Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Dawn Chorus

I awoke around 4am and knew I would not sleep again. The dim light of dawn crept in through the blinds at the window and I lay flat on my back to listen to the morning. The usual inexplicable taps, creeks and knocks of this old cottage were first to emerge. The quiet sound of my wife’s rhythmic breathing accentuated the warm comfort of the bed and I closed my eyes, pulling the covers up close to my face. Cocky the cockerel was in full cry from across the valley (I gave him that name when we first came here a year and a half ago) and I got up and moved to the window. Peering through the blind the morning looked overcast and damp. As I unlatched the window and opened it, just an inch, the beautiful sound of morning tumbled in.

The Dawn Chorus is a wonderful event here in the Yorkshire Dales; the daily song of countless birds as they call for mates and protect their territory provides a priceless pleasure. Sniffing the cool oxygen of morning awoke my senses and I returned to bed to listen, hoping the noisy birds would not wake my wife. I lay for a while imagining what the morning was like on the fells and hills that surround the village. The crows were the most vocal of all, nesting in the trees outside the cottage; their spooky calls causing me to snuggle deeper into my pillow.

The clock showed 4:44am and the thought of a morning in the hills enticed me out of bed. I dressed quickly, packed a small back pack, put on my boots and headed out. The village was deserted and as I reached the centre the church clock showed 5am; the Union flag atop the tower moving almost imperceptibly in the gentle breeze. Climbing gradually out the back of the village I reached the Common and started my ascent to the foothills of the mountain. The bridleway was steep and my breathing heavy but reaching the top of the first hill provided its reward. I looked back across the village. One or two street lamps were still lit but there was no sign of human life. The sky hung low and heavy over the valley promising rain and the distant hills in the west unfolded in shades of grey and green and faded into mist on the horizon. Looking towards the mountain the murderous crows drifted thick and black like a cape, caught by the breeze, rising and falling, tumbling and turning across landscape. I stood and let the morning wash over me, grateful for the simple pleasure of being alive in this moment.

I suddenly realised that countless sheep were standing looking at me, anticipating my next move. I started back down via a different route in the direction of the river and they scattered instinctively, panicked by a nonexistent danger. I walked through fields of buttercups, all closed now from the cool night and took care not to stand on the many snails along the path, each having their own pattern, size and colour. In the distance I could hear the river. The skies were lighter now with a hint of blue in the east. On reaching the river I followed it back into the village and as I entered I saw the paper boy on his morning round and said a ‘hello’ to a man leaving the village with his dog. The church clock announced 6am.

On reaching home I noticed that the crows in the trees had quietened and I settled down for a hot cup of tea and began writing this blog in the knowledge that I did not have to be at my desk and work for another three hours.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Z is for ZZzzz! (A-Z Challenge)

At last, we come to the end of the A-Z Challenge. I almost didn't take part, but decided I would have a go after seeing so many people doing it and I haven't been disappointed. There seems to have been a pattern going on. There was a strong start and lots of interest from other bloggers coming to visit. I also went out there and made a big effort to visit other sites. Then there was a bit of a lull, before another surge of effort to make the most of the opportunity. And now, towards the end, I have to admit that I found it hard to keep going at times.

The great thing is that I've met lots of new and interesting people out there in the blogosphere, with many viewpoints and stories to tell. I expect I'll continue to visit them from time to time. Another benefit of this challenge has been the act of blogging every day without fail - getting into the habit and making it part of what I do. I'm also happy that I actually had something to say, whether it was in poetry, a quote or just a few words about wellbeing, which is very important to me.

But now it's the end of 26 days of blogging. Thanks to the A-Z Challenge guys who set the whole thing up and thanks to all the people who took the time to visit. I appreciate it. So now it's time to get some Z's - ZZzzzz! Sorry, that's the best I can do with Z!

Until next year, bye for now!


Monday, 29 April 2013

Y is for Yo-Yo (A-Z Challenge)

I bet we've all had a toy Yo-Yo as a child and it seems like such a modern thing to have. But did you know that Yo-Yo's go back a very long way? This picture is of a Greek vase from around 500 BC. It is thought that it shows a boy playing with a Yo-Yo made of terracotta. Other toys were made of wood or metal in those days and some terracotta disks were used for ceremonial reasons. It's amazing what you learn doing the A-Z Challenge! Tomorrow is the final day. Looking forward to Z.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

X is for Scrabble (A-Z Challenge)

I'm pretty poor at Scrabble and almost always get beat by my wife who, let's face it, is pretty smug about that!! My solution is not to play under any circumstances. But I've just done my research and am ready for those times when I'm left, at the end of a game, with with just an X and another letter. Here are some two letter X words that are legal in Scrabble and will impress my wife and I won't feel like such a loser!

Xu - A coin from South Vietnam and a sub unit of a Dong - I kid you not!
Ax - A tool or weapon. You don't need an 'e' on the end - honest!
Ex - A colloquial term - 'Ex-Wife' (if she beats me again at Scrabble).
Ox - As in Cattle!
Xi - The fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet.

They are all worth 9 points. Which isn't much use to me as I'm usually about 50 points behind towards the end of a game!

Any other two letter X words out there?

Friday, 26 April 2013

W is for Will Power (A-Z Challenge)

"Willing is not enough, we must do"

This will be a very short post today, as work has been tough today and I need to get in the car and drive for four and a half hours. But where there's a will there's a way! Which brings me to my blog post for today....

Have you ever had a new year's resolution that you've not kept? Of course you have. What about a diet? Yes, I know what you mean. I've come to the conclusion that will power is not enough. Just willing it to happen hardly ever works. When it comes to dieting, for example, your body's urges and needs are far more powerful than any will power you can muster. Those urges are the result of millions of years of evolution and they don't give in easily - thankfully, or our very survival would have been at stake. So willing your way to success is not going to work.

In order to overcome this, it's important that you make whatever you want to achieve part of your lifestyle - make it the norm, gradually at first but moving towards the goal with incremental steps. If it's the gym you want to go to regularly, just turn up at first. Don't worry about the workout. Maybe just take a look at the new gym. Next time, just turn up and do 10 minutes. If it's eating healthier food you are interested in, start with changing breakfast only on one day in the week. Buy enough fruit (for example) for that single day's breakfast. Change that one thing, get used to it and build on it. What I'm saying is, start very simply and make it part of your lifestyle. This is not will power, it's just 'what you do'. This starts to build momentum and small incremental steps take very much less will power than trying to make big changes quickly. Trying to do things in a big way is tempting, but resist this temptation - it's counterproductive. As time passes, your brain will accept that this is normal for you and it will become much easier.

I wouldn't tell you this if I hadn't tried it and made sure it works first. Good luck!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

V is for Verdant Walk (A-Z Challenge)

After completing a long day in my office the sun was still brilliant through my window and I decided upon a walk. Throwing on a light coat and a pair of comfortable walking boots, always ready by the front door, I closed the door of my little cottage behind me and headed down the lane. The evening air had that wonderful cool freshness about it. Breathing it in was like drinking a long cold glass of iced water on a hot day. There was a spring in my step and there was contentment about this simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. I stopped a while overlooking the valley, which dips sharply down towards the river and watched rabbits chasing each other up and down the hill. Beyond, the sheep stood, dotted about a farmer's field. We are well into lambing season, here in the Yorkshire Dales and lambs are everywhere, playing with gay abandon on every hillside. I walked on and soon crossed the old iron bridge, which spans the river. We have had some rain recently and the river was full and fast, its sound like distant thunder, its white froth bubbling and churning. This river runs west towards the sea but first has to flow through many little villages and rolling hillsides to get there. There, the sun was setting; its gold and yellow haze, its gentle warmth on my face. I stopped several times just to stand, eyes closed against the light; the gentle breeze, the bleating of lambs, the song of many birds newly arrived for the spring.

At the halfway point of my walk I turned to look back. The beautiful mountain was bathed in the golden light and its rugged and rocky slopes were accentuated by the low evening sun. This mountain stands behind my village, which nestles in the valley, invisibly from this viewpoint. So I began my return journey via a different route, the mountain peak directly ahead of me, drawing me home. And soon, just around the next bend, the most beautiful and verdant view appeared, as it always does, but still makes me stop and stare. Beyond the dry stone wall, the field, beyond the field a wonderful meadow. Beyond the meadow the rolling hillside dotted with countless sheep. Beyond the hillside, the sky; vivid blue with cotton wool clouds whose edges were pulled by invisible fingers into wispy strands disappearing into the distance.

I stayed at this spot for a while before walking on down the lane towards the valley bottom. Entering my village I was greeted, as usual, by three ponies - two white and one brown - poking their noses through a farmyard gate. Some young people stood feeding them grass and stroking their manes. Almost home I crossed the river again - it is actually two rivers at this point, which join to form the one I crossed earlier. The smoke from the chimneys in the village smelled of wood and sweetness and I climbed up to the village centre near the church on the hill before turning right and back towards the cottage. By now the sun was almost set but I noticed again how much longer the days are now that spring is finally underway. There's an ancient beauty to this place and, as I unlocked my front door, I was reminded again of how lucky I am to be here.

I really enjoyed my verdant walk and just had to tell you about it. I couldn't wait for 'W'.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

U is for Utah Drinking Laws (A-Z Challenge)

When I went to Utah about a year ago I was amazed to find you could not, generally, get a nice cold beer (in the 40 Celcius heat) in any bar/restaurant, unless it accompanied food. This was very strange to me, coming from the UK. I love a nice Bud!

So I was really glad to find a roadside establishment, with great seating outside, getting around the Utah alcohol laws by giving its customers free food if you ordered a beer (or other alcoholic drink). What a lifesaver it was.

What a strange law! A beer is the same with or without a few nachos and dips thrown in for free.