Sunday, November 18, 2012

Winter vigil

A sign of winter. This is Common Bistort, a native perennial that is the first to collapse when the frost hits. This relative of the Dock was also known in Ireland as Snakeroot or Snakeweed, presumably because the rhizomatous roots resemble snakes, although I can't say I've noticed it myself. Thinking about it, though, perhaps this is what people imagined snakes looked like, having never seen them, the good St Patrick having done such a good job of getting rid of them.

Bistort was traditionally plucked when going on a journey, while saying a charm that described it as 'the first herb the Virgin Mary took into her hand.' This does seem a little unlikely, it growing (according to my Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe) in European countries north of the Mediterranean, but perhaps someone had imported it.

Here's how the bistort looked in the summer when it was full of buzzy things:

I found the bit about Bistort and Mary in a wonderful book I have called Irish Wild Plants, Myths, Legends and Folklore. There's a big section on Ragwort too, a plant with jagged leaves and pretty yellow daisy-flowers that is poisonous to livestock. It's also the home to a gorgeous little stripey caterpillar that turns into the exotic Cinnabar moth. And also, according to Irish Wild Plants, the alternative form of transport for witches and warlocks who can't lay their hands on a broomstick. Here's a bit of a Robbie Burns poem describing the goings on:

Let warlocks grim, an' wither'd hags,
Tell how wi' you on ragweed nags,
They skim the muirs an' dizzy crags,
Wi' wicked speed.

I'd never realised ragwort was the speedster of the witchy world.

I put out bird nuts yesterday. Another sign of winter. This morning there was one great tit and one chaffinch, but word got out. Just before lunch there were four great tits, three chaffinches and a robin.

I put all the terracotta tubs into the greenhouse too. All those that haven't already half disintegrated in previous frosts, held together by roots and good luck.

In Galway on Thursday. A lovely day, mild and bright. Coffee and gluten-free chocolate brownie upstairs in McCambridge's, then a hair cut, a spot of lingerie shopping (Marks and Spencer for knickers ha ha), pop the M & S bag onto the back seat of the car which was parked on the Long Walk. Just to right in the picture below, outside the cream building.

Off to my poetry workshop, cup of tea afterwards, back to the car in time to catch the 4.45 limit on the ticket. And I'm clamped! I couldn't believe it. Clamped. I've never been clamped before. I'm the sort of person who frets about being late for my ticket, and having everything paid up. Turns out the ticket had flipped over - must have been when I put the shopping bag into the car, because I checked it when I first left the car. But I still had to pay €80 to get unclamped. Put the price of the knickers up a bit.

I've appealed, of course. Sent off a letter and all that. We'll see if they give me my money back.

We were in Galway again last night for the Savita Halappanavar vigil. A moving event watched by a sliver of new moon. 

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