Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Grass Roots: Their Secret Lives

This chart shows why grazing lands should be allowed to re-wild. What we've often brushed off as "just" weeds are, in fact, a valuable part of our ecosystems.

Left to right across:

  • Kentucky Blue Grass
  • Lead Plant
  • Missouri Goldenrod
  • Indian Grass
  • Compass Plant
  • Porcupine Grass
  • Heath Aster
  • Prairie Cord Grass
  • Big Blue Stem
  • Pale Purple Coneflower
  • Prairie Stripseed
  • Side Oats Grama
  • Fake Beetroot
  • Switch Grass
  • White Wild Indigo
  • Little Blue Stem
  • RoseWeed ?
  • Purple Praire Clover
  • June Grass
  • Cylindric Blazing Star
  • Buffalo Grass
Here's a similar chart for the UK.

  • Cocksfoot
  • Perennial Ryegrass
  • Westerwolds Ryegrass
  • Timothy
  • Meadow Fescue
  • White Clover
  • Red Clover
  • Persian Clover
  • Berseem Clover
  • Crimson Clover
  • Vetch
  • Alsike Clover
  • Sweet Clover
  • Birdsfoot Trefoil
  • Yellow Trefoil
  • Sanfoin
  • Lucerne
  • Chicory
  • Ribgrass
  • Yarrow
  • Burnet
  • Sheep's Parsley
  • Mustard
  • Buckwheat
  • Tillage Radish
  • Phacella
  • Fodder Radish
  • Oat
  • Rye
The more diverse the plants, the more diverse the other interactive and supporting species and the healthier the soil. The longer the roots, the more stable the earth becomes, providing some insurance during drought or flood conditions. The more and the longer roots are, the more carbon they store and the more nutrients they provide for the fungi and microorganisms of the surrounding earth.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022


Windswept, Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women

Annabel Abbs


Before we start, let’s just pause and admire this outstanding front cover…..I would pick up Windswept for this reason alone. But guess what!! This is a new book about multi-day long-distance walking, a particular passion of mine.

I first learned about Windswept when I was searching for the author on Twitter, as I usually do when I read a book I particularly enjoyed, in this case, Annabel Abbs’ Miss Eliza's English Kitchen, and discovered she has also written a book about women and long-distance walking. It was like a miracle!

To my disappointment, there was no sign of Windswept at my local library, but luckily I've had good success in applying for books to be acquired and that's what happened in only a couple of weeks. 

The difference between this book and others I've read is its focus on women.

As the sub-title indicates, the author has chosen to examine the walking habits of selected famous and not-so-famous women, devoting a chapter to each, and, at the same time, telling us about her own life and how it relates, or doesn’t.

The book is well-organized, starting off with a useful chapter comprising a short bio of each woman:

  • Frieda Lawrence nee von Richthofen (1879-1956), German wife of D.H Lawrence
  • Gwen John (1876-1939), Welsh artist, brother of artist Augustus John and lover of Auguste Rodin
  • Clara Vyvyan (1885-1976), Australian-born writer, friend of Daphne du Maurier
  • Nan Shepherd (1893-1981) Scottish author, poet, essayist and educator, author of the celebrated hill-walking memoir, The Living Mountain
  • Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) French writer, philosopher and feminist
  • Georgia O-Keeffe (1887-1986) American artist famous for her flower and landscape paintings
  • Daphne du Maurier (1907-89) English writer who lived near Clara Vyvyan in Cornwall
  • Emma Gatewood (1887-1973) American hiking pioneer, the first woman to solo-walk the Appalachian Trail (2050 miles) which she accomplished three times, last time when she was 75

Two of these women, Daphne Du Maurier and Emma Gatewood are included in other chapters but are no less significant for their love of hiking/walking.

And the places they (and the author) walked? France, along the R. Garonne, the Cairngorms in Scotland, along the R. Rhone in the south of France, the plains of Texas and New Mexico, the mountains and forests of France. What adventures they had! 

As I started each chapter I was happy to be able to refer back to the first chapter to check on the brief bios of these women. Throughout my reading, I googled references to paintings, writings and people for additional information and photos, an enriching way to read.

In the course of writing Windswept, author Annabel Abbs made a point of walking where each of these women walked, trying to recreate for herself a similar experience. As she proceeds, she discusses many aspects of women walking solo that maybe are often wondered about but rarely mentioned or dealt with in the space of a single book. 

  • Morals of women who are in public unaccompanied by a suitable man
  • How social expectations for women to stay home/raise families differ through "herstory" 
  • The freedom and empowerment of women who travel unaccompanied
  • The joy of setting off on a long-distance walk: “the exhilaration of escape, the sheer delight of being unshackled, of being free.”
  • The dangers that lurk everywhere for women on their own, and how inconvenient and unfair it is to have to feel vulnerable and worry about one’s safety being compromised by other humans.
  • How mentally restorative it is to walk in the wilderness
  • How minds grow and learning is catalysed by being physically active
  • The difficulties women have, managing personal hygiene away from civilization

Long-distance walking has a way of allowing our minds to shut out day-to-day worries, to focus on one step at a time thus opening our minds to those thoughts and ideas that might otherwise elude us. Without exception, the women in this book, including the author, found inspiration for their creativity in long-distance walking escapes. A 20-30 km hike while physically exhausting, can also be empowering and mentally stimulating.

Abbs points out near the start of the book that we should never go back. This is something I discovered as a child, rotating between homes and countries every 6 months or so. Each time I would go back, I would find everything had changed and I would need to start again…and again…and again. Abbs tried to revisit her familiar Welsh cwm or valley where she and her family walked in her childhood and was as disappointed as my childish self was to find it irreparably changed.

We can’t go back. We must live each moment to the fullest and then push on, always looking for new doors to open, new adventures, new beginnings. Abbs realized that she too was leaving her past behind, as her children became adults and left the nest. From these exceptional women, she learned how to empower herself to walk bravely into her new future.

Windswept was so much more than I was expecting. Where I eagerly anticipated learning about the experiences of women who love walking, I found inspiration for myself to move into and cope with a life that is constantly changing whether I want it to or not.

In spite of advice about never going back, I know I will be returning to Windswept again. This book will be a regular read for me.