Sunday, April 10, 2016

Procession for the Festa di Santa Scolastica

Spoleto, one of those beautiful but very steep Italian towns in which the most important question you must ask yourself when you are driving through it is, "Does this street end in stairs?"

Also, flying buttresses!

Getting ready for the procession of the festa di Santa Scolastica.
Fr. Benedict: "You're not really going to take that picture, are you?"

In the chiesa di Santa Maria Addolorata

Fr. Cassian, carrying the reliquary of Santa Scolastica, followed by the bishop.

To all a good night.


Saturday, April 09, 2016

Winter art and fun, and a hoopoe

Saw one of these in the garden this morning.

One of the benefits of not having internet at home. I don't spend my mornings staring at the screen any more.

When I was a little kid, someone gave me a beautiful 19th century encyclopaedia of British bird life. I remember quite distinctly that the hoopoe particularly fascinated me. It's mostly African but my bird book says its mating territory is southern Europe, though they range (or did at the time my old book was published,) as far as southern Britain. I never thought I'd see one. It was just pecking about in the newly mown front garden. The books say they eat large insects, mostly, so I was surprised to see it in the garden, where you usually see seed-eaters.

I watched it until I could resist the urge no more and dashed to the front hall to grab my camera, but sure enough, it was nowhere to be seen when I got back. But from now on I'll be looking for them.

It's funny that I recognised it so instantly from a book I haven't looked at in probably 40 years.

It has certainly renewed my determination to build a bird feeder. I usually stand in front of the kitchen window in the mornings while I have my coffee and apple, and love watching the little tweeters coming and going. I'm really not much of a birder, but I can recognise a few species by sight. I wish I had the dough to just keep a camera at every window. But I've got two pairs of binos, and one of them does live on the kitchen windowsill most of the time.

Anyway, sorry about the no pics of the hoopoe thing. But here's a few pics from some of the winter adventures. 

Kitties' first snow day. Bertie got really into it. 

Henry and Pippin, not so much. 

But Pippy decided that he hates being left out more than he hates having cold feet. 

Day trip to Spoleto in February to visit the nearest art supply shop,
and hit the Indian for lunch,
then to the cathedral to get some shots of the
frescoes in the apse before the light went. A good day.

Crypt chapel of San Girolamo church in Spoleto. 11th century, but built out of the bits of the old temple of Jupiter that lies under it. 

Some of San. G's 11th century frescoes. Last Supper. 

Lots of climate control equipment on these. But you could walk right up to them. Even touch them, if you don't care. 

The arch built in the time of Tiberius to commemorate his son, Germanicus. At least, I think I remember that's what the sign said.  

The old Roman street. 

Absolutely stunning, riveting fresco inside San Girolamo.
This pic does no credit to its glowing magnificence whatever. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Gardening: just painting in 3-D

I never understood why Americans hate gardening. They call it "yard work" and use it as a punishment.

There really isn't any activity that fills me with more joy. If I ever achieve in prayer the condition of peace that 2 hours in the garden gives me, I'll know I'm making some progress. I can't imagine any activity, beyond maybe childbirth, that is closer to God's purpose for human life on earth.

I spent the day yesterday out in the fields. There are hundreds of varieties of brassicas, only few of which are cultivated. I went out with a trowel and a plastic bag and brought home a bunch of

wild brassicas, including some mustard-garlic,

for the new veg patch you can see above.

That and calendula (above...the yellow things that look like dandelions but aren't...) and some wild fumitory. I just plopped them into the planter when I got home, and this morning they seem to be doing fine.

Big plans.This evening the nice guy from the Agridea is going to drop off three bags of potting soil to add to the compost I made this winter. I've also got some potatoes ready to go in and I think I'm going to try to germinate the pumpkin seeds I saved. I've got a little bit of rooting hormone, and will see if I can get the wild rose cuttings to start rooting.

Today I got packets of wildflower seeds that I'm just going to use scattered on the slope. You can see above that nearly the whole garden is at almost a 45 degree slope, and keeping the soil from washing away in the rain is a bit of a challenge.


Out for an epic stomp yesterday, with all the collecting gear. Here's the lizard I found. It was just sitting there and obligingly stayed perfectly still while I took pictures of it. He's about 9 inches long from nose to tail tip.

The valley. Spring is here. 

The Sordo, a stream tributary to the Nera, that forms in the Marcite. Full of fish and crayfish and wildlife.

Toward the end of the day, I was getting really tired and was about 2 miles outside town. As I was coming back thinking about nothing but food, I smelled porchetta. As I climbed back up to the highway, right there was a collection of vans selling porchetta sandwiches, new potatoes and wild asparagus.

Base camp. Tea in the flask and a pack full of collecting tools and field samples. 

Here's something interesting. The Marcite is a favourite hangout of the local cinghiale, wild boar, who make these little highways from the hills on the opposite side, down to the flats where they spend their nights rooting up the turf and finding interesting things to eat. They always follow the same path, and you can easily see where they come and go. If you see a path in the woods, it's probably the local boars. 

Wild boar hoof prints can easily be seen in the mud.

It's pretty easy to make out their trails. 

Across the field, across the road and over the next field to the places right next to the river, where the earth is soft. 

Closer to home. In the Marcite, the grubbiest sheep in Italy. 


Thursday, March 10, 2016

What I'm doing while I'm not blogging

I know.

For the first time in years and years this blog's daily readership has dropped below 300 a day. I understand.

It's just that, well, the innernet is such a bore! Real life is just so much better than spending days hunched over the computer.

I'm sorry. I know you guys have been very, very loyal over the years.

But just to show that I'm not just swanning about wasting time, here's my latest painting I finished this week.

It was a new cover for an old book. 
The book spine
That's Henry, leading some mice astray. 

The monks lent me a book for Lent last year. It was just a little cheap paperback edition of some desert father or other. As I was reading it, the cover fell off. So I made a new one. 

It was just a fun thing, a means of getting some practice in and doing a few experiments with materials and whatnot. Having a bit of fun, really. The red pen work on the smaller capitals is OK, but it's all tilted wonkily. Could do with a bit lighter colour on the strawbs. But apart from that, I'd say it was OK. 

I gave it to Fr. Benedict the other day after Mass. He seemed to like it.

And here's me raking my leaves. The sound of drums in the background is nothing to worry about. It's actually just drums. The Norcia drum corps practices every week across the valley and the sound carries really well.

I've got four large and very lively oak trees in my garden. They like to produce leaves. Lots and lots of leaves. The kitties had a ball all winter romping around in them, and they protect the wildflowers from frost, but if you leave them too long, they cut off the sunlight to the stuff underneath, and they also tend to encourage papatacci, a bug worse than mosquitoes, if it can be imagined.

It took about 20 tarp loads to get the whole garden clear. But I wouldn't trade it. I love outdoor work.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

new octopus video

I love Norcia, and am not going to move if I can help it.

Normally I only post videos of very small subjects, that's where my interests lie and what I have the equipment to do very well. But this encounter with an octopus out hunting on the reef was just too fun not to share. It really seemed unbothered by my following it. Notice how it would whip its tentacle membranes over an entire coral head to catch anything that might try to escape. This was filmed at Nathan's Dent on Guam with a GoPro that was mounted to the cold shoe on my DSLR housing. I hope you'll enjoy and share it. (Octopus cyanea, thanks Ron Silver).

Posted by Macronesia on Saturday, 13 June 2015
But man, o man, do I miss the sea...


Sunday, February 21, 2016


I ran into Fr. Benedict and Br. Augustine when I was on the way home from town this morning after running some errands. They were on their way up my road and off to the nearest village, Cortigno, to offer Mass, which they said is a very beautiful place. They kindly offered me a quick lift home up the hill, and in the two minutes it took, told me, with a little eye-glimmer, "Go look at"

"Is it about the beer?"

It's always about the beer.

For a long time I thought Chimay (red) was the best beer I'd ever had or was likely ever to have again (my mother's home made and heavenly raspberry lager notwithstanding). But this stuff beats it.

The big monastic news of the winter is that they've started shipping it to the US. You can order some here on their website.


Saturday, February 20, 2016



Those mornings when the entire pot of espresso has no effect whatsoever. Sssooooooo sleeeeeeepyyyy...

I raked up about ten tarp-loads of leaves yesterday afternoon, some of them very heavy from weeks of rain and snow. There are four oak trees in my garden, that is about 90% slope. And I guess oaks only fruit every other year because I really don't remember last year having the same Egyptian Plague-level of acorns. Acornpocalypse. I must have raked up 60 pounds of the things, and yesterday spent quite a bit of time pulling up the little mini oak trees where tiny forests of them had taken root at the base of the rose bushes.

Today's job is to get the last of the leaves up and start digging in the composted leaves from last year into an area I've started turning into a veg bed. I've composted two buckets of soil from kitchen scraps too, so it will be really good soil.

After that my big ambition is to take the billhook I got for Christmas and build a wattle fence for my bed. There's so much hazel around here they won't even notice me cutting rods. Should have done it in January before the sap started running, but ... oh well...

I love this guy's accent. Sounds like home to me.

My mother told me once that her uncle Bill was a hurdle maker. Can't let the family trade die out.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I still miss her

I can't tell you all how much I miss little Winnie. While I was sick, she started sleeping next to my pillow so the first thing I saw every morning was her little face looking back at me, little sleepy slow blinks to let me know she still liked me.

The day before she died, I took a long hike up into the hills behind the town, looking for a good place for her. She had seemed a little stronger that day, but the next day she was obviously sinking very fast. Dr. B came that evening and I took her up to the hills the next day and built a little cairn of big stones over her.

People don't think cats are important, or they think they don't get attached to us, but it's not true. They don't show it the same way, but the attachment is just as strong.

It's getting to be pretty springy around here now, and the kitties are having a ball in the garden. They're pretty awesome, but I can say that I haven't really bonded with them the same way I did with Winnie. She was my alter ego. We understood each other.

God is more kindly and delicate about our feelings and hurts than we could ever be. He gave us pets, and for a lot of us who are going through life with a little more damage than we can handle, attachment to these little creatures is more helpful than we usually think.