Following along with Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills, she wrote essays on the 8th and 9th of June. She began with the comment: “A June day at last! They have to be counted in ones, or at the most, twos.” (p. 77) She was experiencing a very cold spring and early summer, and it has been the same with us this year. Not only has it been cold (most days in the 40s / under 10C) but very stormy and windy:
On her warm June day, Stewart mentioned the inconvenience of the Highland midge: “[Lotion] is not totally effective. Gardening friends have invested in masks which, though expensive, do seem to keep the creatures at bay. I have tried my bee-veil, but the mesh is not fine enough [to keep midges out].” (p. 77)
There are midges in Glasgow, and I have already been bitten by one. But our Lowland Midge isn’t nearly as much of a menace as its Highland cousin.
The spring has been cold, but the blossom has been just magnificent. I don’t know if there is a causal link. I walked past this hawthorn on one of the rare occasions that I had no way of taking its photo. The blossoms were very pink, with many pink dots on the ends of the tiny pistils (if that is the right term). When I went back a few days later, much of the pink had faded:
Oh well, something to look out for next year!
Yesterday we had a lovely sunny afternoon. I had the distinct feeling that in the course of a few hours, flowers were blossoming:
Today, June 9th, is St. Columba’s feast-day. (I wrote a bit about St. Columba / Colmcille here.) Stewart devoted much of her essay that day to him: “He passed this way some 1,400 years ago and has left his mark in the remains of his settlement down by the big loch [Loch Ness – not sure what the settlement is she refers to, though]. The sanctified ground extended well beyond the initial boundaries. At one time the whole area was considered a sanctuary, though it is not marked out, as it was in Applecross. A sanctuary meant safety in a place beyond the reach of the law or the sword. It is said that in this place some MacDonalds sought refuge after the  massacre in Glencoe. It is certain that the name MacDonald is still the oldest here…” (p. 78)
She continues: “Columba’s island, Iona, is a magic place even today. … I understand his love of the place, for an island gives one a sense of wholeness, of circumscription. One is held by the surrounding sea, but not limited by it. It bathes one round in reassurance, yet it beckons, too. It carries pictures, visions, of boundless, unnamed possibilities, not outwith one’s grasp…
It is sometimes difficult to remain whole on the mainland. I try to visit an island every summer. I come home wearing what my friends call my ‘island smile’.” (p.78) I know just what she means: ever since we came to Scotland nearly 23 years ago, islands have been our choice of retreat. (See my posts about Scalpay, and our trip to Lindisfarne.)
The end of her June 9th essay is taken up with one of her favourite topics, the medicinal uses of common plants.
She writes about the bog-plant meadowsweet, “that supreme provider of cures”. Its city cousin is feathery astilbe. She notes: “It deserves its name ‘queen of the meadows,’ for its properties are many. Its fragrance made it a ‘strewing herb’ in older times… It has anti-inflammatory properties, so is helpful to sufferers of rheumatism. Its tannin content can cure cases of diarrhoea. It has an antiseptic action and also contains vitamin C. It really is a miniature ‘pharmacopeia’.” (p. 79)
I should say here that I am not advocating that you rush out and start medicating yourself with meadowsweet, or any other plant. However, I don’t think we should discount the wisdom that our ancestors gained. Stewart continues, “Often, as I walk around the garden, going from job to job, I pick a handful of feverfew, leaf and flower, to chew on, though I’m lucky enough not to suffer from bad headaches. Thinking about it now, perhaps this habit is the reason why!” (p. 80)
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you not to eat foxglove, which can be poisonous because it contains digitalis. Like so many plants, it can also heal (heart maladies, in particular) if administered properly.
Most of the days of June so far have left us all shaking our heads and wondering at the weather: “It’s just like March!” I hear people say. We have had the fire going for guests, and the heating on to dry their soaking wet coats and shoes as they’ve come dripping and windblown through the door.
But, on those few fine June evenings, we’ve been reminded that it is indeed summer, and indeed not all that far from the longest day:
These Scottish summer skies are such a treat to experience. I leave you to imagine, perched on one of those antennas, a blackbird singing its melodious song.
Katharine Stewart says that St. Columba’s day is the “best day for making a start to anything” (p. 77) The Dafter began sixth year (very part-time) yesterday, so that’s good to know. Whatever you are making a start on, I wish you well with it!