We had some unexpected and unwelcome visitors last week. Neither long lost friends nor close family, these, though I suppose they may have been a family, usurpers, simply moved in to take up residence with us. I expect their plan was simply to cohabit and take advantage of our collective good nature and easy going attitude. However, even we have a limit and squatting in our bought and paid for home was for us well beyond the pale.
I say they may have been a family and confess right here, even though saying it out load makes me appear some form of 'ist', they all looked the same. There may have been one or as many as four, as we only ever had sight of one at a time. Another factor was that the invaders were never to be seen during the day, instead rare and fleeting glimpses only occurred after dark.
We resolved to take action to reclaim our residence, so it was with this in mind that I visited the ironmonger. They call it a homeware store now, but for some of us it will always be the former. Anyway, my quest was to buy a trap for these visitors and I sought out a humane contraption which though it would incarcerate the wee buggers, would not kill them. I left the store more in hope than expectation that the black plastic tunnel with the hinged front door would do the trick. If not, I did not wish to even think about the alternative.
I found the ideal place to set the trap in the kitchen and, as suggested, laced the tunnel with peanut butter, which I understood was catnip for mice. The device was designed to rock forward and the door snap closed on the mouse entering and making its way up the tunnel to the scoff, effectively imprisoning the rodent. And you know what, it was a roaring success.
The first mouse was caught within a few hours and duly released a short distance away from our house in the naive hope that it would make a new life for itself in the greenery. The second a wee while later, was released around the same place. It was on capturing the third one, that it occurred to me that although it was the third capture, it may not actually be a third mouse. I might be dealing with a recidivist. This mouse was then set free around a mile from my house. Around 1am, my youngest, Mark, informed me that we had captured number four. So what was I to do? I couldn't leave the poor wee thing overnight – that would just be cruel. There was only one thing for it.
Exactly three miles from home, at approximately 1.45am, the latest catch was released back into the wild. He/she/it did not move for a bit and I even managed to get a clear photograph of them before they disappeared into the night. It was in a weary state that I undertook the walk home, trap in hand and with the hope that and no-one would question why I was lurking around the streets at that ungodly hour with a weird wee plastic box in hand. I was never happier to see my bed.
The trap is still sitting in the same place that it has for the past week, peanut butter intact. No visitors have been recorded since and whether it was one returning, or several mice who visited that evening, I will never know. However, I would swear that on reaching my door from what was to be my last journey to release the mouse/mice, I heard a tiny wee voice saying 'awright'!
PS: It is now three nights since I have experienced the recurring dream about the six-foot mouse pointing to the giant cardboard box and then commanding me to enter.
Getting braced for spring, thoughts meander outwards from the wee swamp towards, here and there, emerging colour in woodland, hedgerow and reedbed. A recent outing spotted a glorious drift of primroses gracing a gentle rise, leading the eye in between greening broadleaf, competing for ground space with stitchwort.
A wort? With an 'o'? With little better to do while bracing continues apace, the mind frets over this rather inelegant word, realising at the same time that it has attached itself to any number of nouns associated with what we now call health issues: liverwort, lungwort, spleenwort, and many other body parts.
The Shorter Oxford
explains origin and meaning. Basically, a wort is a plant, used for food or medicine. A secondary meaning describes malt or other grain which, when fermented, becomes beer; alternatively an infusion of malt was formerly used to treat ulcers, scurvy and other diseases. An extremely useful plant then, and no need to further explain the link with livers, lungs, spleens, and the occasional desire for a measure of malt.
But what of the stitch, as in stitchwort? Here, the Latin stellaria
reveals not only the function but also the star shape, formed by five white petals, and its medicinal properties which were known as far back as the 13th century, used to treat stitches and sharp pain.
And St John's wort, not hitherto mentioned? What was the matter with him? Unlikely to find any examples of it near the wee swamp. Forget stellaria
and go straight to hypericum
. (I'll leave that with you.) Medieval folklore identifies it as one of the herbs of St John the Baptist, and it is thought to be not dissimilar to that of St Peter. With such a provenance, we may be sure it was used to cure all manner of upsets, wounds, obstructions and swellings.
All in all, there are many worts, not generally familiar to us today. Pity about the name.
Fully braced, hatted and gloved, time to have a closer look at that stitchwort. And the primroses.
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