You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Landscape’ tag.

‘The explorer who will not come back or send back his ships to tell his tale is not an explorer, only an adventurer; and his sons are born in exile.'”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed 1974

In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.

Where do you start when you set off exploring? When the mood takes you, perhaps. Rise up from your seat, open the door and, without a hat or coat set your foot on the path. Or maybe you wait for a significant event. Your eleventy-first birthday perhaps?

I find Beltane (May 1st) is always a good place to start. We celebrate Winter and Summer Solstices at Mount Wolfe Farm with those of our community who care to join us for food and storytelling and Gratefulness ( I prefer this word to ‘Thanksgiving’ which has religious and colonial overtones). The other festivals of the Wheel of the Year we meet as they meet us. I’m always there in some way, marking the crossing over of the Threshold.

The celebrations that mark the eight-spoked Wheel are thresholds (limen), or doorsteps if you like, and in Celtic myth where I have looked to all my adult life for inspiration, spiritual guidance, stories and sense of oneness, each festival is marked by a breakdown of the barriers between worlds so that the gods and ancestors may be greeted in a world where laws of time and space no longer rule.

So it was that this Beltane I marked not so much by a physical action, a stepping out on the path, but more a heightened awareness as we crossed the threshold. I think I’m now writing this because, like so many synapses firing in a chain of cognition, moments have fused together to mark out the past few days at the beginning of this month where a significant change in my perception occurred. How significant still remains to be see

First, I should say, we have context.

We are travelling through perhaps the most liminal space any of us can remember. Locked in to our homes, wondering when COVID-19 will have finished waging its viral war against us, many of us are using the time to ask questions about how we got here, whether we are happy with how life is working right now, and importantly where do we want to go from here. That most final of thresholds is so much more present for many of us, especially the old and immune-suppressed.

I will also confess to having my creative imagination filled recently with wonderful imagery– if a little violent in the latter case- from the minds of creative geniuses: Ursula K. Le Guin and Noah Hawley. LeGuin needs no introduction, although I will say I am alarmed I haven’t discovered her before now. I pulled The Compass Rose off the bookshelf where it was on lone but as yet unread along with other titles from Jeff our Farm Hand and Skateboard King. Noah Hawley is the writer of all three (currently) series of Fargo, the TV series adapted from the brilliant Coen Brothers Movie. It is storytelling at its finest, but also reminds me of the sublime (there’s that liminal space again) Twin Peaks from David Lynch, which managed to be both incredibly homely and disturbingly dark both at the same time. I can still hear the wind through the pines in my day dreams and it chills me to the bone. In one scene in Series 3 of Fargo, we indeed have the actor Ray Wise who was magnificent as Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks, now playing the mysterious Paul Marrane , The Wandering Jew reimagined, and meeting the parolee and card queen Nicki Swango in a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere, bestowing on her a mission of (divine?) justice. This is as Lynchian as you get, but I also love the reference to the ‘bowling movie’  The Big Lebowski, another Coen Classic.

So the scene is set. COVID-19 has given me the opportunity to do something I have always wanted to do: I have a storytelling group. On Friday nights at 7pm I host a Zoom session as part of my Ontario Rural Skills work. We have a small but perfectly-formed company of five at present and have shared stories both real and fictional around topics like resilience and dreams. On May 1st, I set the scene for the tellers that today was Beltane when boundaries were broken, lovers frolicked in the fields, cattle ritually purified between two fires, and the Lords of Misrule were on the hoof. I read a poem by Edward Thomas, ‘As the Teams Brass Head’, which to me has liminal aspects to it: the young lovers wintering and leaving the woods marking the space; the returning ploughman like the seasonal cycle offering wisdom; and the alternative timelines suggested by the ‘what -if?’ scenario of Thomas’s fallen comrade and the still-standing tree in which he sits. Shelagh read the Story of The Chinese Farmer here retold by by Alan Watts which speaks also of another quality of interest to me and in the same camp as liminality: that nothing is inherently good or evil, just that our interpretation makes it so.

On Saturday morning I found myself again on Zoom, this time speaking to new friends in England and India and Ontario about a new project I am becoming delightfully entangled with called The Midnight Kitchen, the brainchild of doctor, spoon-carver and fellow lover-of-stories Jane Myat who created a liminal space at the Caversham Group Practice in the UK called The Listening Space, a patients’ community garden in the central courtyard of the Caversham Group Practice.

“It’s for anyone who’d like to come and potter around a garden in a relaxed and friendly environment. You don’t have to know about gardening and you don’t have to feel pressured about making conversation. ​The garden is meant to be like an imaginary village hall ……, away from the stresses and strains of everyday life, where we grow flowers and food that is shared; and where we hold seasonal celebratory gatherings. It’s a gentle way to come together as a community: a base to connect with people in a simple way.”

The Midnight Kitchen will be another place for communal sharing of food and stories, through recipes and on-line dinner-parties and picnics, but this time in cyber-space. This pandemic has made many of us more familiar and comfortable with crossing the threshold into a life played out over the web vai technology like Zoom, and even though we are craving physical contact its hard to imagine us going all the way back. I will be hosting a picnic from the farm by that most liminal space, the hedgerow. Why the Midnight Kitchen though? Its a magic time, It’s the Witching Hour, when for a few moments either side, the rules don’t apply or are made to be broken. Its also the time when people are most in need of companionship and succour, or maybe just a naughty tasty snack! It is also not lost on us that Midnight is also a liminal space, a space inbetween days. Have you ever sat and watched the clock reach 12 midnight and in a breathless moment wonder whether it whether the second hand will make it through the Twin Pillars of the Hour and Minute that lock yesterday from tomorrow.

Lastly, for now at least, Sarah spots a weasel by the hen house. In Britain, a weasel (Mustela nivalis) is a weasel but in Ontario, it’s a least weasel, to distinguish it from the short-tailed weasel or ermine Mustela erminea (a Stoat)  and the long tailed weasel Mustela frenata which is a native of the Americas. Sheilagh thought it unusual to see a weasel in the day when they are more active at twilight, although in fact small Mustelids ( or Mustelidae, the weasel family) are most commonly nocturnal. One of my favourite words is used in biology to describe animals of the twilight hours: crepuscular. The etymology of this word is fascinating.

“In figurative use, “dim, indistinct,” is attested from 1660s; literal use, “pertaining to or resembling twilight,” from 1755, from Latin crepusculum “twilight, dusk,” related to creper “obscure, uncertain,” from Proto-Italic *krepos “twilight,” which is of uncertain origin. It is not certain whether “twilight” or “obscure” was the original sense; de Vaan writes, “there is no known root of the form *krep- from which the extant meanings can be derived.” Especially of evening twilight, but 17c.-18c. also “like morning twilight” as symbolic of imperfect enlightenment. In zoology, “flying or appearing at sunset,” from 1826. An older (and lovelier-sounding) adjective form was crepusculine (1540s).”


Liminal spaces-edges and boundaries and thresholds-are such interesting spaces, and I know I’m not the first to think so by any means. They have fascinated minds for at least as long as the first hominid developed his sense of other, and since we aren’t sole proprietors of ego in the evolutionary tree of life, probably long before that. I’ll be exploring limnality through the eyes of others in future blogs. But since there are also only really seven basic plots, it’s the context that curates curiosity, so mine is a personal exploration of these liminal spaces.

Here’s something about liminal spaces though: They are fuzzy places where it’s not often clear whether you are in one space or the other.  When you get down to the level of grains of earth and water molecules, there is no absolute border between Cold Creek and the land it drains through. Twilight is the place of obfuscation, not day, not night. The hedgerow is edge habitat between woodland and field or between field and field. Hedgerows have been described by the ecologists Richard Forman and Jaques Baudry in their 1984 paper on hedgerows as ‘woodland edge without the woodland’.

When you look close enough at an edge it disappears and you see it for what is it: flow frozen in the moment.

Here are some of the liminal spaces currently in my life.

The Caterpillar

An old caterpillar tractor is being reclaimed by nature down on the way to the stone bridge. The Cat was here when Arnold and Sheilagh Crandall bought the farm in the 1960s, so it might as well have been there forever. A dinosaur, or an echo from the future of things to come…..

Cold Creek

A classic liminal space, where water meets earth and sky! More explorations from here forthcoming!

The Black Walnut Hedgerow

Sarah and I have nearly finished laying this. We do it in between everything else which is why its taken a few weeks. The black walnuts were ‘healed in’ here in two double lines by Arnold Crandall (Poppa) who loved the tree, probably while he figured out where to put them, but then never got around to doing anything with them. They make the perfect hedgerow!

Between the Chicken Coop and the Forest

This is where the weasel lives!

I’m sure I will find more for you to enjoy.

” Hedgelayers do it in style!” may sound like an amusing bumper-sticker but it refers to one of the most fascinating features of this rural skill: that local differences exist in hedgerow management, called by the National Hedgelaying Society Regional Styles. There are more than 30 styles recorded in the UK, with more in Europe, according to the NHLS.

Hedgelaying in Europe has evolved over hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years in a process perhaps not dissimilar to that which drives the emergence of new species. The simple practice of cutting or bending stems to form a living fence is expressed differently as local ecology and geology, and the temperament of local people define it, with differing styles- and even the tools for the job- as an emerging property. Hedgelaying certainly came to the Americas with European settlers (although dead hedging was use by the First Nations, and some form of management may have existed…) but it seems to have died out, along with the planting of deciduous hedgerows outside gardens.

In the modern world, connection to the landscape and the local appears to be waning. The Hedgelaying in the Ontario’s Landscape project was started to explore, amongst other things, the relationship between people and the landscape through the practice of this rural skill. How might Ontarions interpret hedgerows and hedgelaying? How would it fit into the landscape where field boundary management is not a familiar practice?

One of the drawbacks for anyone wanting to learn and practice hedgelaying in the North American landscape is the paucity of good hedgerows. If you want to manage your hedgerow using hedgelaying techniques, you need a high frequency (approx 5/m) of stems in the 2-10cm width bracket, and really not much higher than 3-4m. For the traditional hedgelayer this paucity represents a serious drawback. However, as I am learning, thelack of ‘good’ hedgerows can be navigated with a bit of imagination!

Last weekend professional hedgelayer Nigel Adams and I taught 17 people to lay ‘hedgerows’ at Wellspring Forest Farm in New York State. We had seen the materials we would be working with on video thanks to owner Steve Gabriel but what looked reasonable on film didn’t translate well to reality. Seeing the woodland edge with many mature trees and a section of patchy invasive European buckthorn scrub we tried not to be dispirited but it seemed like it would be a hard job to produce anything resembling a well layed hedge. Having taught workshops already in Ontario, I think I had been more prepared for the North American hedgerow context than Nigel. Then Steve showed us a line of willows along a raised bank which, although a little short, was enough to raise our spirits. We also found two sections of woodland edge with a fair number of stems. After a good nights sleep Nigel felt better about our hedges and even decided that we should increase the number of stems in the hedge by pushing in cut willow branches from our binder pile- we had more than enough. Not something you would see in the National Hedgelaying Championships in the UK!

The hedgerows we layed, in South of England and Midland styles, both made good living fences and were aesthetically pleasing, and it reinforced my belief that until new planted hedges mature, North American hedgelaying was perhaps going to be about bringing skills developed on European hedgerows to local contexts, not being afraid to break rules and try new things. The interplay of skills and new contexts will hopefully allow new styles to emerge.

Yesterday as I continued to research the history of hedgerows and hedgelaying on this continent, I came across the work of Dr Johann D. Schoepf (1752-1800), a German-born physician and botanist who wrote about his travels in North America in “Travels in the Confederation (1783-4)”

Its clear then from Dr Schoepf’s writing that the methods of hedgelaying we practiced this weekend were even in 1783 the ‘Style’ in North America: inter-planting stems where they didn’t exist and finding stems ‘standing together as much as possible’- in effect creating a hedge line out of a confusion of stems in the woodland edge or field boundary.

Something to think about as the interest in hedgerows and hedgelaying in North America continues to rise.


Marker posts for Fixed Point Photography along the TRCA hedgerows. I'll also be taking dimension measurements

Marker posts for fixed point photography points along our hedgerows. I’ll also be taking  measurements (height, width) at regular intervals

Yesterday- Earth Day 2019- felt like the warmest day yet this Spring here in Ontario- a balmy 19 degrees, a perfect day to get started on the monitoring programme for our Mount Wolfe Farm hedgerows.

We  planted two hedgerows here at the farm in 2017 and 2018. The 2017 hedge was started in the fall of 2017 but completed in 2018 and was planted by volunteers and marked the first ‘performance’ of the Hedgerow Rite.  The 2018 Hedge- was planted by a TRCA team last fall. The plantings have been made possible by the generous support of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) who supplied the plants and labour and continue to support the Hedgelaying In The Ontario Landscape (HOL) Project.

My long-term aim is to set up a long term citizen-science monitoring programme for hedgerows that we plant as part of the HOL project, and also to fine tune recommendations for organisations and groups who want monitoring programmes for their hedges. I have worked with hedgerows and citizen scientists for 10 years, and created the Hedgerows for Dormice project at People’s Trust for Endangered Species (2009-11) and Hedgerow Heroes at Surrey Wildlife Trust (2017-ongoing).  I have created a draft monitoring calendar for a range of taxa associated with hedgerows.


This Earth Day was fixed point photograph (FPP) day! I spent the afternoon setting up FPP points around the farm which I will use to capture images of how the hedge grows and transforms the local landscape.

I have had a couple of camera traps (thanks Grant!) set up on Hedgerow TRCA18 with nothing captured so far although there is a good evidence of coyote Canis latrans using the adjacent paths, and the white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus are already nibbling the tops of some of the plants- though thankfully the damage is localised both on the plant and within the hedge.


All pictures were taken with my Samsung A10 Mobile Phone which has serious limitations (offers of a proper digital camera gratefully excepted!), although it does allow me to switch to the compass feature and GPS to get a bearing and location (not that accurate sadly) without changing instruments!

It was a wonderful day to be distracted by the wildlife on the farm though. An American robin Turdus migratorius was searching for insects in a wood chip pile. A Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis was singing its heart out from the top of an old sugar-maple on the drive. While down near Hedge TRCA17, I spied what we had thought was an Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus  seen from the house a week earlier. I’d been advised through I-Naturalist I(Sarah and I are using the App to record all widlfe sightings on the Farm) that it was a little too early to see these and my correspondent had suggested instead an Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe. I had recently downloaded the I-Bird App and played both calls through my phone. Sure enough my friend took a real interest when the phoebe calls were played. and so too did another bird which I haven’t seen before- the chipping sparrow Spizella passerina with its dark eye stripe and bright red haircut! Later I sat for a while and watched three tree swallows Tachycineta bicolor whip and dive above the front 10 acres, above the nest boxes where they nested last year. Soaring high above them a turkey vulture Cathartes aura was a crack in the sky.

Today its raining so I’ll be planning small mammal surveys, moth surveys ( Peterson’s Field Guide on order from my local bookstore Forsters Book Garden, along with Robert Macfarlane’s new book Underland!) and butterfly transects. I have seen the first butterfly on site yesterday- a mourning cloak Nymphalis antiopa next to the hedgerow Sarah and I finished laying. I’ll also be sourcing some ‘tins’ for the reptile surveys

Peterson Moths

I’m going to need to up my skill level for the invertebrate surveys and soil fauna- and hopefully find a suitably qualified friend to help out! I expect it is within the invert communities that we might be able to detect differences in the species or functional groups present in and around the hedgerow, from monitoring sites which I will also set up in grassland, wetland and woodland plots. The fact that Mount Wolfe Farm is a site with mixed habitats will make it difficult- perhaps impossible to show an effect from the planting of the hedgerows and so I look forward to being able to develop a project at a site with very little or no woodland where the presence of hedgerows should have an immediate impact on the biodiversity within the landscape.

I’m embarking on these surveys to develop a database on the biodiversity of Canadian hedgerows but also partly to develop my skills identifying Canadian biodiversity and to maintain a survey practice  much as one would develop a for a musical instrument or a for yoga. Its easy to slip out of these important rituals, especially if like me your career had taken you out of the field towards a more strategic focus. Use it or lose it, I think I heard someone once say!

I do need to get some more survey equipment but I haven’t yet found a Canadian equivalent of NHBS or WildCare which were the go-to companies in the UK. Not that I have much in the way of funding to go on a spending spree but even some sampling pots would be useful! And a sweep net. and a bat detector and a….







As part of my work on the Hedgelaying In Ontario’s Landscape project I have set up the Ontario Rural Skills Network (ORSN) to teach a range of traditional skills such as green wood-working (slojd), basket weaving, dry stone walking and of course hedgelaying. The idea is to use these skills to connect people to the landscape and to each other. I’ll be posting here soon about the thinking behind this approach but in the meantime Paul Kingsnorth’s wife Navjyoat has written this piece on why working with your hands- and teaching kids to do so is really important, especially in this digital age.

Home Edgeucated

(With thanks to our great friend, artist and T’ai Chi teacher Caroline Ross)

Since the summer, the children and I have continued to learn about evolution and prehistory of humankind. We have spent a lot of time discovering how hand tools were made and how they were developed and refined over a long period of time. By the Upper Palaeolithic, the making of microlithic and composite tools had become a diverse set of incredibly fine, precise skills and using those tools would have required similar hand proficiency.

Using hands while still living in the trees, becoming bipedal beings and then using and making tools, have been considered important markers (and possible conveyors) of our big primate brain evolution*, enabling us to become creatively human, and importantly helped to bond us socially through this shared hand-work.

Haptic perception is the scientific name given to the human ability to experience and interpret…

View original post 811 more words


Yesterday I continued with the work of planting up the hedgerow at Mount Wolfe Farm that we had begun at the Fall Farm Fest when we launched the Hedgerow Rite (blog on that coming soon!)

Its great to spend some time with these plants, most of which are new to me at least at the species level,  even as they are in their final stages of decline and shut down for the winter. I have been tutored by Sarah’s mum Sheilagh Crandall who runs the Msplants of Caledon gardening company on my plant ID, but following the FFF planting on a sunny Autumn afternoon (Oct 30) I made a concerted effort to get to know my hedge shrubs the best way I knew how- drawing them. Now I’m not going to win any awards as a scientific illustrator but walking the circumference of a leaf with the tip of the pencil and  marking the position of buds and lentils on a twig help my shabby memory retain details of differences and similarities. The next step will be learning the stories of these plants, their history, mythology and uses.


Back in the UK I would have three books that for me are indispensable in this botanical befriending:

The level of botanical detail contained in the first two is outstanding. I don’t find picture books very useful in IDing plants, especially if all you have to go by is a twig!. Richard Mabey’s book is a wonderful and comprehensive guide to the history, myths and stories behind the plants which help to bring alive the relationships which we have with native flora.

I haven’t yet found any Canadian equivalents of these three (suggestions gratefully received!), although I have only been here full time since May! So I relied heavily on online research for the details including websites including:

With the Front 10 Acres Hedgerow and the Bowl Hedgerow planted by the TRCA there is now 330 metres of new ‘Canadian Hedgerow’ at Mount Wolfe Farm but its going to be a few years before it looks anything like a hedgerow! So in order to visualise what it may look like I put together this photo-collage of the species in the Spring and Autumn, with a closer look at the berries and nuts (well nut, since only American Hazelnut produces them in our hedgerows)- see top of page.



I’ll be writing a forthcoming blog about the uses, history and folklore of these plants, a la Richard Mabey so watch out for that!


Twitter Updates


%d bloggers like this: