Shedding & Shrews

The Border Counties Railway opened in 1858, linking our valley to another on the Scottish side of the watershed. It quickly became a cornerstone of the countryside economy of the day, transporting not just civilian and military passengers but picking up and delivering coal, minerals, livestock, agricultural and other bulk supplies. Farmers cannily availed themselves of old rolling stock when the line finally closed in the late ’50’s and you can still find the odd goods wagon in farmland or on fellside, refashioned into stores or shelter for stock. Our inherited rust red carcass, minus bogie foundation, is decaying nicely on its terminal pitch ‘tween yard and garden. An added porch and low wooden gate completes the picture. Swallows nestagainst its old iron ribs; hedgehogs hibernate in amongst our horticultural hoardings.

We embrace another lockdown action opportunity. Piles of long forgotten or overlooked stuff are dragged out to be marvelled at, stored elsewhere or piled up ready for when the re-cycling centres open again. We discover in a dark corner assorted plastic tubs of agricultural herbicides (pictured). No trace of irony in this one, marketed as ‘Harrier’, a bird of prey that would drop dead if ingesting anything that had fed on the ‘weeds’ listed. We strongly suspect much of this old cache of chemicals is now outlawed for use. They’re now safely under lock and key in the garage/workshop until we find out how to legitimately dispose of them when normal life resumes.

Another useful re-purposing of institutional hardware, mail sorting racks from the post office, just right for storing small tools and all manner of gear. Shelves and defunct long table for potting up and pottering in general. Close by are bags of bark, compost, gravel, sand etc. Corrugated cloche covers, cane frames, plant pots galore, builders merchants’ fabric dumpy bags, trugs, chicken wire and so on make up our list of gardening tackle and trim. Horticultural plastic sacks are hid in the wheelie bin, momento of life in Lancaster sit opposite travel trunks that brought Kim’s things from home in Canada; now a stowaway for pop-a-domes and fleece for raised beds. Fans of Kim’s picture books might note the bike featured in ‘My Friend Harry’.

Lost in the gravel of the shed floor, the curled corpse of a common shrew, which prompted me to do a bit of research…These tiny creatures live life in the fast lane and though I knew they needed to consume over twice their body weight daily to stay alive, I didn’t know that they can make up to 10 separate body movements every second. Most extraordinary of all, come Winter they do not hibernate, being too small to accommodate stores of fat needed, but instead transform physiologically. Losing around a quarter of overall body weight increases chances of survival as well as adopting a torpid state. Shrews have poor eyesight but enhanced smell and hearing enables them to locate food (earthworms, insects etc) while avoiding being prey themselves. Not sure how this one came to its end but the chance to view close up otherwise elusive wild creatures and appreciate their graceful utility of form is always a privilege.

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