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26 August 2015

Kronking ravens and flower oracles – our natural barometers?

Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge

by Paul Evans, first published in 

The Guardian 26 August 2015



Kronking ravens and flower oracles – our natural barometers?


The curious and alluring autumn gentians are flowering. At the top of the bank where the rabbits have nibbled turf down to the quick and people have broadened the path along the fence, in the wood where the last fragments of wild meadow have been heavily grazed, little clumps of lilac coloured flowers are blooming. I have rarely seen autumn gentian in any of these places until now.


This plant is biennial, growing reddish stems less than a foot high. The plants I saw last year had pointy leaves and this year are producing upright tubular flowers that open into lilac stars at the top and reveal inner “ribbons”. They are easy to miss but when they’re spotted they have a strange allure.


Why there are so many of these plants this year it’s difficult to know but it may be to do with rabbits creating open, almost bare, patches where these dry, lime-loving, specialists can thrive.


There are flowers of yarrow, next to the gentians, bearing frilly leaves and flat white flower plates. In China yarrow stems have been used for centuries with Zhou yi, the divination text and origin of the I Ching, or Book of Changes. By cleromancy – the casting of lots – predictions are made with yarrow stalks based on numbers.


As I’m peering into the yarrow and autumn gentian flowers, thinking about changes to come in this strange unseasonal season, a raven flies low over the trees. It kronks 1,2,3,4 ... 1,2,3,4. I have a feeling the number of kronks means something to the bird.


Ravens are complicated. Maybe this is code that can be interpreted, like yarrow stems, in a divination. So I count the kronks in each burst: 4, 4, 7, 4. The raven continues its flight shouting its coded message until out of earshot.


Not long afterwards the raindrops fall. Then comes the storm, the most electric drama in ages. Through a grey and lilac sky, crashing with thunder and flashing sheet lightning, through torrential rain, come a pair of ravens. Flying high, inaudible and incomprehensibly reckless the two birds fly against the storm, uncanny and beautiful. What does anything really mean?


Twitter @DrPaulEvans1








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