Strangely I found myself reciting Shakespeare while I fed the chickens and milked the goat this morning. I was happily reminded of this piece as I broke the ice that had formed overnight on the water trough.
When icicles hang by the wall,
and Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
and Tom bears logs into the hall,
and milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
the nightly sings the staring Owl,
To-whit, to-whoo, a merry note,
while greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost
There is very little Shakespeare that I can remember from my schooldays, even less if I limit myself to verses I can recite from memory. But I am still able to recall the first verse of this poem from ‘Love’s labour’s Lost’. I think it spoke to me in those days before central heating and supermarket shopping. Waking to the ferns of ice on the bedroom windows, puffing to see the mist of your breath, fighting with your brother to stand in front of the fan heater while dressing and finding it impossible to pour the milk over your cereal as the cream had frozen and was pushed out of the top of the bottle. I think I first met this poem on a cold morning in primary school and suddenly understood the authors description of blood being ‘nipped‘, needing to ‘blow your nail‘ and later “Marian’s nose looks red and raw“. I thought then, Shakespeare knew winters as I knew winters and they hadn’t changed much.
The last few morning have been cold. Cold enough to freeze and cold enough to be uncomfortable without gloves. There has been heavy frost but it has not yet been cold enough for icicles. It is nice to get back indoors having done the animals and to stand by the range to warm up. I am so relieved to see this cold weather, I had started to give up hope of getting a good cold spell again. It is difficult to express how happy I am that the weather has turned. I was so happy that it had me reciting poetry to the goat (She thought is was excellen!)
Though the cold is uncomfortable it is a vital part of the season. Each season has its appropriate weather and the cyclical changes we see are the base on which we organise all our agricultural activities. What we grow, where we grow and when we grow it all depends on the seasonal cycles. This includes the colds of autumn and winter. This change is very bit as vital as the warmth that starts in spring. The temperature changes lets the trees know to prepare for autumn. The produce of many plants is produced when the drop in temperature warns the plant of oncoming winter. Further, and very importantly, increasing cold puts an end to the life cycle of a number of bugs.
One of these bugs which is killed is the blowfly. These are the greenbottles, blackbottles and bluebottles which we commonly see through the summer. (The name ‘bottle’ in this case refers to their being ‘bot flies’, and a “bot” is a maggot). These love warm damp weather and proliferate in this. The problem associated with them is that they lay their eggs in the fleece of sheep, these hatch as maggots, which then eat the animal and lay more eggs, which then go on the repeat the cycle. An animal with this is termed “fly struck”. It is a serious, and sometimes, fatal condition. The greenbottles are the primary culprit in this condition, bluebottles only affect animals already struck.
A knowledge of the seasons allows us to prepare for this and to dip or spray our animals with insecticides to protect them from flies during the summer months. But I and many of my neighbours have been caught out this year. Normally our regime works by protecting the animal until the cold wintry months start when the flies have died or are dormant. But this year our disrupted seasons have witnessed unseasonably warm weather right up until to November. This has been associated with damp conditions and the ideal scenario for fly strike. So I and others have found animals attacked by maggots and have had to re-dose animals with insecticides much later in the year than ever before.
We have been warned that, as a consequence of global warming, we would see changes to our seasons. Namely, that in the UK, things would be warmer and wetter. We now see that this warning was accurate In the spring we had droughts, in the summer the sun scorched the fields, hay has become scarce and its price risen, and in late autumn sheep are being troubled by flies that should have passed. These small changes are starting to wreak large and damaging effects. Obviously we will try and deal with these by adapting to them but it is also important that we try and stop them worsening.
Although there may be arguments about what underpins these changes and how much is man-made, the simple fact is that we can only change the things we can change. We can only pull the levers that we have. So it does not matter how we got into this mess it can only be man-made actions that might get us out of it. Unless we patiently wait for a miracle and I don’t think our present behaviour would suggest we deserve one of those.
Now over half of the world’s population live in urban areas where issues such as food production, warmth and shelter are issues related to markets and services rather than nature. This means over half of us will not see the very real changes that are happening to our world. If the changes are seen then the significance of them might be missed. The failure of the cold weather to come and kill greenbottles might not be seen as a problem. It might even be thought of a bonus. But anyone who has seen a animal eaten alive by maggots knows otherwise and that this is a very, very bad omen indeed.