Thursday 14 February 2019

The Art of Nature

Out & About

This week I'm taking you up to a little place in the hills called Psychro but instead of hiking up to the church of St. George as most people do (and indeed, as we did back in October 2016 – see Into The Woods), we're going for a short stroll down the valley on the other side of the road to look at the sometimes overlooked beauties of nature.

Starting with the obvious, sublime winter landscapes can be found almost anywhere on a crisp winter's day. This is especially so if you have a background of blue skies and mountains, an interesting old man-made structure in the mid ground (in this case a long defunct watermill) and you are looking at it through a trio of stark and leafless trees.

Landscapes are a great favourite with artists and photographers, as are the common 'pretties' such as flowers, birds and butterflies but take a closer look at any damp wood or rock and you will find an almost limitless array of interesting shapes among the world of the mosses.

There are others who enjoy their art by taking brass rubbings in old churches. Bark rubbing of trees, which employs the same techniques, is also practised by a lesser number of devotees. If however, you strip away the bark of many a fallen branch or log that has not yet had time to decay, you will find the intricate tunnels of beetle larvae which are surely worth rubbing.

The sounds of nature are amplified on a cold winter's day and as you may have noticed as we've been poking and prodding about down here, we've been followed all morning by the song of the robin, bouncing around the limestone walls. He's been trailing our progress and has finally paused for breath in that mass of ivy up there.

We started with the sublime so we may as well finish with the ridiculous which has its own kind of beauty. As we've been sitting here at the end of our little whiffle through the tulgey wood, as it were, I've been watching the honey bees delicately sipping nectar and collecting pollen from the wood sorrel; the flower heads gently dipping on their long, pendulous stalks. A couple of carpenter bees have also been watching them and, thinking that it looks a simple idea, have tried the same trick. What they haven't allowed for is the fact that they are substantially larger and heavier than honey bees. At every attempt the flower heads have arced down, with great rapidity, leaving the carpenter bees clinging on like a drowning mariner to a piece of wood or, finding themselves unceremoniously dumped in the foliage. Like Rabbie Burns' spider they try, try and try again but I fear that success has eluded them so far.

Walking Notes

This is a short and relatively easy stroll which you can extend down further if you wish but the route gets progressively more difficult. I should not advise going much further in winter or early spring as there are places where you can only pass through narrow defiles. If water trapped further upstream suddenly breaks through then it would be all too easy to get trapped in a flash flood. As always, when walking in this type of terrain, make sure that you have an escape route. To get here follow the route from Ierapetra to Ferma and turn left in the village of Koutsounari signposted to Agios Ioannes. Continue through village (Psychro is signposted) and you will find the entrance to the path leading to the Church of St. George of Psychro well marked at an obvious picnic site on the left hand side of a hairpin bend. Just make your way down into the valley on the opposite side of the road. (If you reach the village of Schinokapsala you have overshot by a couple of kilometres). 

Fieldcraft & Foraging

The last bit of foraging that we did involved Wood Sorrel leaves (see Steve's Wild Kitchen - 1970s Prawn Cocktail with Wood Sorrel Garnish) . That was a very basic 'recipe' barely worthy of the name but as Wood Sorrel is still very abundant at the moment I thought we'd stick with it but have a look at the roots. The two largest that you can see here are a bit yellowish as it's been struggling to grow out from beneath this log that I've just turned over. But look at the third largest one at the back; does it remind you of anything? Wood Sorrel root can be used as a substitute for that staple of Asian cooking – the bean sprout. Simply grasp the whole plant at the base and gently pull it from the ground. Top and tail the root and keep the white part. Note: you shouldn't do this with all plants as some are rare and it may even be illegal to uproot them but this one is native to South Africa and is classed as an invasive species in many parts of the world. So this week's recipe from Steve's Wild Kitchen is for a tasty Chicken Chow Mein using crunchy Wood Sorrel roots in place of bean sprouts. 

In The Lab

There are times when you wish to study a small insect up close in the field but they can be quite uncooperative when you approach them with a hand lens. They turn their backs on you, tumble off flowers and lose themselves in the foliage, or simply fly away. It is at times like this that one needs a pooter. It is simply a device for sneaking up on specimens and sucking them into a tube so that you can bring them back to study in the lab or inspect them more closely on the spot. The inset photo here, of this small wasp, was taken at the side of the road. Satisfied that the photograph was good enough for identification purposes (at least to family level) I was then able to let him go about his business. As you can see, it wouldn't be difficult to make such a device yourself but this one I bought from my regular equipment suppliers,Watkins & Doncaster, for less than 15 pounds.

PS. If The Ritz in Picadilly would care to put me up for a night or two I'd be happy to do a blog from their gardens if only to use the blog post title “Pootin' on the Ritz”. (Sorry about that folks – still, you never know!)

Crete Nature Catch-up

Steve's Books (well, just the one at the moment)

Not Just For Twisted Women by Steve Daniels 
A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
Kindle Edition 1.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent).
Paperback Edition 4.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent)..
Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books

Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map


  1. I keep telling myself I have to make a pooter, and never get around to it. Must do it this spring, as soon as the snow goes away.

  2. Surely when you are snowed in is the best time to make pooters and such like equipment?

    1. True, but there's not much to practice on. But you're right; I should get busy while I have the time.


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