Signs of Spring

As April trundles on, we’ve had the usual mix of weather in Scotland, from beautiful, warm (ish), sunny spring days to howling wind, grey skies, rain and temeperatures suddenly dropping back to feel like February. We do get a variety here… Regardless, nature carries on to her own timetable, and there have been welcome signs that, despite bursts of colder weather, spring is settling in, and bringing with it a rebirth of colour.

Blooming 02

I loved these white Daffies with the yellow centre, catching the evening light in the old boneyard of Dalry Cemetery

Blooming 01
Sakura Time 02
The cherry blossoms are coming out too – although it varies all over the city. Some have had petals blooming for a couple of weeks or more, others are barely starting to bud, others again are in almost full bloom. It’s remarkable how much it varies across the town.

Sakura Time 01

Spring Petals 02

Fallen Bloom

I found this fallen bloom on the pavement, fallen from a vine running along a garden wall, covered in raindrops, the soft, silken petals in stark contrast to the hard, dark of the asphalt paving.

Floral Sunburst

The Daffies, as ever, provide a wonderful burst of colour after the long, dark, winter months, like miniature, floral sunbursts

Autumn arrives

Autumn is really making itself felt as we move into late September; chillier in mornings and evenings now, although still quite pleasant temperatures in the main part of the day. Glorious, golden autumn sunlight quite often, and on those days it brings out the colours as the trees begin to turn, and it’s just utterly beautiful.

The Red And The Blue

Autumn Arrives At Holy Corner

With such lovely autumn sunshine, people were making the most of it, enjoying pavement cafe culture in Bruntsfield, before the weather and temperatures slide further and it becomes too uncomfortable to sit outside the cafes and bars (at least not without a coat on!).

Bruntsfield On An Autumn Afternoon 03

Bruntsfield On An Autumn Afternoon 04

Bruntsfield On An Autumn Afternoon 02

As always, you can click on the pics to see the far larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr stream – now well north of 24, 000 photos!

Edinburgh International Film Festival 22 – Le Chêne (Heart of Oak)

EIFF 2022 – Le Chêne / Heart of Oak,
Directed by Laurent Charbonnier, Michel Seydoux

A huge hit in France (the programmer introducing it at the 75th Edinburgh International Film Festival told the audience it had sold over half a million tickets at the box office), Le Chêne – titled Heart of Oak for the English-language market – the film made its UK debut at the EIFF this week. And while it is a French film, worry not if you are no good with subtitled films, as this is a “silent” documentary – there is no narrator or dialogue or talking heads experts. Instead the cinematography and the soundscape carry us through the entire film, essentially a year in the life of a huge, two hundred year old oak tree, and all the myriad varieties of life it supports on it, in it, below it and around it, from insects and fungi and wood mice in the roots to birds and squirrels in the branches, deer and boar around it, through the four seasons.

We open with a beautiful aerial shot over a forest, slowly descending through the canopy into a small clearing around a vast, gnarled old oak (the descent is so slow and gentle it gave me the impression of coming down gently in a hot air balloon). It’s spring/summer and the foliage is in full greenery, the huge, thick branches of this old tree covered in leaves, and there’s that marvellous sound of the breeze moving through the branches and leaves (isn’t that just one of the nicest sounds in the world?).

As the camera moves circle the trees, top, bottom and in-between and around, the camera lingering over the fantastically gnarled, tough bark on this regal tree, and then as we get closer in we see the community of life it sustains. Tiny acorn weevils with their long proboscis giving them a distinctive look, a red squirrel darting around, seemingly defying gravity as it pauses on a vertical climb, face down, leaping and jinking, constantly on guard, looking around for opportunity and danger.

Tiny wood mice who have a colony in tunnels among the roots cautiously stick their heads out while a barn owl scans the area from a high branch, looking for just such an excursion, a mating pair of birds make their home in the oak’s branches, sharing them with the squirrel, the editing of the footage of each giving the distinct impression of an almost human neighbour feeling – not someone you know personally, but like someone whose face you recognise, know they live in your area, the sort you nod to at the bus stop or in the shop. The much larger animals of the forest such as the boars and deer forage around the trunk, the boars using its rough surface for a good scratch while they’re looking endlessly for food.

We move through each of the seasons, watching the animals fight for survival, a whole ecosphere based around this tree, from fungal connections in the earth among its deep roots to the tops of its branches; it is, essentially its own little world that we are visiting here. We see the excitement when the acorns start to drop, especially for the resident squirrel, leaping around to try and grab several then stash them – one it will bury and forget, and by the time the next spring rolls around we wee that acorn has started a small root system below the earth, and a tiny trunk – more like a small branch with a few leaves – above ground; the life cycle continuing.

We see the creature and the tree weather the worst of the winter, the preparation for spring, new births, screeching baby birds in a new nest demanding food, the acorn weevils, all died off at the end of the summer and autumn, have implanted embryos into some acorns, which finally wriggle out, burrowing into the ground below to mature into the next season’s group of insects. The whole natural cycle rolls past us in simply stunning footage – including some clever techniques to let us see below the ground, for instance into the mice nest – or to flip momentarily to give an animal’s perspective (as a hawk hunts one of our mating pair of birds from the tree we see the exhilarating rush of the chase from its point of view for a moment.

I think the only main issue I had with this was that the editors seem to have chosen to avoid showing much in the way of any creature being killed – we see a number of attacks and hunts from and on various creatures, but other than a kingfisher catching a small fish, none of the hunts we see are successful. While I know there’s a high failure rate for even the best predators in a hunt, after several of these on screen it felt more like this was a deliberate choice by the film-makers.

That’s a minor quibble though – in truth this is a film to cherish in our current world of endless worries and fears over environmental collapse, financial hardship, warfare. Here’s a reminder to take time out, listen to the sound of branches moving in the wind, remember that the whole natural world goes on regardless of how buried under stress and worry we are (Lockdown reminded me of that very much, walking in a deserted city and hearing the spring birds calling out so clearly with no traffic to drown them out, and it lifted my spirits). This is like taking a “forest bath”, a cleanser, a reminder of the sheer majesty of our natural world, the simple beauty of a tree, the entire network of life it sustains around and on it. It’s a movie to see on the big screen, and let the visual and sounds immerse you into this tribute to the majesty of our natural world.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Autumn calls

Despite some sudden bursts of very fine weather, summer is most certainly giving ground to the approach of autumn here now. Even if we get a warm, sunny day, the shadows are longer, and the sun sets earlier each evening, and when it does the temperature drops a lot quicker than it did in the middle of summer, while the early mornings are noticably cooler. But the light, on a sunny day at least, is now moving towards that glorious golden quality, while the leaves are turning on the trees, right now at that beautiful mix of still some leafy green mixed with increasing golds, reds and browns, and every day there are more fallen leaves along the pavements (yes, I have indulged in my first kicking a pile of dry autumn leaves into the air of the year, it has to be done).

Conker Season 03
The chestnuts are now large on the old tree leaning over the wall of the nearby boneyard, the boughs heavy, the conkers about to fall to the ground below (sadly the days when schoolkids grabbed them to play conkers with seems to be long gone, but it’s still nice to see this annual sight).

Autumn Apples
Autumnal apples approaching full size, hanging over a garden wall on my route home from work, sparking a sudden childish desire to go scrumping. And yes, I did say that partly because I wanted an excuse to use the word “scrumping”. As ever, click on the pics to see the lager versions on my Flickr site.

Autumn is knocking on the door

Autumn Whispers Quietly in the Ear of Summer

Walking in the Hermitage of Braid today, near the foot of Morningside (Miss Jean Brodie country). The trees are still mostly resplendent in their verdant coat of summer greenery, but Autumn, Autumn is whispering in Summer’s ear “my turn is coming….”

Golden Apples of the Sun 03
Golden Apples of the Sun 01
Golden Apples of the Sun 02

Just outside the Hermitage, over a tall wall of an expensive house, the branches of its trees were laden with the autumn bounty of apples. And me there without my scrumping ladder to grab any…

Autumn Colours

Autumn colours in Princes Street Gardens, just below the Castle:

The Autumn Leaves 03

And a closer look at the leaves as they change before falling – the grass below them was carpeted with fallen leaves of red and gold:

The Autumn Leaves 02

The Autumn Leaves 01

And while I was walking through the trees I met this charming wee, bushy-tailed chap:

Foraging Squirrel 03

Foraging Squirrel 02

Blossoming

The cherry blossoms have been late this spring, after the unseasonable bursts of late winter weather a few weeks ago, but finally it warmed up, the sun shone, they came out, and now they’ve mostly gone already – for a few days the branches hang low and heavy with the petals, then with each breeze they flutter down, a soft rain of silk, carpeting the pavement below, and then they are gone again for another year. Naturally I snapped a few photos before the vanished…

spring petals 01

spring petals 02

spring petals 03

Spring blossoms in December…

Walking home today after a frankly dispiriting and depressing birthday (you know it’s not going to be a special day when the post arrives with several bills and no cards, not inspiring and it was downhill from there – should have stayed in bed and waited for the day to go away), passing the trees in the playground of a nearby school and more examples of how the bizarre weather is affecting plants: blossom petals appearing on the trees.

spring blossoms in December 01

These would normally be a March to April sight, but although we’ve been battered by gale-force storms repeatedly this month and lashing rain and floods, and despite those driving winds being bitingly cold, the actual ambient temperature has been way above what we would normally have in Scotland at this time of year. When I was home last week dad pointed out shoots of Daffodils pushing through the earth in the garden, this week I see spring blossoms in December. Strange weather, lately…

Autumn in Edinburgh

Scotland in autumn, my favourite season here, not just because of the riot of colours as the leaves change, but because of the quality of light we get here at this time of year.

Greyfriars, autumn 01

Because our little kingdom lies so far north, as the world tilts on its journey around the sun Scotland is at such an angle that we have the sun much lower in the sky, casting long shadows and meaning the sunlight is stretched out to a redder part of the spectrum, meaning we get this glorious, golden quality. It’s like warm honey slowly dripped across the land, beautiful copper-amber colour that splashes over the landscape and the man-made structures alike, giving an amazing glow to everything from trees to the old buildings hewn from native stone. Gorgeous.

Greyfriars, autumn 02
(Greyfriars kirk as the evening autumnal sunlight splashes across the western end)

Greyfriars, autumn 03

And right now we’re in that perfect time when much of the foliage is still the deep green of spring and summer (doubtless helped by all that rain we get!) but parts have started to turn now, mixing russet, gold, vermillion and more colours, especially as the sunlight shines through them.

Greyfriars, autumn 05

Blossoms

Windy, windy weather and sudden rain squalls after our little burst of sunny weather. The blossoms on the trees near my flat and on Princes Street are falling as the leaves grow out. A small shower of white and pink petals covering the pavement in random floral patterns. Tonight as I came home the wind caught the fallen blossoms and whipped them up into the air. They arced up and around me, spiralling, diving, soaring – it was if the fallen petals were dancing for me, a last little burst of joy in their brief lives, spreading colour and perfume through the air. Think on the dancing polythene bag caught in an updraft in American Beauty and you can get close to the idea. A tiny moment of dynamic and ephemeral beauty in the fading evening sunlight.