Saturday, 21 March 2015

Of Eclipses, Equinoxes and Frog Spawn

Partial solar eclipse, Friday 20th March 2015, Co Roscommon.
Friday saw us up early and trying to see the Solar Eclipse. We gather that most of the British Isles missed this entirely due to heavy cloud cover and it was looking dodgy here too from the forecasts. We were ready with our chunk of smoked glass (borrowed from the frame of a family photo and smoked by holding it in a candle flame). You also know, these days, exactly what to expect and where, as the astronomers have long since done the number crunching.

This one, for example was going to track through as a full eclipse out in the North Atlantic, sliding through SW to NE between Scotland and Iceland. You'd need to be out at sea to get the fully dark effect. Out on the margins, we'd get 95% cover and, my brother in Swindon, for example, a bit further out, was due 88%. We'd see the moon slip in from top right of the sun making a 'smiley face' canted to the right, then slowly slide past (right to left) leaving only the 'bottom 5%' of the sun visible, and finally moving off to the left giving us back the crescent sun and finally all of it. Even 5% of the sun is enough to give you gloomy daylight and would still be too bright to look at with the naked eye. We knew too that the eclipse would start at about 08:24, be darkest at 09:24, and then be all over by 10:36.

We were disappointed to wake up to the cloud cover but quickly realised that the cloud was moving fast west to east and actually had plenty of breaks where bright sky (even pocket handkerchiefs of blue sky!) could be briefly glimpsed. If we could persuade one of these thin bits to pass in front of the sun we'd see our eclipse. Even better, we realised, the hazy cloud would do the job of our smoked glass and we'd be able to see and photograph the event without that complication. We did OK and snatched some passable pics. The morning went very gloomy as we got towards the 95%, but no worse than a black rain cloud gathering. All the chickens went quiet and birds stopped singing. We just about saw the peak before the clouds ran out of gaps and thin bits, so we retreated indoors and watched the sky brighten back up from indoors over breakfast. The astronomers tell us that the next one for Ireland is not till 2026.

Frog Spawn at last - overnight 19th/20th March.
Not satisfied with one solar phenomenon, of course, we are also 'doing' the Spring Equinox this weekend, the official first day of Spring (well, if you've not already done that with your Imbolc and St Bridgit's crosses (1st Feb)). This one has the added tweak in that the Jacobin (French Revolutionary) calendar changed from the "Windy" month (Ventôse) to the Germination or 'seed' month (Germinal) so I don't feel too upset about missing the standard Irish 'Paddy's Day' date for the planting of early spuds. Mine went in yesterday.

Paddy's Night feast.
The local frogs may know all about this 'seeding' thing, mind. Our females finally gave in to the instinct to dive in with the boys (who had been in the pond for ten days already, patiently waiting and dodging the frost and ice) and get physical. We have frog spawn at last, laid in sizeable clumps near the lower edge of the stone beach. We also have our newts back. Newts tend to only live in ponds in the mating season and summer. They leave the water to find a cool, safe, damp place in which to live for the non-breeding season and to hibernate, compost heaps, the bottom of a hedge, patches of long damp grass (not difficult in Roscommon!). The adults are one of the main predators of young baby tadpoles, so we hope we have enough spawn to sate all their appetites and still have enough babies coming through as froglets in the autumn. This is our pond's first true generation.

First primrose of 2015 also opens on Eclipse Day.
We also finally have, what feels like a fortnight or two behind most of our friends, some first 'wild' primroses in our Primrose Path. We have had a few cultivar primulas and the like doing their thing in flower beds, but these are the fully naturalised population which I am sure is just wild and spontaneous; I can't see TK Min out there planting them or gathering them in from the laneway, though I may have the lad wrong.

The daffs out front, planted last year, are starting to put on a good show
Also doing well are the trench full of daffs we planted as bulbs last year; a 25 kg net of bulbs and several follow-on 5 kg bags. They make a nice landmark now as you approach the house - we will be able to tell guests "it's the one with all the daffodils". We also planted a few up the drive and these are doing well also. Of couse, we are looking at them and thinking we might extend the rows along 'that bit of frontage' or fill in the gaps 'there'. We will have to see.

The bees are out and about.
The bees are now wide awake in the spring-like warmth. Certainly on Weds (18th) and Thurs (19th) when the early bright sunshine quickly burned off the light frost and mist, the workers were out in their dozens and there was quite a 'roar' from the hive when you were up close. Temperatures got up to 13ºC on those afternoons and the bees gave every impression of being happy to finally be allowed to break up the winter cluster.

Raking out the spent winter coat. Pirate loves it.
Also shaking off his winter blues is the rather plump cat, Pirate,  formerly known as skinny, emaciated, half blind, death's door stray cat. When the sun shines we hook open the door to his private domain, the cosy, quiet utility room. He knows when he is onto a good thing, and spent most of the last few months in there, asleep, putting on weight, recovering from his traumatic first year of life.

You WILL be a slim cat, Pirate. I remove another cat's worth of
dead coat.
We may have over-done the starving feeds. One of the Westie breeders I love and respect saw a picture of him and described him, subtly as "a bit well covered" (sorry JF!). We have since cut down his food a bit (only one tin a day now) but thought that part of his bulk was the visible effect of very thick fur, some of which had to be winter coat. This proved to be the case and when I put the 'rake' style brush to him it was coming away in great mats and tufts on the tines of the brush. Pirate loves all this fuss and attention and purrs loudly in his own snuffly way, bending his body and lifting legs the better to let you get at his waist, belly and armpits. I took enough off him almost to create another cat. He will be a lot cooler now, I should think.

Carrick Millennium Choir - a picture from last year.
Finally in our list of spring celebrations, our annual indulgence in a bit of culture, the Carrick on Shannon Millennium Choir's Gala Spring Concert. This is the particular 'baby' of our good friend Vendor Anna who, she tells us, practices and rehearses the singing all year long ready for these events. They are an impressive choir and put on an excellent show. Anna will surely not mind me saying that they look and sound superb. They look the part, the ladies in irridescent purple/blue outfits and the gents in the tux and bow-tie. They are staged beautifully and lit well, the conductor/coach definitely knows her stuff and the small orchestra (piano, drums, fiddle, Irish bagpipes, accordion and woodwind) do them great service. They lay on a rich mixture of  religious music (we had Ave Maria, Exsultate Justi and Cantique de Jean Racine), Irish (e.g. 'There is an Isle', 'The Isle of Inishfree', Danny Boy and 'Mary from Dungloe'), film and 'musicals' songs (Razzle Dazzle and a medley from My Fair Lady), the odd 'Negro' spiritual style song (in this case actually written by white American Stephen Foster, "Hard Times Come Again No More") and the choir's own romping, purpose-written anthem "And Sleep is Sweet in Carrick Town" (Ailie Blunnie). The show lasts about 2 hours with an interval. It is a cracking good evening and we love it. Well done Anna and thank you so much for the pure pleasure.


Anne Wilson said...

Unlike dogs Matt cats only eat what they need, dogs will eat until they are sick. Does Pirate like biscuits? You could leave them down for him to nibble at throughout the day. Congratulations of the frog span may you have lots of little froglets.

Care Towers said...

Pirate's still not exactly a pretty cat, though, is he! Good to see him doing so well though.

Matt Care said...

He has a certain "Pub Fight Chic", we agree. Interestingly he has out-lived the lady who did this to him so we hope he is last in the line of abandoned, neglected, cast-out, strays round these parts.