Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Sumava - The Sound of the Forest

I have been listening to a delightful radio programme on the BBC called Susurrations of Trees - susurration is the English word for the sound trees make. The programme does not just explore the sound made by different trees, but also the different words we have for those sounds - psithurism for example is the sound of the wind in the trees. Of course the Czechs also have a word for it, but they go one step further their largest forest is called the psithurism - The Sumava (pronounced shoomava). My home is on the edge of it; the little town where I catch the bus is called Horice na Sumava. 

The Sumava extends over the border with Germany, where it becomes the Bayerischer Wald ( the more mundane Bavarian Forest). This huge forest is the most extensive (over 54,000 hectares) in central Europe and has the nickname the Green Roof of Europe or sometimes the Green Lung of Europe. And I love it.

I have spoken in earlier posts of the importance of forests to the Czechs, that it has a role in the Czech mind that is equivalent to the sea to the British. Sometimes when I walk in the forest and a wind gets up I feel this connection strongly. The psithurism of the trees is so like the sound of waves that I could close my eyes and I think myself back on a British shore.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Dreaming Of Houses

I sometimes dream of houses; I did last night. Hannah used to take the Jungian line on house dreams that they are not about houses but about the dreamer, with the various floors representing the dreamer's different levels of consciousness. I just note that they tend to happen when I am busy organizing something about my Czech house, not that the house in my dreams is my Czech house.

When I was buying and reconstructing the house, I dreamed a lot about squeezing through a crack and finding new attics - huge and full of lovely beams. Later I dreamed I was going round and round a house, still squeezing through cracks but into hidden staircases and secret corridors.

Last night I had a different dream. I dreamed that I was sitting with Eliska, and we were talking about how lucky we were to have such nice lovely neighbours. I referred to the ones who had bought and done up the other half of my house. This is interesting as my real house is detached from the neighbours'. Maybe my dream talk was of the potential buyers of my house, who are keen to develop the barn which is attached to the house. I understand their enthusiasm, I too had big visions for the barn and ran out of money. It is one reason I was happy to accept their offer. We will see if their and my dreams come true.

Sunday, 24 November 2019


One wonderful thing about my life in this country has been this blog. I don't think I fully realized its importance to me until now. Writing the blog was my first step towards starting writing again. Hannah knew that and encouraged me.

Now as my stay in this country draws to a close, I have a wonderful record of my experiences, thoughts and feelings. My parents both enjoyed reading the blog. Much as they would have loved to they were too elderly to visit my Czech home, but the blog allowed them to share my adventures. And then of course there is you, dear reader. I thank you for all your support and feedback. I hope you enjoy the blog posts to come, because even when I leave the house, I will continue blogging about the Czech Republic. I have a list of blog-post topics I have yet to cover. The list of titles extends over several pages in my notebook! And of course I will be visiting Czecho regularly.

This blog is important in another way. I am working on a collection of poems about my love and experience of the Czech Republic. This is separate to the collection I will be publishing next year with Indigo Dreams. I have written approximately half the collection and am working on more poems. Without this blog triggering memories and feelings I doubt I could write the new material. Watch this space.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Remembering Hannah

I am in a strange state of mind. I have returned to finalize the house sale. Unless things get delayed, which they might, this is my last stay in my home. I am already saying goodbye to places I have loved for years, and not just places.

As I walked through the woods with Helena, and again when I went alone up to the woods above my house, I found myself thinking a lot about Hannah who introduced me to the Czech Republic and all things Czech. I owe this whole Czech adventure to Hannah. I realised as I walked with Helena, that the route was one that Hannah and I had followed on my first walk in a Czech forest several years before I bought my house. The same was true of the woods above my home, where Hannah gave me my first lesson in mushroom collecting. Over the brow of the hill the woods drop down to the road to Lake Olsina, where Hannah had her cottage.

Hannah's main home was in Cesky Krumlov. She moved three times in that town, so everywhere there are reminders of her. Although she died in April 2011, those memories never used to bother me. I always took comfort from them. But now I am glad the willows planted on the island she fought for have grown so large that they curtain the view of her last home, where my memories are most painful.

Selling my Czech home seems like letting her down. When she was dying she worried that the little colony of Brits that had grown up about her would break up. I told her: no offence but I didn't just buy the house because of her and wasn't planning to sell up after her death. She was relieved by this. It mattered a great deal to her that I bought the house as a place to write poetry. She loved my poetry and wanted to encourage it. The visit I made with her to Prague in 1990 was the inspiration behind my poem for voices Fool's Paradise.

I was chatting to her son the other day, who told that his mother would have been delighted that my poetry had suddenly blossomed and that at last I have a book of poetry accepted for publication next year with Indigo Dreams (more of that anon). I know too that Hannah would have understood the fact that I now need to be in UK to pursue my poetry dream. And yet...

Friday, 15 November 2019

Mosquitoes, midges and other biting insects

Olsina Lake

As I was lying in bed the other night I watched a battle taking place above my head. Mosquitoes that had escaped from the cellar when I was fixing the pump now bounced over the ceiling. Whenever I turned off the light, their whine came closer and closer as they homed in on my scent. I knew I was in danger of waking with itchy red bites. Fortunately the ceiling was being patrolled by a number of thin legged spiders and harvestmen and I watched as they pounced on passing mozzies, the predator become prey.

I remembered evenings at Hannah's cottage next to Lake Olsina. I loved Hannah's cottage. Its position was idyllic, with the lake encircled by the steep hills and deep forest of the Boletice. But you always pay for such divine pleasure and in Olsina you pay with blood. As evening drew on there would be so many mosquitoes rising from the lake that the sound was thunderous. There was another danger at the cottage, horseflies. I remember Hannah commenting on what a beautifully marked fly had landed on her trousers, only to yelp as the fly's sharp mouth parts bit through the thick fabric.

The forests have their own pesky insects, most dangerous of all being ticks. These small insects, barely visible as they wander on your clothes and skin, will swell up as they suck your blood and be buried head first in your skin. As they can carry Lyme disease and encephalitis, I always spray myself with DEET-based insect repellent. I do that in the UK as well, as disease-bearing ticks have spread there too. Another annoyance are the midges that rise in clouds and bite any exposed skin. And finally there is a small black insect, which looks like a spider but has wings. I have not been able to identify it, but it has a sharp bite and is often a problem when I am mushrooming. Any suggestions as to its identity are welcome.

Anyway back to my bedroom ceiling, although the spiders were doing a good job, the number of mozzies was too much for them, so I resorted to chemical controls – sliding a tablet into the plug-in mosquito killer. Turning off the light I settled down to an unbitten sleep.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Squatters in the Septic

The other day I was clearing moss from around the hatch to the septic tank. I lifted the metal hatch to ease some moss out to find that we have squatters in the septic tank. One – a large toad – was on the ledge where the hatch sits. Further down what I think was a frog could be seen with its head stuck into a hole where the pipe from the cellar pump sits. It was just like a small child playing hide and seek – “If I can't see you, you can't see me.” A movement in the water revealed two more frogs or toads. Goodness knows how many there are living in the tank, as the area of water revealed by the hatch makes up not a twelfth of the water surface and no doubt there were more in the depths.

I was surprised by our squatters, as I had always thought the water coming from the house with its mix of detergent and other chemicals would have caused them problems. But I suppose the majority of the water going in is pure spring water and the silt at the bottom must be feeding all sorts of worms and other food. That combined with the protection from predators and cold weather, probably makes the septic an amphibian des' res'. I put the hatch back carefully so as not crush the toad and let my squatters get on with it.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

A Walk in the Woods with Helena

On Saturday I met my friend Helena in Cesky Krumlov and walked with her over Dubik hill along the old pilgrim's way through the forest to Kajov. It was a slow affair, as we stopped to admire nature and the scenery, and of course to look for mushrooms. I had thought that there would be lots of people with mushroom baskets, but no the woods were empty apart from a child with her mother and they had no basket.

Helena explained that September had been a fabulous month for mushrooms. The summer here has been very dry, indeed there had been a drought, so it wasn't until the rains came in September that the woods exploded with mushrooms. You apparently couldn't move for fungi. Last week there had been frosts – earlier than usual – and they had put paid to many mushrooms. We found the blackened remains throughout the forest.

“I know my Zoe will find mushrooms,” said Helena with an optimism I did not share.

The first edible mushrooms I came across were amethyst deceivers. Not great mushrooms but better than nothing, they went into the basket. I remember my friend Hannah showing me them, when first I learned to identify edible mushrooms. Without her guidance I would never had got up the courage to forage. My son and his girlfriend are going on a day's workshop about hunting mushrooms. I am delighted they have taken an interest, but a side of me wonders how much one can learn in a day. The only way to learn is to go repeatedly into the woods at different times of year with someone who knows what they are doing.

Up a path that branched off the main track through a plantation of fir trees we came across yellow-legged autumn chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms and the normal chanterelles. All favourites of mine. Now as we walked along the track nearing Kajov we picked more chanterelles, and even some boletus which had been sheltered from the frosts by mosses. The basket wasn't full when we got to Kajov, but there certainly were enough mushrooms for at least two meals, plus some put down in the freezer.


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