The Song of Ruskin: The Beginning 2

Part 1

Supermarket and store car parks are an ultimate exploration and learning arena for a puppy. Busy and full of cars during the day, at night their floodlit expanse is too open for a roaming stray dog, preferring the shadows, secrecy and scavenging opportunities of the edge.

As we crossed the area, the puppy was put down. Running in circles in that funny puppy way, every leaf had to be pounced on. All that energy being burnt off in carefree play. Unknown, learning his crucial life skills.

At 10 weeks the world is very big and very new to a puppy. Uncertainty mixed with the quest for greater knowledge combine in an emotional tug-of-war in life. Fear or conquest. A dynamic equilibrium point between closeness of safe security and the distance of new adventure. The puppy will always seek the security and safety of it’s leader, protector and friend. Put a puppy down and walk, no matter how far it wants to run or explore in the wide open space it will check where safety is.

Here, come, or just a click of the fingers bring it back. The basic stop, stay and sit can soon follow.

On returning home, after a drink or food depending on his needs, I again put the woozy pup on the bean bag I had placed in the corner of the kitchen. Exhausted he fell into contented sleep, adventures of the day settling in his mind. No pining for it’s mother or lost brothers and sisters. Just dreams of the full and busy day. Assimilation of the lessons in life.

I turned off the light and shut the door. For the second night I lay on the settee for sleep. I wanted him to be used to being on his own, to be comfortable with his own company. But at the same time I didn’t want him to wake up alone, frightened or disorientated in darkness. So making him sleep in the kitchen on his own in the dark, but unknown to him with me just at the other side of the door, incase, seemed the best compromise. I didn’t know what he wanted. He never said, all I could do was make sure he was happy.

Half light or my, his, our, whoever’s bodyclock I now ran to awoke me. Found my clothes, dressed and opened the kitchen door.

“Eyes”. I said as a warning. Not wanting to shock him with the sudden turning on of light, not effective really but at least I had made an effort.

“Ya Ya Ya”. He replied in a high squeaky yawn, bottom jaw up and down, while shaking his head and pushing himself up on his front legs. I picked him up.

“Good morning”. While giving him a kiss, then placed him down by the back door, unlocked and open it, he looked up at me.

“Outside”. He puppilly trotted out, still not full awake.

So if you take a dog to a railway station or other big building, how do they know not to go there. How do they know where and where not to go? A house is easy, but a big building? How would they know whether that was inside or outside. My mind asking questions I didn’t have answers to. He did what he wanted to do in the small overgrown yard. Then I went to the back gate and opened it. This was something new for him.

Outside was a grassy wasteland. Many years before the row of terraced houses behind had been demolished. The land levelled and now grass had taken over and growing in it’s own soil made. I ran through the grass calling. The puppy ran and followed me through his own personal jungle. Up and down. Backwards and forwards. I no longer need to call, he just chased after me, all in the game. At the end of each run, for a stop or change direction, “Good boy”, just for encouragement or reward. But he just did it for the fun, the enjoyment of life. A flash in my mind from the past. Konrad Lorentz and his geese came to me.

Beyond the grass was a small road, which the front of the back to back terraces would have faced on to. At the other side of the road an Ice Cream Van factory. A real did you know. “Did you know most of the ice cream vans in the world are made in Crewe?”

Behind the ice cream van works, was the Speedway Stadium or rather not. In the 70’s this was the home of Crewe Kings, Second Division Champions and Knockout Cup winners. This was where I went on a Monday night when I was 12, But the Speedway team disappeared. Something I didn’t understand. They could have been First Division, winning everything. But it wasn’t the team. It was to do with the licence. They had got the First division licence. Having obtained the licence, the owner took it somewhere else and set up another team. Crewe Kings were no more. Or something like that.

Cars took over from the motorbikes. The place became the Banger Track. Well not just Bangers. Stock Cars, all formulas, sometimes the big boys in the Formula 1s would turn up. Mainly though Formula 2, plus Rods of different classes, specific make racing, Demolition Derbys. Other times all the shops would have posters for Stunt or Monster Truck Shows and even I think at times a circus on the infield.

This was why we had grass at the back of the house. Every couple of weeks our little part of town would be transformed. Processions of trucks, and vans and trailers would arrive, all bringing the cars. The class act would be converted coaches, accommodation and living area, workshop and the space for the all important car. Just an endless stream all vying to get into the stadium. Then the spectators, pavements full of people walking. And every square of space chocked with parked cars. Our grassy area covered.

The pubs and chips shops packed. The roaring snarl of unsilenced or tuned motors hurling round the stadium track. Those who knew about these things told me Crewe was one of the longest tracks in the country, so the cars had chance to get up to speed and therefore one of the quickest, not being all corners.

Most grassland in the UK is artificial, not the grass but why it is there. Once land was cleared of trees, grassland is maintained by grazing animals- sheep and cattle in the main. Without them the land would evolve back through a succession to woodland and forest. Passing through the stages of scrub and shrub to get there. In England this would, in the main, be deciduous Oak forest. Wales would have variations as the land increased in altitude. Within this, special cases and variations due to soil type, water table or exposure. In Scotland the Great Caledonian Forest would return. What an area ends up as and stays as is called the climatic climax.

Sheep and hill farming is a lovely case. The grass is dependent on the number of sheep which eat it. This is a Grazing Ecosystem. Grass can only exist because it is eaten. Sheep like grass. They will selectively graze for it, in preference to, and leaving, other plants. If there isn’t enough sheep in a given area, they may avoid shoots of other plants, because there is enough grass to satisfy them. These plants grow into mature plants which the sheep do not want for various reasons. The plants can then take over the pasture. This reduces the productivity of the land. The land is growing plants the sheep do not want to eat.

The trick is to have enough density of sheep so they eat the grass and young shoots of all plants. The woody stemmed or other plants do not grow into mature unpalatable plants. Too few sheep and unwanted plants take over, the sheep simply eat the the grass and ignore them. But too many sheep and sheep numbers decrease. Productivity falls. Too many sheep in a given area could reduces the amount of food available to each. The ewes do not put on sufficient body weight. The incidence of ewes producing twins is directly related to their body weight at conception. Too many sheep, not enough grass, reduced weight of ewes. Decrease in twins born. Less lambs for farmer to sell. Grazing pressure is central to hill and sheep farming.

This maintains something called a deflected sere or plagio-climax, depending.

Sheep didn’t maintain the grass the puppy ran through. Not grazing pressure, but, parking pressure. Just enough cars parked at just enough of a regular interval to break and stop the development of shrubby and woody stemmed plants. That and the thin soil covering where homes had once been. So the puppy had rough tussocky grass to play in.

“Come on, come on”. Back to our yard, close the gate and to the backdoor. Placing my hand on the handle to open. “Inside”.

Below me the puppy was facing the door, waiting for it to open. Just as it was opening an upwards and sidewards glance met me.

“Simple, obvious, you understand now”. Was the lesson from the look.

Inside, outside. Outside, inside. It didn’t matter what or how big the building was, it was, at the most simple, just inside or outside. I had made the mistake of worrying about future problems or situations, on my own. Believing I needed to think, on my own, for two. That wasn’t the case, the puppy was a living, thinking, sentient being. If I didn’t have an answer, he might or we would solve it together.

With a hippity hoppity rabbity jump the puppy went up the low step and into the kitchen.

Part 3


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  1. #1 by ecolizzy on January 18, 2009 - 9:51 pm

    Very interesting CL, but I’ve always understood that if the sheep stopped grazing, it would become just scrubland, not develope into forest e.g. Caledonian, unless man inteferred and planted the trees. What do you think?

  2. #2 by NewFazer on January 19, 2009 - 3:02 pm

    Hi Lizzie,

    Once upon a dream my then mother-in-law was headmistress in a Norfolk market town. The school building was a Victorian pile and was replaced by bright, new, more friendly buildings on the edge of town. The old building, in the centre of town was bought by a developer – who failed to get planning permission. Over a period of about 15 years I watched (at intervals) the tarmac playground be taken over. Not grass but trees. Heaving aside slabs or tarmac and reaching for the sky. It is now a very compact piece of woodland, some trees have grown above the ridge level to find the light. Astonishing how quickly nature takes over. It won’t take long before the is no trace of us 😉

  3. #3 by ecolizzy on January 19, 2009 - 3:48 pm

    Yes isn’t nature wonderful! I remember Geof Hamilton explaining how strong dandelions were, and they could cut through tarmac, so there’s hope for the world yet!

  4. #4 by celticlion on January 19, 2009 - 4:38 pm

    Hello New Fazer

    What a coincidence I was just about to send you an email as in the next few weeks the story will go somewhere I hoped you might appreciate and make you smile. I also wanted just to say hello.

    Lizzie. Apart from the link above on climatic climax. The trees will spread by encroachment, from the seeds by fall from the edge of a nearby wood, or dispersal by wind and animals.

    The specific term is’ ecological succession ‘ which you can Google. Or there are some here.

    The first is Wikipedia, having had a quick look is written by a person(s) who really know their subject. This is degree level ecology material, but readable.

    This is a it says an introduction and links to sand dunes which you commented on before.

    Hope that is some interest, I just happen to like ecological succession

  5. #5 by NewFazer on January 19, 2009 - 4:52 pm

    Hi CL

    I’ll look forward to episode 2. Who is this ‘puppy’ by the way? Doesn’t he have a name yet?

  6. #6 by celticlion on January 19, 2009 - 7:32 pm

    New Fazer

    Next will be 3. He doesn’t have a name yet, but don’t want to give the plot twists. Then 4 I think should interest you. Not sure though once I start writing I don’t seem to get as far chronologically as I thought per number of words, but I need to ‘set the scene’.

  1. The Song of Ruskin: The Beginning 3 « Celtic Lion
  2. The Song of Ruskin: The Beginning « Celtic Lion

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