NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

One morning in October I discovered that my pond had been vandalised.

The water feature, a terracotta urn, had been knocked over, a water plant smashed and the statue of a little boy who sits on the edge playing a pipe, his feet trailing along the water’s surface, was flat on his face amongst the duck weed.
Looking round, trying to work out what had done this, I also discovered several slimy cream coils over one of the small plants in the narrow bed that surrounds the pond, and then, worst of all, I found a single frog’s leg on the lawn nearby.

“You’ve had a badger in here…”

Whilst I was still trying to work out what vandal had caused this devastation, a visiting friend said,
“You’ve had a badger in here. They’ll eat frogs. Probably too full to eat the fourth leg and those coils, which are its innards, it found too indigestible.”
I’m not of farming stock so I’ve never had reason to dislike badgers: anyway I think I was much influenced by the rather loveable, lumbering creatures that popped up from time to time in my childhood books.
A few years ago I was especially fascinated by a young one that came visiting us at dusk one summer evening, sniffled round the entire circuit of our garden, finishing up with his nose pressed against the windows of the garden doors where I sat watching. At the moment, however, I’ve gone off them. Not because of the damage done – this can be replaced – but because it has eaten one of my two special frogs that shared their lives with me and helped to keep the slugs and snails off the hostas. Whether my night time visitor ate both of them I don’t know, but there is no sign of the other one. On the whole I’d rather have them than a clumsy badger sharing my small space.

What a difference a month makes.

A few short weeks ago the hedges down Rowden Mill Lane were still green and a few meadow pipits still bounced around from the top of them. There were butterflies – tortoiseshells, red admirals, commas, small and large whites, a few meadow browns – even a small blue and a confused brimstone. When Genevieve (my mobility scooter) and I went along there a day or two ago, the colours of the hawthorns had changed dramatically to shades of yellows from ochre to a rich burnt orange. The dogwoods are a deep mahogany red and over all are scarlet rose hips and gleaming strings of bryony berries. No meadow pipits now but just the plaintiff song of a winter robin and the raucous call of flocks of rooks feeding on the brown earth of newly ploughed fields.
I stopped to take it all in, and my attention was caught by a long bramble stem twitching and moving where there was no breeze. It reminded me of a time when our dog and I were walking round Hatherleigh Moor in my old stomping ground in Devon, and on that occasion, I stopped for several minutes because I was fascinated to find out what was making a clump of moor grass twitch violently. Eventually my patience was rewarded. One piece of grass was felled, like a tree in a forest, and there beneath it was a small, bright eyed field mouse, nibbling away at it. On this occasion, I knew that no field mouse would tackle a bramble branch so I waited and watched. At last, on the side of the ditch below it, a small rabbit appeared, paused, nosed the air, then hopped back up through the hedge into the field behind it. It wasn’t a great nature find as nature finds go, but it pleased me.

The garden has been bereft of birds of any sort for the last three of four weeks I presume they are feeding on the plentiful natural food in the woods and hedgerows.

Then, this morning a little flock of long tailed tits arrived, several great tits and a pair of greater spotted woodpeckers which were climbing the apple tree. Suddenly, after two small frosts and one hard one, the garden looks bereft, although the berries on my two rowans, some orange and some pink, have hardly been touched. I’m hoping that some fieldfares might discover them. In the meantime, I think its time I cleaned up the old feeders and ordered some more bird food.

I don’t much like the winter on this side of Christmas, I can’t say I’m a great fan of January either, but at least then there will be the promise of better times.

Spears of bulbs will be pushing up (let’s hope they haven’t all done this already and daffodils blooming unnaturally for Christmas like they did last year), there will be the first signs of budding leaves on trees, small hazel catkins and maybe the first cautious blooming of flowers in the verges. Something to look forward to.
Happy Christmas everyone!

About Margaret

Margaret WaddinghamI was born in Middlesex in 1935 and educated at a convent in Rickmansworth. In 1954 I moved with my family to Cranleigh in Surrey where I met and married Brian. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.
For 21 happy years we lived on the outskirts of Guildford, moving to Hatherleigh in North Devon when our children had fled the nest to get on with their own lives.

My love of writing goes back many years but it was not until I retired from RHS Rosemoor Gardens in 1995 that I was able to devote more time to this and my other favourite pursuits, gardening and the countryside.

For many years I was a regular contributor of short stories, poetry, nature and other articles to three women’s national weeklies, periodical regional magazines and local newspapers. I also had a book of the history of a neighbouring village and a couple of books of poetry published.

One day our daughters phoned to suggest, very gently, that they couldn’t get to us quickly in an emergency and that’s how we ended up in Stourton Caundle.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place and although Brian sadly passed away in 2018, I have come to appreciate the village more and more.

Genevieve (my mobility scooter for those who haven’t met us) and I wander the local lanes, drinking in all that is around me and when I can no longer do this I will still have a small, peaceful garden to sit in where nature comes to visit me.