natural art will be blown to the grown, but even there, if so many come down together, there will be beauty – and all the fun of the young child, in big boots, kicking up the leaves!

Watch out for the mushrooms.  They are plentiful this year, hiding beneath the fallen leaves, and all of them still beyond my ability to identify …

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Rainy Spider's Web on Crab Apple

Autumn Mists

With some moments still of beautiful sunshine, it has almost been possible to hold onto the warmth of the year, but no more.  The songs of autumn are now filling the air.  Thick mists in the early morning are sometimes barely clearing, and tiny drops of dew, mist, drizzle and rain cling to the spiders’ webs, revealing intricate designs that we otherwise would not see.

Rainy Spider's Web on Crab Apple

Rainy Spider’s Web on Crab Apple

The cherry leaves are rimmed with deep red, the field maples are turning into a thousand hues of bronze, the guelder rose, the dog wood and wild service leaves are splashed with burgundy.  In a month, the leaves will have fallen and the hedgerows and woodlands stand bare, but for the coming weeks we have the wonder of all those changing colours.

There is no bad weather, some say, just inappropriate clothing … and now is the time to adjust our clothing, pulling out the thermals and putting on layers.  Grief can weaken the immune system, leaving us vulnerable: it’s better to be too warm and have to leave a coat in the car than get chilly.  Take care.

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Wildflower Bales

Hay Making

The wildflower meadow was mown this year using a small tractor and lovely local farmer and his very beautiful collie.  Sitting in the tractor cab, whenever they reached the end and backed up to turn and head down the row, the dog would bark at the reversing wheel as if with deep indignation, as if it were a misbehaving sheep heading in the wrong direction …

Spreading, drying and baling the hay was done over last week, with the bales going off to Redwings Horse Sanctuary (website) nearby.

Wildflower Bales

Wildflower Bales

The wildflower meadow is not the only part of the site that is cut, of course, and over the last two weeks we’ve been cutting and raking seeding grass and wildflowers from woodland and meadow areas around Sun Rising.  On Saturday we had a wonderful collection of volunteers to help us – thank you to each and every one of them!

There was raking and mulching the trees with the grasses, and spreading the wildflower hay over meadow graves and grassy areas.  It was a lovely clear day of blue skies and passing clouds, and the breeze not only helped keep the workers cool but aided with spreading the seeding wildflowers as well …

Spreading Hay

Spreading Hay

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Great Willowherb, the Roundhouse and Sun Rising Hill

Pink, Gold and Green

Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) is one of those wayside and ruderal plants that many don’t even notice.  From late July and into August in this part of the world it lines the country lanes, especially where ditches retain water through the summer.  You can see it too around ponds, where it is a favourite of moths like the elephant hawkmoth, and butterflies land to find its nectar.

At a time when the long grasses are drying, the fields are gold with wheat or barley, the hay meadows mown to straw stubble, the great willowherb offers a beautiful brightness.  With hedgerows and woodland now a dark green, the colours are even more exquisite.

Great Willowherb, the Roundhouse and Sun Rising Hill

Great Willowherb, the Roundhouse and Sun Rising Hill

Over the next few weeks, when the weather allows, we shall be mowing the wildflower meadow and burial areas.  Where we can, we’ll be leaving plants that are still in flower – such as the willowherb, the field scabious, devil’s bit scabious, the musk mallow and cranesbill.  The last pinks of the wild summer are precious …

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Magpie meets hare, then they go on their way

Conversations

After such a cloudy and chilly summer so far, a few hot days can be hard to adjust to, but the heat does cause us to pause.  Like snow, it seems to cover the landscape, stilling it into a different sort of silence.  At some times, it seems to me that folk do stop to talk, with and without words, in a sharing of wonder.

Magpie meets hare, then they go on their way

Magpie meets hare, then they go on their way

The cloud and cool will return by the end of the week, or so those with an overview say.  Until then, let us make the most of the stillness where we can, and those unusual and perhaps unexpected conversations.

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