A lot of people wonder what the word ‘Easter’ means, and if you don’t already know the answer then you’re in for a surprise. Easter is actually Eostre, an ancient German fertility goddess associated with the springtime. Eostre is almost certainly a version of the ancient Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, and therefore the same as the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who was also known (in different time periods and places) as Ashtarot. According to one very reliable ancient source (preserved by the early Christian bishop, Eusebius of Caesaria):
“… Astarte set the head of a bull upon her own head as the mark of royalty, and in travelling about the world she found a star that had fallen from the sky, which she took up and consecrated in the holy island Tyre [modern day Lebanon]. And the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite.”
This is very interesting because Aphrodite was known to the Romans as Venus and identified with the planet of the same name, which is Earth’s nearest neighbour, and which is also the brightest star in the night sky.
So, I hope you all had a happy Ishtar!
Anyhow, it is the perfect time to acknowledge both fertility and birds, and here is a little video about birds which you will see pairing off and building nests right now all around Wicklow, and further afield.
Wicklow had a very lucky escape when Ophelia struck Ireland yesterday. All across the county there were trees down, and almost everybody lost their electricity at some point. However, three people lost their lives directly due to the storm and my thoughts are definitely with their families, and considering how many people are trapped in rural areas of Ireland without electricity, water and possibly with no means of communication, then this death toll could very easily rise. So, if you are in one of those areas and happen to read this on your mobile phone, do check on people in your area. Elderly or disabled people in particular might not be able to draw attention to their predicament. And beware of broken trees and powerlines.
As Hurricane Ophelia began to move towards Ireland late last week and over the weekend the weather became both very overcast and unseasonably warm. On Friday night temperatures were 17 or 18 degrees Celsius (65 or 66 degrees Fahrenheit), depending on where you were. These night-time temperatures would be far more normal in a balmier Irish summer, but were very much out of place and unpleasant in mid-October. On Saturday night misty drizzle began and extended into Sunday, and as a result frogs could be found hopping along footpaths or outside the doors of houses, just like this camera-shy one I came across:
Met Eireann, the meteorological service (weather forecasters) for Ireland had predicted that the structure of Hurricane Ophelia would change before it struck Ireland. It had been a Catergory 2 hurricane when it began moving north from the coast of West Africa, but nobody expected it to increase to a Category 3 hurricane (there are only five categories) or remain that for so long. It was only about 500 kilometres south of Ireland when it finally began to change shape and turn into a sub-tropical cyclone, but it had lost none of its energy as it struck the island. Just before this happened there was a sudden and mysterious abundance of moths coming to windows. Only a few hours before the winds arrived I saw this beautiful Angle-Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) perched on the wall by the back door light:
I had expected there to be a sudden rush of large House Spiders towards the house just prior to the storm, and during, but this never occurred and it seems the spider season has already come to an end this year. Some people will undoubtedly be happy to hear that. It’s possible that the frogs and birds consumed many of these spiders . There were birds hiding from the storm in sheds and outhouses, and even disused chimneys. Most small birds will eat spiders, and frogs certainly take them if they come across any.
With all of our incredible technology it is very easy to forget how fragile we are. We take electricity for granted, and not having any for any length of time is a shock to the system, especially in darker times of the year. To makes matters worse, many parts of Ireland require electricity to pump tap water and sewage systems, yet don’t have generators available to back up these systems. When a storm like Ophelia occurs we get an unpleasant reminder that mankind does not rule the natural world, but is itself ruled by nature.
Fortunately today was dry and sunny almost everywhere, and it was so calm that it was hard to imagine how dangerous things were yesterday. In fact, I was astonished to see a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly flying about in the warm sunlight this afternoon, even though it was only 14 degrees Celsius in the shade. I managed to get a decent photo as it sunbathed on ivy.
And there was a very beautiful sunset tonight, but it is now much colder than it was before the tropical air of the hurricane came our way, and tonight we are to have proper October temperatures, or maybe even temperatures more like December. Many trees still have their leaves. Many, of course, don’t. Without their shelter winter will probably come early this year.
Unfortunately the arrival of Hurricane Ophelia right on top of the island of Ireland is going to pretty much spell the end of most of the beautiful mushrooms and toadstools around at the moment, but I thought I should at least show some of them. So here are just a few, starting with the Common Puffball (Lycoperdum perlatum):
This handsome fungus grows in abundance at the moment, and stands a good chance of surviving torrential rain due to its shape and toughness. When they get older puffballs become soft and are designed to release spores in a cloud when trod upon. When they are young, as they are now, they are very handsome. Here’s one on its own:
An equally common, but far more delicate mushroom is the Parasol (Macrolepiota procera), which is famous for its extremely narrow stipe, which is the part of the mushroom which looks like a stem:
And then there are the more notorious ones, such as this, the infamous Deathcap (Amanita phalloides), one of the deadliest toadstools in Europe, but fortunately quite distinctive. The most common variety has a platinum-coloured cap, but this white variety, alba, is almost as common:
Whereas Deathcap looks pretty unremarkable, some fungi could best be described as curiousities. Here is a common species which appears to be emitting motor oil, the Common Inkcap (Coprinopsis atramentaria), and eventually dissolves into a black blob of oily substance containing spores:
Some fungi are both beautiful and remarkable-looking. Here is one of my favourites, the Upright Coral (Ramaria stricta), which gets its name due to its resemblance to coral from an undersea reef. It is one of many species of coral fungus, and, despite how exotic it looks, it’s actually quite common:
All it remains for me to say now is stay safe. Hopefully all will be well and the hurricane/cyclone will pass off and dissipate with a minimum of fuss and harm to Ireland, or anywhere else.