Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Spinning web of autumn stories

September 1st, 2018

I’m sitting at my desk wondering how to start this week’s piece and a friendly spider has provided the answer.  I’ve been watching her – or maybe it is him –  repairing holes in its web, spun in the corner of my study window, to ensure no passing beastie, and potential lunch, flying into it can escape.

Some people love spiders – arachnophiles they are called – and don’t mind them scuttling all over their hands.  Others take a diametrically opposite view – like James Bond waking up with a tarantula crawling up his bed in Octopussy, I think it was.  Remember the fuss when former Tory Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson, kept a pet tarantula as his enforcer on his desk in the House of Commons?

They are extraordinary insects and what I find most remarkable about them is their ability to spin an apparently endless silken line when weaving their webs.  Where do they store it all in their small bodies?   And there’s no hesitation when they spin a web – the construction is hard-wired into their little arachnid brain and they hardly hesitate until the web is complete.  So, thank you little spider and I hope you enjoy your lunch.

Night harvest

The Doyenne and I were thinking of going to bed when a tremendous racket started up outside the window.  Our first thought was that one of the helicopters parked in a field on the edge of the village was circling overhead.  It was a combine harvester coming into the field across the road from our sitting room.

It was 10.30 at night and it had all headlights blazing.  The unsettled weather has meant that farmers must make best use of every hour of the day – and night – to get the harvest in.

The green monster made the first cut round the perimeter of the field and stopped to discharge its load of golden grain into a waiting wagon.  With Fettercairn Distillery just round the corner I wondered if that was where the barley was destined.  It was a sight that would have near brought tears to my old whisky-loving father’s eyes – to think that it was such a short distance from field to flask for his favourite tipple.

He would have raised a glass to the farmer who grew the crop, and raised it again to the skills of the maltster, the distiller’s cunning and the blender’s imagination that work the almost Biblical magic that transforms water and grain into the cratur, the auld kirk – liquid gold, no less.

William MacGonagall, Dundee’s poet laureate and the world’s best worst poet, surely wasn’t thinking of the precious water of life when he wrote “Oh, thou demon Drink, thou fell destroyer; / Thou curse of society, and its great annoyer…”

Lime chordial

It’s strange the random bits of information that come my way.  I’ve read recently that lime wood was historically the favoured wood for piano keys.  I suspect, like me, most readers have never given a moment’s thought to what piano keys were made from.

The reason it struck a chord – I know, I know, but I can’t help myself –  is that on our walks Inka and I pass a number of venerable lime trees, some a couple of hundred years old, which are beginning to drop their clusters of hard, globular nuts which are the trees’ fruit or seeds.  These don’t seem to be a food source for any birds or small mammals but in the springtime the trees’ fragrant yellow flowers provide nectar and pollen for insects, particularly bees.

Limes were planted in decorative avenues in the eighteenth century.  The timber is light grained and easily worked and does not warp, and it was used for household items such as cups and ladles, and bowls and spurtles to stir your porridge, as well as contributing to our musical heritage.  With their heart-shaped leaves limes were traditionally regarded as female trees associated with fertility, and young girls danced round about them.

To feed or not

The change in weather has prompted me to look out the bird feeders and clean them, ready to start feeding again.  Where you can, you should take them apart and give the individual parts a thorough scalding with boiling water.

Feeding the garden birds brings a bit of wildlife into our gardens and provides us with endless pleasure, helping us interact with nature on our doorstep. But there are some who say that, except in extreme conditions when food is very scarce, we put out the feeders for our own pleasure rather than the birds’ needs.

There are conflicting ideas about how reliant the birds are on our help, especially in the summer.  It was obvious the moment I stopped feeding them that they went elsewhere, and there was plenty of natural food for them in the wider countryside anyway.  But it won’t take long for the word to get round when I put out the feeders again.  Like most wild things birds are opportunistic feeders and if there’s an easy meal they’ll go for it.

Written on Saturday, September 1st, 2018 at 9:38 am for Weekly.