The Venerable, the Capricious and the Maladjusted

Originally published July 2013

Hello everyone! That stalwart Makem, the Venerable Bede, refered to the summer months of June and July as the Early Litha Month and the Later Litha Month in his 8th Century treatise, De temporum ratione. He wrote this learned document in an attempt to explain how the precise date of Oestre (later to become Easter) was calculated. At that time the calendar used by those who cared about actual dates was a very fluid concept. It incorporated learning from the Classical world of Egypt, Greece and Rome juxtaposed with the mythology and earthy traditions of the Germanic peoples. Bede’s use of the Old English name for June and July has resulted in Midsummer being referred to as Litha by numerous Neopagans and Solstice party-goers.

Those celebrating the sun’s full reign in the sky must, like myself, be wondering just whose side Ma Nature is on. The week before Midsummer saw the end of much planning, cutting of saplings and clearing of tenacious clumps of bramble. We felt fully prepared for our reprise of the Festival of ’02. The Scouts were primed and ready to rebuild the woven stockade and fire pit, the pond was fully charged and teeming with enough life to test the identification skills of younglings and adults alike. Suitable trees were identified for bark rubbing and areas were designated for numerous activities. With a consumately blended mix of begging, bribery and bullying the Arty-Farties had even found enough people to man them all! However a few days before the due date the Old Girl provided us with an easterly wind cool enough for early March and strong enough to have every leaf-laden tree billowing like a spinnaker on an Atlantic crossing; we had no choice but to postpone the great day! Not finished with us, her capricious streak came to the fore on the day. TQW leighton-frederick-flaming-juneA showery start had us congratulating ourselves on a wise decision, but the wind and rain dropped by lunchtime and Phoebus shone through with such radiance that Leighton’s titian-haired beauty, Flaming June, came to mind.

So much for the vagaries of the Grand Old Lady and the British weather! We are hoping that the two will combine their efforts to give us an Indian Summer’s day on October 6th when the Fun Day will be held along with the Fungi Identification Walk.

The long Summer (though not necessarily summer-like) days mean that plants can take full advantage of an extended period of daylight for photosynthesis and growth. Birds at this time of year hardly seem to sleep at all as their day stretches from the very early hours right though to close on midnight. Conversely you would think that nocturnal creatures now have a very short working day, or rather night! Various studies have been carried out regarding the distribution of nocturnal animals and daylight hours. TQW dormouse-colour - CopyThere is a distinct correlation between Dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) populations and hours of daylight. Apart from having their habitat destroyed in the name of progress, they seem to inhabit the areas of the country that are most beneficial to them. The majority of the Dormice in the UK live in the sunny south where you get warmer weather and sunshine to stimulate plant growth and ensure a good food supply. In addition the summer nights are longer than in the north of the country thereby giving them a longer time to feed. However the fact that a Dormouse can spend up to three-quarters of its life asleep may make the diurnal cycle immaterial! Our common Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is now the most widespread canine in the wild. Though still classified as nocturnal, in this country at least, we stand almost as good a chance of seeing them in the day as at night. Seasonal changes to the length of the day appear to make little difference to their lifestyle.

Truly nocturnal species such as Bats and our busy Badgers (Meles meles) TQW badgerreally do have to cram all their activity into the few hours of darkness in the Summer. Daylight sightings of both of these animals are not uncommon but this usually indicates that the individuals have been disturbed or there is some danger near to where they are roosting or sleeping. In the case of Bats, shorter Summer nights are not going to cause them to alter their habits as they hibernate throughout the long hours of darkness in the Winter. It is a different story for our Brocks who, true to their nature, just refuse to adjust to the whims of the Universe. They may appear slightly later during the Summer months, but more often than not will start their nightly routine in the twilight. This makes the Summer months the best time for Badger watching without the aid of night vision equipment. The one thing that will have had them staying in their Sets recently is the severe wind which scuppered our woodland Fun Day so effectively. Poor eyesight means a reliance on their superb senses of hearing and smell to warn them of danger, high winds will handicap them on both accounts leaving them vulnerable. It appears that Ma Nature is on nobody’s side at times!

So there it is, an eclectic mix of ancient scholarly literature, stubborn denizens of the countryside and some good old British moaning about the weather. Enjoy the Summer and let us hope it extends nicely into the later months for our Autumnal Family Fun Day!

If we shadows have offended,TQW puck MSD7
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Midsummer Night’s Dream,
William Shakespeare

I couldn’t have put it better Puck! As usual put me right at pgcrow@yahoo.com

Paul Johnson

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