Nature Diary

Nature Diary – July

Who are the Prince, the Blusher and the Charcoal Burner? Brother Andy will educate you on this and more, in our July nature diary.

By Brother Andy

The combination of warm weather and rain in July brought out the first fungi of the year, notably the Prince, the Blusher, the Charcoal Burner, Red Cracked Bolete, Sulphur Tufts and Fool’s Funnel.

At least one of these is edible and one deadly poisonous. You have to be very careful with fungi – as Guru makes clear in a story from the early ’70s, recounted in ‘Living With God, the Autobiography of Guru Sri Subramanium – Volume II’

I have been close to dying twice. The heart attack was one instant; the other was from eating a meal of death cap mushrooms. A member of the Community had gone into the woods to collect mushrooms, which he then cooked for us... I have never been so violently ill. My muscles felt as if somebody had climbed onto my back and was twisting and wrenching them apart. I was feeling completely wasted, what with the vomiting and having the runs. Every minute I was wasting away and dying, literally dying.

Despite suffering in this way Guru showed tremendous compassion; he refused to see a doctor and took on the karma of all of those who had shared this meal so that no member of the Community showed any of the same symptoms. In the morning he washed and dressed and insisted on going to see everyone who had come specially to see him.

According to some traditions, cooked poisonous mushroom caused the death of the Buddha. As the Buddha lay dying He also showed tremendous compassion by insisting that one of His followers should tell the cook not to worry and that two offerings to the Buddha are of equal gain; the offering of food just before his supreme enlightenment and the offering of food just before he passes away.

On July 5th we celebrated Guru Purnima. This always occurs on the Full Moon Day and was celebrated, as usual, in the evening at Guru’s Samadhi. As the celebrations progressed we were presented with the glorious sight of the Full Moon rising slowly in the sky. Above the rising moon, the planet Jupiter could be clearly seen – an exceedingly auspicious coincidence as in Vedic astrology Jupiter is called the Guru.

A large shaligram at the samadhi of Guru Sri Subramanium – at Skanda Vale Ashram UK
A large shaligram at the samadhi of Guru Sri Subramanium

I was brought up to see the moon craters forming an image of the man in the moon. Other Eastern traditions see a hare instead of a man. Next time you do pradakshina in the Murugan Temple you may want to look above the Ganesh niche and see a decorative plate from Guru’s mother in Sri Lanka, representing the moon with an image of a hare embossed into the brass. The moon and the hare are also mentioned in the praise to the planets at the end of this Subrahmanya Suprabatham video.

I bow to the Moon who adorns Śiva's locks, shining coolly like curd or a white shell arisen from an ocean of milk with the shape of a hare on his face.

The valley is now relatively silent; the Dawn Chorus has almost faded away. Territories have been established, mates have been found and now there is the urgent task of finding food for the young birds; not much time for singing.

Some of the parents, mainly sparrows and blackbirds, have discovered that free food, in the form of sweet rice, is offered every day at the feet of Lord Dattatreya. As soon as the pujari arrives, 4 or 5 sparrows and a hen blackbird appear and try to pluck up the courage to swoop down as soon as the offering takes place.

Dattatreya puja

Song Thrushes still can be heard singing and there are occasional songs from other species but these do not match the massed choirs heard earlier in the year. However, Sister Gemma did hear a strange squeaking noise one evening in the garden at the Lodge. This turned out to be a baby hedgehog which had somehow got separated from its mother.

As mentioned in last month’s diary the voice of the cuckoo can no longer be heard because they have migrated back to Sub-Saharan Africa. Bird migration is an amazing phenomenon but I was surprised to learn that moths (and some butterflies) also migrate.

One of these migratory moths, a Silver Y moth, was seen flying around one of our fields. The hummingbird hawk-moth mentioned in last month’s diary is also a migrator. There is some evidence to suggest that migratory moths position themselves on the ground and take flight when the wind is in the right direction and are passively blown across the Channel.

The very hairy caterpillar of the Drinker moth was seen amongst the grass in a damp meadow area just before the river. This is typical habitat for the Drinker moth which gets its name from the supposed belief that they drink water from the dew that forms on grass stems.

The dominant plant in this damp meadow is Meadowsweet. This plant contains salicylic acid, a chemical also found in willow bark and is the active ingredient in aspirin.

Apparently Elizabeth I liked to have meadowsweet, with its sweet-smelling flowers, amongst the rushes that were used on the floors of her chambers. Remains of this plant have been found together with the cremated remains of three people and at least one animal in a Bronze Age burial site at Fan Foel (about 30 miles away from Skanda Vale), the highest point in Carmarthenshire.


Above the damp meadow is a field used for grazing. In one corner of this field is a water trough being used as a pond by some Common Black Diving beetles. Whilst I was watching them, an unfortunate Common Green grasshopper jumped into the water. I took out the grasshopper and put it back in the field which is full of these beautiful little jumping insects.

We have almost entirely cleared our fields of a weed called ragwort. Ragwort contains substances which are poisonous to cattle and horses. There are, however some of these plants in the outlying parts of Skanda Vale. It has been rated in the top ten nectar producers and so although considered a weed by landowners it plays an important role in supporting pollinating insects.

I saw some of these plants as I walked along the old railway track. One ragwort plant was covered with the caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth. These caterpillars absorb the ragwort toxins and thus become distasteful to predators – a fact advertised by the black and yellow warning colours. Close to the Durga Lake, another brightly coloured insect was seen perching in a tree – this was a Broad Bodied Chaser Dragonfly.

Plants in flower in July include Chicory, Golden Rod, Comfrey, Fairy Flax, Hemp Agrimony, Angelica, Bulrush, Red Bartsia, Cross-leaved Heath, Lesser Spearwort, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Tufted Vetch, Meadow Vetchling, Creeping Cinquefoil, Meadow Cranesbill, Evening Primrose, Scarlet Pimpernel, Wood Sage, Sneezewort, Fox and Cubs, and Yarrow.

On the 16th of July, we went down to the river to celebrate Sister Lily’s birthday – she would have been 102! We do this for past Sisters – Annabel in March, and Sister Topsy in June by floating coconut shells containing burning camphor, singing bhajans and recounting stories from their lives.

I say we went down to the river – it has been called ‘the river’ ever since the Community arrived in 1973. If however, you look at maps the Welsh name for this stretch of water is Nant Aeron; Nant means a stream, which is perhaps a more accurate description.

I was curious about the meaning of ‘Aeron’. Google searches first suggested that this means ‘berry’ – so the stream of berries – quite poetic, but further searches revealed other, more exciting, possible meanings when used in the context of rivers and streams.

Aeron can mean either the Goddess of Battles or the Queen of Light. Isn’t there a Temple around here dedicated to these illustrious Ladies?


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