Monday, March 25, 2013

Sing 'cou-cou'

It may be only a few days after the official (French) start to spring on March 20th but the season seems already well established. The dawn chorus has become more dense, more complicated and lasts all day. Song birds are very competitive. I no longer hear the white owl's warning call as it hunts for small rodents at day break because day break comes when I am still deeply asleep.

The early violets have been joined by a rush of other wild flowers, mostly yellow, like the butterflies, the cowslip or coucou in French was probably the first. It is a medicinal plant, leaves rich in vitamin C but also saponines, so not edible by humans. The dandelion, or pissenlit, whose leaves are eagerly picked for the local (bitter) spring salads, is prolific in the horse-fields, it is known as the 'horseflower' in Dutch. And yes, pissenlit does mean 'bed-wetter', it is a diuretic, so why eat it? The only way to make a pissenlit salad edible, in my view, is to add crumbled crispy bacon and some toasted pine nuts, then eat, interspersed mouthfuls with authentic country bread and glugs of decent wine. In the marshy areas we have a few celandines – souci d'eau – a plant of the ranunculaceae family. My favourite wild flower reference book Quelle est donc cette fleur* observes that it is mildly poisonous, bitter tasting: Il est donc preferable de ne pas la manger en salade. End quote.

These commercially raised primroses have come back for the second year....
The curious thing about the cowslip is its relationship to the primrose, both primulaceae but only the cowslip grows on our soil – except where I have planted commercially raised primroses, as above. A few kilometres from us, on a shady bank, there are nothing but primroses to be seen – odd. One year, when replacing the window box primroses with geraniums, I could not be bothered to replant them elsewhere which I normally do, being parsimonious. I threw them over the wall into the woods. And the next year, there was a 'cowslip' plant that had exactly the colours of a rejected primrose. Odder.

hopefully happy ducks on Black Pond
Well, the cowslip may be called 'coucou' but I have yet to hear that bird's call which should easily be heard above that of all the others. Perhaps it is just a little late, not quite trusting that spring is really here. The daily showers that come down hard and fast at unexpected moments may discourage it, as they do humans. But one small, rain related creature, has not been discouraged. The mid-wife toad, with its rain drop cry ' ploop, ploop' – seems to have established itself on the Black Pond in the Woods, along with the wild ducks. The ducks, too, are making themselves heard. They are quacking which, apparently, is what ducks do. Our tame ducks were Muscovies, also known as Barbary ducks. They do not quack. It took me some while to distinguish the 'quack-quack' from all the other bird noises. Keeping my fingers crossed that the ducks are here to stay.

*Quelle est donc cette fleur?. By Dietmar Aichele, translated by Thomas Althaus, illustrated by Marianne Golt-Bechtle. Publisher, Fernand Nathan, Paris 1975.

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