Chopping wood

Pile of wood next to a chopping block with an axe in it

Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection.

– Henry David Thoreau

I enjoy chopping wood, it gives me an excuse to get out in the fresh air, and depending on how much I chop it can be a pretty good workout.

There’s also something quite therapeutic about squaring up to the chopping block with an axe. It requires a decent amount of concentration, so my mind doesn’t have time to wander, yet it combines just the right amount of challenge and repetition to get into a state of flow.

I think 30 minutes spent chopping wood is as good for your brain as 30 minutes spent meditating.

Enjoy life

Enjoy what is before it isn’t. – Faustomaria Dorelli

It’s easy to let the days and weeks go by without truly embracing what’s around you. Take time to slow down and appreciate what you have, before it’s gone.

Flowers in the allotments

The secret of a full life

“The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow,” the writer Anais Nin said. “This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us.”

From “I Used to Fear Being a Nobody. Then I Left Social Media.” by Bianca Vivion Brooks.

In one sense we’re more connected than ever. Social media allows us to connect instantly to other minds all over the world. But social media has been engineered to be addictive, so we end up spending increasing amounts of time using it.

This extra time that we’re spending on social media is time we’re not spending socialising with people in real life. Humans are social animals, but socialising digitally doesn’t compare to the real-world equivalent.

Trees will save the world

Trees in a field with blue sky

I came across an article today in the Paris Review, The Intelligence of Plants. Trees, as it turns out, aren’t as dull as they might appear to some. They have an impressive range of communication and response mechanisms. The article touches on some of the ideas in the book I’m reading at the moment, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.

Recently, more findings have seemed to support - or at least point toward - a more restrained version of plant intelligence. Plants may not be capable of identifying murderers in a lineup, but trees share their nutrients and water via underground networks of fungus, through which they can send chemical signals to the other trees, alerting them of danger. Peter Wohlleben, a forest ranger for the German government, has written extensively on trees, about diseases or insects or droughts. When Wohlleben came across a tree stump that had been felled probably half a millennium ago, he realized - scraping at it and seeing that it was still bright green beneath - that the trees around it had been keeping it alive, sending it glucose and other nutrients.

Trees are also one potential solution to the climate crisis we’re facing. Scientists have now figured out how many trees need to be planted in order to stop the climate crisis.

The researchers calculated that under the current climate conditions, Earth’s land could support 4.4 billion hectares of continuous tree cover. That is 1.6 billion more than the currently existing 2.8 billion hectares. Of these 1.6 billion hectares, 0.9 billion hectares fulfill the criterion of not being used by humans. This means that there is currently an area of the size of the US available for tree restoration. Once mature, these new forests could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon: about two thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution.

So trees can communicate, cooperate, and potentially save the world from the climate crisis.

September's books and links

This is a summary of the books I’ve been reading, as well as a selection of articles and web pages that I’ve found interesting or useful this month.


Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

This book is about taking a more purposeful approach to our use of digital devices and services.

Turns out some of my existing habits, like not having social media on my phone and using Do Not Disturb mode by default, were already quite Digital Minimalist in their approach. This book helped me finesse some of the things I was already doing, but also added many of other habits and practices to try, as well as wrapping up the whole concept into a philosophy that I can point others towards.

There are loads of great ideas in this book and I’m already planning a second read in the near future to help me properly digest the book’s key points. I think this is essential reading for anyone who checks their smartphone more than they’d like to.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

I started reading this on the train to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. It’s a fascinating insight into how forests work, how trees communicate and many other wonderful tree facts. It’s written in a very approachable way, and makes the whole subject seem infinitely interesting. Looking forward to finishing this one.

Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

I re-read both of these this month. Both are excellent and inspiring books that I highly recommend any vaguely creative people reading. They’re quite small, you can read them both in a few hours, but they’re jam-packed with advice on finding inspiration, sharing the work you create, and sustaining creativity. These two books are actually part of a trilogy, the third book of which is called “Keep Going”. I haven’t got a copy of that yet but it’s on my wishlist. Austin’s blog is a fantastic source of inspiring art and writing, he really practices what he preaches.

MPs call for pavement parking ban across England

As someone with a young child this issue is especially relevant. I find myself having to take the pushchair or young child into the road to avoid vehicles blocking the pavement far too often.

Pavements are for people, roads are for cars, let’s make that the law.

Quantity Always Trumps Quality (2008)

  1. Create things.
  2. Learn from your mistakes.
  3. Repeat.

If by Rudyard Kipling (1910)

Saw a beautiful print of this poem on the wall of a toilet last week and decided to look it up. It’s a lovely description of Victorian-era stoicism, done in classic Kipling style.

Chutneys For Relishing (1996)

Came across this while writing yesterday’s post about chutney. I didn’t realise that what I consider “traditional” chutney was actually a relatively recent invention trying to mimic the fresh chutneys in India.

Those who ate [chutney] back in Britain soon became addicted. There being no mangoes, tamarind or limes, English cooks did their best with apples, onions and vinegar, adding dried fruit such as sultanas, raisins and dates, and even marrow (spiked with ginger powder) to mimic ginger preserves.

Eight tips for burning wood

We’ve recently had a wood-burner installed, so I’ve been re-kindling my interest in fires.


Finally a couple of programming and software related links.

A Codebase is an Organism (2014)

She knows she can’t be too permissive; coddled code won’t learn its boundaries. But she also can’t be too tyrannical. Code needs some freedom to grow at the optimal rate.

In this way, building software isn’t at all like assembling a car. In terms of managing growth, it’s more like raising a child or tending a garden.

Be wary of functions which take several parameters of the same type

Argues that functions which take two arguments can be confusing, because it’s easy to get the values backwards. The example the author gives is a CopyFile(to, from string) function, which could accidentally be called with the arguments reversed. This is also an issue with command line utilities, I’m always getting the arguments to ln the wrong way round.


3 jars of our 2018 batch of Glutney

Now that early autumn is here it’s time to make chutney. Actually, a couple of weeks ago was probably the time to make chutney, but we’ve finally got around to it today.

The recipe we use is approximately the same as River Cottage Glutney, but we just use up whatever we’ve got in the garden and the fridge and then balance out the other ingredients accordingly. It’s more of an art than a science.

Chutneys are the perfect way to use up gluts of tomatoes, courgettes and apples. Even green tomatoes can be used in chutneys, so this is the time to completely strip tomato plants of any remaining fruits. If your courgettes have turned into marrows then all the better, for marrows are excellent chutney fodder.

We’ve still got a couple of jars of last year’s chutney left, pictured at the top of this post. At our current rate of consumption we should have a continuous supply of this delicious chutney throughout the year.

Making this batch has got me thinking about the use of vinegar and sugar in chutneys. I’ve been experimenting with fermentation recently, sauerkraut, kimchi and the like, and I wonder if a lacto-fermented chutney could work as an alternative to sugar and vinegar?

Early autumn

Sunflowers in early autumn sunrise with pink sky

I was greeted by this stunning sunrise when I went outside at 7am this morning. Autumn seems to be well and truly underway.

If you live in a temperate climate, one way of looking at the year is as an act of two parts, the hot part and the cold part. But somewhere along the way our culture acknowledged the presence of two more seasons, the transitions between the extremes of summer and winter, making the year an act of four parts. Lots of the beauty and balance in nature can be found between the extremes.

The fleeting appearance of pretty blossoms in spring, with their delicate scents, are neither as stark as the bare tree in winter, or as productive and useful as the tree would be in summer. But nevertheless they enchant us.

And so it is with autumn, the other season of transition. The vibrant browns and reds make every walk a joy. Harvesting the last of the produce from the plants is always a satisfying job after a summer of caring for them.

In nature autumn is when things start to wind down ready for some rest over winter when resources are scarce. Trees prepares for winter by covering the soil in leaves which will keep in moisture and then break down gradually over winter and release nutrients back into the soil.

I’m going to spend some time this autumn reflecting on the past summer and preparing for the winter ahead. But I’m also going to spend some time being present and enjoying this beautiful season.

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