Honey Badger

The honey badger, also known as a ratel, is not as sweet as the name suggests! It also isn’t that closely related to a badger, and is more akin to a weasel. So we’re already getting off to a deceptive start although it’s probably not fair to blame the honey badger for that, we are the ones who named it after all!

One explanation for it’s name comes from a relationship it allegedly has with the honeyguide bird. It is said that the birds can find honey and not get into the hive, so they fly close to the honey badger, calling and inviting it to follow. The bird then leads the honey badger to the hive where it uses it’s sharp claws to break in, eat the larva and leave the honey for the honeyguide. However, there is no evidence of this and the honey badger is nocturnal where the honeyguide is diurnal…

Now, let’s get a bit more familiar with this creature. You probably don’t know much about the honey badger, beyond it’s reputation on the internet…

They are about 60-70cm long, about 25cm tall and weigh between 8 and 12kg and are quite stocky. They have a large skull, a muscular neck and tend to be part black, part grey or white. Strong front feet feature large claws and they have a strange skin feature; it’s thick and loose which means when a predator gets hold of them, they can squirm and twist and bite the attacker. The skin is so tough that it is impervious to arrows and spears and even tough enough to resist a machete. The honey badger has definitely mastered it’s armour and whilst the honey badger does need this extreme version, do you? Of course, we don’t walk round in chain metal but we all have emotional armoury.

In terms of how they sense the world, they have poor eyesight but a very powerful sense of smell. To be fair, they are nocturnal so would have to have really good eyesight to make it a useful sense.

They are solitary and generally only come together to mate. Once mated, the male goes on his way, leaving the female to raise the cubs. Cubs are born blind and hairless, staying in the den for the first few months of life. Every few days the mum moves the cubs to a new den, which feels like a defensive and protective action. At about three months old, they start to forage with their mum and will move burrow every night. At about a year, year and a half, they go their own way.

As already hinted at, they are nomadic, self reliant creatures, not relying on anyone and not getting attached to anywhere. Does this sound familiar? If it does, maybe it’s time to reflect on that a little.

They sleep in burrows and are able to dig tunnels in hard ground quickly with those sharp, large claws but will also appropriate them from other animals. Being able to dig quickly helps them find food as well, uprooting it from a supposedly safe space… They are foragers with a broad diet including eggs and chicks but a lot of their diet is venomous snakes, which they are immune to, giving it a good supply of food as most animals can’t eat them.

However, snake venom is complex and they don’t get away without some effect. It is this that earns them the name nature’s zombies. They attack the snake, and in doing so can get bitten leading to venom getting into the honey badger’s veins. The snake dies and so, it appears, does the honey badger but a couple of hours later they ‘come back to life’ and eat the snake.

If you’ve pulled the honey badger card, perhaps you should be asking yourself if something is worth it, do you want it enough to take the hit that comes with it?

An array of offensive and defensive weapons mean they don’t really have many predators. Their thick skin is hard to grasp, their sharp claws strike a painful blow and then there is their reversible anal pouch… When threatened they can push it out their anus and it emits a foul smell (they are related to skunks). The honey badger is not afraid to attack though and appears to take a fearless approach to facing opponents. Do you need to follow suit? Or are you creating battles when they aren’t needed? If you go into a situation ready to attack, then everything becomes a war. Perhaps this card has appeared to remind you that you don’t need to fight, or that you should ensure you are fighting for the right cause.

Their vulnerable points, the eyes, ears and tail are small which reduces the vulnerability. This is an animal that really sets it’s boundaries. This, combined with all their attack and defence options, makes me ask, what are they afraid to show? In terms of the tarot card or oracle card, what are you guarding or hiding from the world? There’s a huge difference between being appropriately private or cautious about sharing something, and being so private and closed off that it is you that is hurting yourself. Many of us wonder how people will react when we share a facet of ourselves but if the other person is not accepting of it, you learn something about that relationship.

Recently on an episode of Queer Eye, one of the presenters rephrased ‘coming out’ as ‘letting someone in’, do you need to do more work on letting people in?

As well as being physically well adapted for their life, honey badgers are highly intelligent. Their brain is comparatively large and they are ingenious problem solvers, using flexible thinking and tools to break into hen houses, and out of zoos. If there’s something they want, they will get it.

Having an attitude as being scrappy and tenacious is great for keeping predators at bay, except when those predators are humans who want the honey badger for use in traditional medicine. It is believed that their fearlessness and bravery will be transferred to the human. Another human made danger for honey badgers are traps as farmers and bee keepers try to protect their livelihoods, in fact conflict between beekeepers and honey badgers has been documented since the early 1800s (International Journal of Avian & Wildlife Biology).

Being well adapted and also adaptable means honey badgers can cope with a lot of uncomfortable situations but being able to cope with something doesn’t always mean you should. When negative things come into our lives gradually, we can turn around and find ourselves in terrible scenarios that we don’t have the keep coping with, think of the boiling frog metaphor

Sources

Thumbnail Nature; Winter

I recently attended a nature writing workshop with Amanda Tuke and Rebecca Gibson; Song of ice and footprints. I’ve attended a couple of Amanda’s workshops now and I love that they get me writing, right there and then.

As the name suggests, we were looking at winter! As the last exercise is about thumbnail nature writing (40 to 50 words), I came out of it with something short and hopefully consise…!

Between barcode poplars, rose gold sun showcases seedhead’s architecture, glimmers the spider woven lace and glints off frost licked grass.

Cold air bites flesh; a price must be paid to witness Winter’s magic. A test is always required to enter a fairytale forest.

New Networks for Nature

A few years ago the New Networks for Nature meeting was held in York which was an incredible opportunity and I really enjoyed the whole event.

This year it’s being held in Bath which isn’t quite as convienient but streaming tickets have now been made available! You can get them for Saturday or Sunday, or a combined ticket, through the Eventbrite page. Click on Tickets and scroll to the bottom of the list for the online ones.

You’ll then be able to access an exclusive live video and audio feed of the event in Bath. Note this is not an interactive attendance, so you will not be able to ask questions or comment live, but the social media around the event was very active when it was in York. If you do get involved in social media use #NatureMatters21 to join in.

Saturday will kick off with an exciting sounding panal about art and environmental awareness. Other Saturday panals include the topic of plastics, young people and climate activism and the future of natural-history tv.

Sunday includes discussion around Nature and Spirituality, nature, health and wellbeing and ecotourism.

A full programme is available for you to find out more about the different panals and the many great speakers.

Whilst my life has been taken over by fighting for basic disability access to York city centre, I am very much looking forward to having a weekend to think about nature instead!

Despite the gushing of love about the event, I haven’t been sponsored in anyway. I just really enjoyed it when it was in York and am very pleased to be able to attend virtually!

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Six year old girl, blonde hair, green eyes, hovers over a dead body. Her first dead body. There is no rule book for this situation, there was no picture book to tell her what to do or prepare her for this.

My sister, two years younger, had run away at the sight of the rusted fur but something tied me to the fox. Its body lay sprawled at the base of a horse chestnut tree. One of many that made up our wood; the envy of classmates who dreamt of tree houses and conkers.

Above, in the protective canopy, white and pink candles proudly declared Spring’s presence. I remember the man we found in our driveway staring at the waxy peach cones, amazed, full of questions about this abnormality. Questions we had no answers for, this was just how they grew, with their darker, smaller leaves and empty spiny shells that disappointed our friends. They had expected the rich smooth gift of a conker.

A glassy eye blinked. A muscle reaction I would later find out.

I stood watch over the body; chestnut tail, russet body, milky ruff and charcoal tipped ears.

There was no blood. The small creature lay seemingly as peaceful as a cat basking in the sun. It was not the fox I feared, it was not the death I feared, but I did fear leaving it alone. It felt wrong to witness death and walk away.

We buried it, my Dad and I, under a beech tree. Near the family pets but not so close that the fox would terrorise the guinea pigs, the chickens or the cats in the afterlife.

Boxing Day Floods

One of the tasks from the Wild Words course I did was to write about flooding. In York, in 2015, there were awful floods which affected many people and areas that aren’t usually flooded. York does flood regularly but this was the worst I’ve seen in.

Boxing Day Floods, York

Source: York Flood Inquiry

December 2015
wettest month
since records began
Ouse and Foss catchment
saturated

Boxing Day:
unprecedented situation on the Foss

                       weekend Bank Holiday
                       middle of Christmas

challenge escalates

27th BT exchange
flooded

loss of landlines internet
mobile phones
no electronic communication
                        misinformation can take hold

four hundred and fifty three
residential properties
one hundred and seventy four
businesses
flooded

remarkable efforts
generosity community spirit
assistance offered quickly
unstintingly. Donations
                       local, national
                       international

spontaneous volunteers
‘unwavering response from responders’
praised for dedication and contribution

thirteen thousand sandbags
                       builders’ merchants very helpful
                       opened depots on request

voluntary sector:
                        evacuation-meals-shelter-warmth-assisting with clean up-warehousing and distributing donated goods-practical emotional recovery support

disruption
evacuated
no warning
upheaval
traumatic

‘Recovery from flooding does not simply end
when people move back into their homes.’

problems with insurance claims
managing builders
living in a state of disrepair

long-term issues identified:
                       respiratory problems made worse- mental health problems exacerbated-disruption to home-lost personal possessions-strain of moving in with family-strain of being separated from family-breakdown of relationships-financial pressures-lost ability to earn-went out of business

problems do not recede as quickly as water

York will flood again
an inevitability

‘York as a community would benefit from becoming more resilient
and better prepared for an emergency situation.’

Ancraophobia, fear of the wind

Ancraophobia is the extreme fear of wind.  This is not a word for me.  I don’t fear the wind. But I am not comfortable with it either. I feel attacked by the wind. I feel small. I want to retreat, hide, and escape.

Ancraophobia is never present at birth. The fear of wind most often arises as a result of a negative experience in the person’s past… Most often an ancraophobic person experienced a situation where the wind was blowing heavily and they found themselves afraid that the wind might destroy or kill them.
Wikipedia, accessed 29th January 2020

When I was 7 or 8, there was a horrific storm.  It was Christmas Eve and the power cut out.  For some reason that I no longer recall, my dad had to go outside.  The wind was screeching, lightning striking and the sky was crashing almost in time to the flashes.

I was terrified for my dad.  He was out in this hellish tornado, surrounded by trees, and who knows what was caught in the wind.  I had seen Wizard of Oz a few times.  I knew about hurricanes. 

He had been outside for years.  Hours at least.  I was scared.  I opened my mouth but fear held back the words. It took a few tries before I could raise my concerns with my mother. 

Looking back, I can see she was also afraid. But she snapped at me.  Told me off.  Made me more terrified. My teeth bit down on my lips and my fingers curled, nails in skin. Eyes kept on staring into the storm.

I was already petrified, unable to move from my place, on guard at the window.  I didn’t need someone to yell at me and tell me not to be so stupid.  It had taken so much for me to ask. To ask if she thought he was ok. I didn’t need to be knocked down.

I had visions flashing through my childhood imagination.  My dad knocked unconscious.  My dad trapped under a tree. My dad squashed by a fallen wall. 

I needed to be told he hadn’t been gone very long.  I needed to be told he was ok.  I needed her to be the adult.  To act unafraid, even if she was.  I needed to know that in a fight between my dad and the wind, he would win.  Not to be shouted at to shut up.  I went quiet, silent and alone with my fears.  And that silence was filled with the bawling wind and the cracks of trees just a couple of metres from the house.

I stood between window and curtains, trying to turn the shadows into familiar shapes. Peering into the darkness, knowing I couldn’t have seen him even if he was there. 

I am not afraid of the wind. I am afraid of the power it has inside my imagination. The destructive whirlwind that rips through my imagination and decimates my safety net.

I am not afraid of the wind.

I am afraid my dad might lose the fight.


Written as part of the Wild Words: Place and Environment Writing course.

A short story of the ones left behind

As part of my writing course we looked at a poem called ‘A Short Story of Falling‘ by Alice Oswald and were asked to write a poem following her structure. I don’t normally write rhyming poems, let alone rhyming couplets so this was a challenge for me. It took a lot of work and tweaking and editing but I enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone.

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Rugged rocks standing in the tide

A short story of the ones left behind

It is the story of the ones left behind
between ebb and flow of tide

As waves retreat, new worlds emerge
fleeting glimpses, soon submerged

Black rocks gleam, spray kissed, like jewels
stand tall between impermanent pools

Acorn barnacles cling tight
to mussels’ pearly blues and whites

Conical spirals of periwinkles
littered through the seaside shingle

Bladderwrack entangles limpets
cigarettes and fishing nets

Crab’s hermitage, a bottle cap
first cosy home, then prison, trapped

Translucent sea jelly
tentacles of vermicelli

Bag for Life, or Bag of Death?
suffocating final breath

This is the story of the ones left behind
by sea, and, by humankind

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Limpets and barnacles cling to black rock

Wild Words: Place & Environment Writing

Because I’m not already ridiculously busy, I thought I’d start a writing course in January. It’s called Wild Words: Place and Environment Writing and is going to be a mix of considering texts and writing our own responses to the topics. We’ll be considering ideas such as nature, dwelling and wilderness and ahead of the course, we’ve been asked to reflect on any previous reading which relates to place and environment.

A close up photo of a grassy meady with flowering heather and unidentifiable yellow flowers

Any long term readers of this blog will probably have realised I have done a lot of this. I spent a year or so following my own loose curriculum around nature and writing and reading formed a large part of that.

There was Tarka the Otter which captures animal calls so well, Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us which is a great example of her ability to translate potentially difficult, scientific ideas into a language of poetry, and there was the incredible book from Elizabeth Tova Bailey – The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – which makes the everyday experience of illness seem so much more inspiring.

It is hard to choose just a few as I have read so widely about nature and place and environment over the last few years. And so many different kinds of books as well. There’s the question and answer format from Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation which offers agony aunt (or should that be ant?) style help to different creatures. There’s the wonderful series from Reakion which looks at animals predominantly through a human lens and considers how we have integrated them into our cultures and beliefs.

Of course poetry has featured in my reading, including Isabel Galleymore’s Significant Other, The Lost Spells from Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane, and Basic Nest Architecture from the lovely Polly Atkin.

I read books about nature writing itself, and eco-criticism, and how to guides.

And diary style formats as well – such as Mile’s Richardson’s Needwood – and collections by different writers such as The Oxford Book of Nature Writing which also takes you on a journey across time.

I read articles such as Death of the naturalist: why is the “new nature writing” so tame? by Mark Cocker, and a responding article from Robert MacFarlane, Why we need nature writing. There was also a post about the two articles considered together.

And I read myths and legends. And magazines. And journals.

Essentially, there’s been a lot of reading, about different aspects of nature and environment, and I love the variety of forms and approaches. I love the many different topics that are covered, the passion of the authors and the new ways of seeing that they introduce me to. I hope that each one leaves a trace of itself in my creative mind, a glimmer of a snail’s track, and that I can weave some together to create my nature writing. Whilst I love and admire many different writers, I aspire only to be myself, to be my voice.

Gardening

As of a few weeks ago, the couple I share a yard with finally ‘let’ me have half the flower bed. Admittedly, I am entitled to half of it but they aren’t the best neighbours and if it’s taken them four years to finally accept me then I’m going to take it.

Small flower bed filled with herb robert

It was a mess. Heavily covered in Herb Robert and a massive bramble.

Rosebay Willowherb fallen over and taking up a lot of space

And Rosebay Willowherb, also known as Fireweed, had fallen over on the paving slabs.

But I also knew that there are some welsh poppies and daffodils hidden away somewhere and, as we removed the Herb Robert, we discovered a buddleja! I love their purple flowers and they are so great for attracting butterflies so that was exciting.

I am keen that the space I have will a) be easy to maintain as I do have a disability and most of my carers don’t really garden and b) wildlife friendly. I already had one bird feeder attached to the fence so I got myself a second.

Flowerbed, mostly filled with soil and a couple of plants. Next to it is a tall fence with two bird feeders attached.

Sticking with the eco-friendly theme, I wanted to reuse materials as much as possible and led me to The Reclaimed Company which is also based just outside York so less fuel use as well! I chose myself some green welsh slate, some roof tiles and a chimney pot.

Welsh slate leaning against a brick wall

This beautiful slate was laid on the soil so that it’s easier to reach the bird feeders, especially in winter when it’ll be all muddy.

The Rosebay Willowherb and Buddleja have been staked so they grow vertically not horizontally! A fantastic sage plant has been added, along with a fern and a couple of hostas.

I have bulbs that will go in over the next couple of weeks – more daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses.

Corner of a flower bed with a buddleja and rosebay willowherb and a chimney pot turned into a bird feeder.

The chinmney pot has become the base of a bird bath and it was very exciting to see the birds discover it. I have also laid some roof tiles on the soil to make stepping stones to the bird bath so it’s easier to clean. As I have to rely on carers for some of these jobs, I want to make it as easy for them as possible.

I’m looking forward to finally having a bit of garden space and am so glad I hung onto my garden tools for all these years!

Sparrows

There’s a chi chi chi back and forth between me and her – my nestling – and our parents.  Within a chaos of other marco polo calls, we hear our own, our kin.  We call as easy as we breathe, and we hear it just as clearly.  It’s as though there is a thread, running from my heart, to my parents, and their returning calls are like a gentle tug on it.

Male sparrow on the fence next to a fledgling. A second fledgling is skipping along the top of the fence.

The line of the fence top is perfect for testing the not yet entirely reliable hops and skips and jumps.  We chase each other playfully in the sun. 

Freeze!

I quickly tilt my head, eye to the sky.  Is this shadow a friend, a foe, or apathetic to my existence? 

I crouch. Breast pressed into the wood.

Then I rise in relief and shake out my feathers.  My parents aren’t concerned, not an enemy then.


I extend my wings in a stretch, scratch a claw to my neck and fly down to the ground.  Pausing on landing, I look around with wary curiosity, the way I was taught.  Eyes alert, head tilting, twisting.

Underclaw, the soil is soft and flattened leaves criss cross each other, weaving textures.

In the shelter of the fence, amongst the tall stems, I peck at scraps, dropped from the wire enclosure that I’ve yet to figure out.  It’s a mystery to me how you stick the landing on the thin metal branch and then perch with the perfect balance and then you have to lean and peck.

Later, back on the fence, the two of us wiggle impatiently.  My tiny claws dig into the wood, like grappling hooks, and I peer over the edge to watch.  He  lands, perches, balances, leans and pecks with expertise.

As we wait, our wings flutter uncontrollably and we squeak and squark with anticipation, telling him to hurry, hurry!

And then he comes!

Male sparrow going to feed fledgling who's beak is wide open.

Our mouths are as open as beaks will allow and dad slips his into mine and leaves behind a seed.  Then it’s her turn, then mine and we hop and jump and clamour for it to be our own turn again.

Male sparrow feeds fledglings on the fence

A blackbird trills, a woodpigeon cu-coo-cus and there’s a clattering chatter of other sparrow families; chirrups, cheeps, chirps and churrs.

A pair of shadows slide across the courtyard and all the calls stop.  The caws of the black demons fill the, now empty, air. 

A few sparrows call boldly, distracting the crows away from their vulnerable chicks.  But the devilish claws are filled with something that seems more interesting than a tiny, fluff ball chick.

Later, dad lands on the fence again and we flee to his side with hopeful shrieks, to no avail.