Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nature Tables..

Today's Guardian Country Diary is about nature tables in primary schools. After half a century, I can still remember the one in my village school, run by a kindly teacher called Miss Waghorn and stocked with various treasures that her pupils brought into school from the surrounding countryside.

At this time of year Miss Waghorn's contribution to the table was a jam jar full of horse chestnut twigs that she brought in for the class to draw over the days and weeks as they gradually opened. Her influence lingers on because, at this time every year, I like to have a horse chestnut twig with its glossy 'sticky buds' on my desk so that I can enjoy a preview of what is to come in spring. There's a one week difference between the first and second images below - as the buds swell and change shape they also produce more sticky resin.

I realise when I look around my desk and along the bookshelves in the room where I work that there are other manifestations of Miss Waghorn's influence lying around. Over the years, I've accumulated a nature table of my own - specimens and artefacts that I've picked up at various times and kept as natural mementoes. 

Looking around, I can see a fossil sea urchin that I've had since I was a kid, a piece of Whitby jet, a dead convolvulus hawk-moth, a guillemot's skull, the skeletonised fruits of bellflower, the exuvium of a dragonfly nymph that has hatched, a Faroe sunset shell and a painted topshell, various pine cones, a jay's feather, part of a tree wasp's nest, an ammonite, some granite pebbles from a beach in Dumfries and a tube full of preserved gammarid shrimps that I collected 1000 feet underground just before Wearmouth colliery closed and entombed their fellow shrimps forever. Every specimen has a story attached - or at least that's what I tell my very tolerant wife.

I blame it all on Miss Waghorn and her nature table.....

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