Ok, so yesterday afternoon we had a brief blizzard of snowflakes, but Spring is well and truly here! Trees are starting to reveal their leaves and the blackthorn has been in flower for weeks. Cherries and magnolias are in full bloom. Lambs have arrived in the fields adjacent to and opposite our house. Their carefree gambolling about on wobbly legs is always a huge pleasure to watch at this time of year.
Worryingly, but not unexpectedly given the fact of global warming, Spring seems earlier every year. Even by mid-March I was starting to see a range of butterflies (including Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Small Tortoiseshell, Orange Tip and Red Admiral). But, whenever Spring feels like it has arrived, it is always a joy.
Once again, during a trip to Edinburgh, the weather was very kind. One time in the future when we visit Edinburgh, all our sunny days there so far are going to be repaid by relentless rain and grey but… not yet!
On this trip there was the novelty and pleasure of picking up my Dad on the way and taking him up to Edinburgh with us. That enabled him to see Edinburgh again for the first time in a decade or so but also, critically, to meet his great grandchild (our First Grandchild (FG)). It was actually too, the first time he had me FG’s mother since previous attempts to meet up had been thwarted by train cancellations or pandemic restrictions. The building of new relationships even extended to my Dad meeting FG’s other grandparents over a lovely lunch at their flat.
Of course, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I did our pram-pushing duties to send FG off to sleep while taking in the sights and smells of Edinburgh. (There is a brewery in the city and the smell of hops reminded me of the breweries in my home town of Reading when I was a kid.) Once again we visited the excellent Royal Botanic Garden which was perfect in the sun.
In the Botanic Garden entrance hall was a colourful and interesting exhibition (called ‘Forth Lines’) of local artists’ embroidery with each of 96 panels depicting a point along the Firth of Forth coastline. FG stayed asleep long enough for me to enjoy it and to encourage my thinking about future walks along that coastline.
Another exhibition I visited while in Edinburgh was a major exhibition of John James Audubon’s pictures of birds at the National Museum of Scotland. My Dad has long been interested in Audubon and I tagged along since I love exhibitions of this sort and it was great to share the experience with my Dad. It is an excellent exhibition. Our only wish was that there would be more on the process of actually executing the drawings, engravings and colouration – it was clearly a substantial team effort. Regardless of this, the resultant prints on show are stunning and the explanations of them and of Audubon’s life were fascinating.
Audubon was certainly a rather strange character. He was born in 1785 in Haiti to French parents – a plantation owner and his maid – and became a self-trained naturalist, artist and hunter.
Audubon had many contradictions. He owned slaves and dabbled in ideas related to eugenics but took funding from slavery abolitionists. He shot thousands of birds in his life but was also one of the first to document how industrialisation and agriculture were destroying bird habitats. His lack of an academic background meant many in the scientific community in America denigrated him but he was – with his drawing talent, determination to succeed and his wild looks (complete with bear oil slicked hair) – a big hit in the academic and artistic circles of Edinburgh.
It was here and then London that he gained sponsorship for (apparently £2m in today’s money) and published his most famous and hugely popular work, ‘The Birds of America’. The huge volumes consist of 435 hand-coloured, life-size prints of 497 bird species, made from engraved copper plates of various sizes depending on the size of the image. One of the volumes was on show at the exhibition alongside numerous individual prints. The book was extravagantly large because, remarkably, each bird picture it contained was drawn at life size.
The prints on show were vibrant and wonderful and the lack of crowds at the exhibition meant that the stunning detail could be seen up close and at leisure. That many of Audubon’s prints boasted incorrectly of newly discovered species or were anatomically incorrect didn’t matter given the high quality of the overall impact.
The exhibition was also good because it told Audubon’s story about his talent (and the way the world responded to it) interestingly, and it was honest about his flaws. Most of all, it was great to have the afternoon with my Dad sharing something so memorable.
To round off March, LSW and I visited The Newt Garden in Somerset for the second time this year. Spring has definitely come to this 350 acre garden and woodland. Already, the myriad varieties of cordon and espaliered apple plants are starting to come into flower.
As reported in this blog several times before, it is a wonderful garden which continues to evolve and grow. This time we were able to visit with two friends from our village which added a lovely extra dimension which was topped off by a delicious lunch in the Garden restaurant. I’m looking forward already to visiting again later in the year.
Before that, we have April to look forward to: a re-warming of the weather, the Football League run-in of the final games of the season (I go in hope for Forest Green Rovers), more blossoming of plants and shrubs, thriving seedlings (again, I hope), and Easter with Youngest Son and his partner. Not a bad prospect but what a shame it is the global context of Russia’s dire attack on Ukraine. Spring is sprung but not everyone can appreciate it right now.
Bonus Photos of Sunny Edinburgh