Wednesday, March 22, 2006

digesting a lime tree

The common lime (Tilia x europaea), which is a naturally-occurring hybrid between the large-leaved and small-leaved limes, is frequently planted as the tallest of broad-leaved trees (at least in the UK), this towering and fragrant splendour easily outweighing its nastier features. Perhaps because common limes are hybrids they are very energetic growers but seem to have only a muddy idea of some of the subtleties of growth - branching, for instance. They produce explosions of adventitious shoots; the main limbs are clumsily elbowed and the crown looks as if it's been mutilated by tree-surgeons even when it hasn't (which in a town is not often). Common limes are usually scruffy, often grotesque and not seldom downright frightening - it's like being in school again. But what you can't deny is that they're trees of great, though usually bad, character.

The wood I found my way into must have grown up around an old lime avenue. One of the limes, a huge tree, had blown down and for several years the saprophytes had been busy trying to digest this gigantic organism back into the soil - not an easy task. In the grand scheme of things, animals decompose far more eaily than plants do because our cells are not surrounded by walls made from indigestible cellulose. The thickened and lignified cell-walls of wood are even more challenging. Bacteria are fairly useless as they have no means of penetrating into a large block of wood so can only manage surface decomposition; and the bigger the tree, the less surface it has - proportionally speaking. This fallen lime would last a thousand years if bacteria were the only agents of decomposition. But fungi are better positioned, thanks to their strange non-determinate hyphae, an evolved feature that can be adapted to this difficult problem of massive decomposition. "To say that a fungal hypha can penetrate even the hardest and toughest wood as easily as a nail (though more slowly, of course) is to underestimate its resources in this respect. One would have to imagine a nail, with a point capable of indefinite growth and of variable sharpness, which continuously excreted a wood-dissolving agent" (Garrett, 1963). Even so, relatively few fungi can attack wood; it needs a specialist.

These photos may show Trametes versicolor, which is common and always beautifully banded, but I know very little about fungi. Try here for more photos and some useful remarks about identification.

I liked this spinney - one of those out-of-the-way corners between fields where humans never go. It had no paths so I had to crouch and back and crackle my way through sickly understorey saplings. There were lots of signs of animal activity, mostly of uncertain age; the chewed cores of spruce-cones, fur and feathers, skulls and bones. It was a hard, unfriendly place with a sermon about existence being a brief, chilly, miserable automatism. (It might have seemed more cheerful without the icy north wind.) Despite these unpropitious whisperings I felt playful and I discovered that if you gently stroke the cones of Sitka Spruce you get a musical noise that sounds like one of those tranquil "Sounds of the Rainforest" CDs. Next time I get the chance I'm going back to collect the fox-skull so we can play some amusing tricks on people.


Monday, March 20, 2006

brief history - latest

Latest and emerging entries...

Richard Ford - Gatherings from Spain 1846
Wilkie Collins - Armadale 1866
Douglas Hyde - I believed (British Communist Party memoir) 1950
Kathleen Raine collage 1954
Ashokamitran - Water 1971
Peter Redgrove - A Speaker for the Silver Goddess review
Mark Ford / Rosmarie Waldrop - reviews 2005

Some of these things are also on our communal blogzine Intercapillary Space.

Friday, March 17, 2006

outside information

"A paper in a wineglass - one each for your son, your husband and yourself. Esther. Before retiring - a prophylactic dose. It's the miasma, you know. You mustn't neglect it, even in port, though it's rather dear. Keep on an eye on your stockist; that will be a sub-Post Office, I expect; and mind you don't run short."

Inside the ebon Ijaw night, if you awoke, and sometimes you would only wander in sleep, you felt tinned in oils, and the rainbows seeped into your eyelids. Dawlish Warren, old Dr Harmison, Dolly with the morning milk.... and she sang hymns with Henry, or:

And summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow!

After trimming the wick she arranged the treasures of her basket; the twists of thread, (the colours alas that were not useful for mending), needles, thimbles, and those insidious hooks and eyes made a camarilla of islands in her surrounds - this close, enormous lampblack. It was a rare thing for her to work in the night hours. Her head was clear but it was "beastly hot" indeed. She gazed at the threads and ribbons until, with patience, a throstle sang in the lilac.


Monday, March 06, 2006

early days of Katy

Katy had her elbows on the sill, popping her skirt in the air like a luscious black crocus. It was sunlit in the bay-window, with a little icy breeze.

He had turned into an office fixture, somehow. His elevenses was creme egg on a bed of baguettes, he was roly-poly and rather forbidding. He came back to his desk and answered his phone, spiralling off into a detailed condemnation of marketing strategy or lack thereof. He laughed explosively, lolling and propping his stomach twixt chair and desk. He almost mentioned lunch, but he decided it would have been too soon for Ned. People sound all right when they're at the end of a phone.

Still the thought of Katy swirled in the windows. It was the same weather, the same sparkling morning with its icy breeze; old-fashioned weather, he thought of it. He had a twinge of wanting to move back up there.

They hadn't long met. Katy's thoughtful gaze went right across the broad vale of York; the horizons were clear, and 20 or 30 miles off the mighty cooling towers held your eye: Ferrybridge, Drax A and B... and over there the Pennines. Like brighter clouds, some of the edges glimmered with snow. “Great Whernside, I believe”; force of association set his hand reaching comfortably for her drapery. It went no further at the time, they were sitting about in a hotel lounge, but then they had the conversation, which broadly went like this.

Well, it started with a lad from five years earlier, whose name he'd now forgotten: Simon it might have been. They'd been an ordinary pair, probably, just having fun and living the high life. They'd been doing it for a few months when he got himself killed in a bike smash. He was away at the time. She'd never met his family, who lived in another part of the country. For the first week or so, she thought he was dumping her. Then – well, it must have been ghastly. Quite awful.

But it had been five years, after all. At that age, you do bounce back. Just a little catch in the face sometimes, and that's what she showed him now. He thought of it as a zigzag; in fact he could see that spasm clearer than he could see her face.

Katy's idea was that losing someone really close was the most unspeakable thing that could happen to anyone. If you came through it at all, you came through in a ruined, a weakened state. You were needy, you couldn't do good work, you resented the happiness of other people, you cut yourself off, worst of all you became estranged from your living family, you could no longer provide for them. And she said, it's nothing selfish, it's not about cowardice, it's our duty to make sure, if we can, not to have that happen to us.

He was a lion, he said he'd ALWAYS be there for her. If you put him to it, of course, he hadn't really believed at that moment that he was never going to die, but when you're full of feeling for someone it's the kind of thing you just blurt out, and you're fine about saying it. The fact is, he was in heaven, because it was quite obvious that Katy was having this serious conversation with him because they were really it, he felt it already and now she was telling him. Katy's idea was that on a pre-arranged date, maybe ten years time, they'd split and go off into other lives - it would hurt very much, but not like someone dying. It seemed workable at that moment, they didn't think about any kids they might want themselves - well, they were still very young.

It turned out to be academic. The engagement never came, they started to fight about stupid things, and he drank quite a lot of vodka. One day he brought a pal back from work; he was coming to the end of his contract. Katy's dinner was a shocker, the so-called saffron turned out to be a fake that coloured the rice flesh-pink not yellow; the three of them sat there with plates of maggots in front of them. Finally she pissed off back to Manchester, she married and had three or four children, and that was the last he heard or wished to hear.

But for him, they should have been it. For him. He thought of her as perpetually young, sheathed in fire, her face alight with a kind of snow-glow. Reception called; the auditors had arrived. The young lady, he remembered, was fairly decorative. His door was ajar but he went over to the filing cabinet so he couldn't be seen from the corridor. He started gulping down his food in crazed lumps, leaning his forehead on the metal.


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