Orchids and bluebells

I’m making slow progress through a long novel: Richard Powers, Overstory. It’s not one to rush. It’s about trees.

Here then are some pictures of yesterday’s walk on the coast of the Roseland peninsula. I’ve posted about this beautiful stretch of the Cornish coast several times before, usually with pictures of blue sky and cobalt sea. Not so yesterday: it was a blustery, grey day. House martins were swooping over the shoreline rocks, like tiny black-and-white terns.

The blossom I posted about last time had finished, and the blackthorn and hawthorn was turning pale green with new young leaves bursting out.

Bluebells view west

The view west towards Portscatho

Halfway through our walk we came upon a series of hillside fields overlooking the sea that were carpeted in bluebells – a lovely sight. My phone camera’s pictures can’t really do justice to the smoky violet-blue haze these flowers create.

Among the flowers and grass were also dozens of tiny purple orchids.

The name comes from the Greek orkhis – ‘testicle’ – because of the shape of the twin tubers in some   Orchidsvarieties. Not a very glamorous etymology for such a handsome plant.

According to my walks app, this particular type of wild orchid is the con artist of the plant world. Its brilliant purple flowers resemble those of other nectar-rich orchids. When insects arrive and push through the pollen to seek out the nectar, they find that there is none.

I’ll end this short post with an exchange I recorded in a notebook a few years ago. I’d been to St Michael’s Mount with Mrs TD and two grandchildren. We’d been looking round the museum exhibits inside the building that tops the island rock. One was a mummified Egyptian cat. I said that it was surprisingly long and thin. ‘That’s because,’ said Mrs TD, ‘cats are all fluff and nonsense.’

View east towards Pendower beach

View east towards Pendower beach


18 thoughts on “Orchids and bluebells

  1. I really envy you that dramatic coastline (note to self: I really must get to Cornwall one day). Judging from your photos, it’s not quite like anything I’ve seen, although it reminds me a bit (only a bit) of northern California or parts of New England.
    I actually love orchids, from the big exotic hothouse things to the more subtle, smaller ones found growing here and there. These particular purple ones are certainly lovely.
    I’m also fascinated by the very ingenious ways plants fool insects; sometimes for reasons of pollination and sometimes to make them a lunch snack (ex: venus flytraps). I don’t think I’ve previously heard of the “false nectar” strategy; reminds me to read more natural history!

    • From what I’ve seen in films I’d agree that there’s a likeness in the two coasts. Also Brittany. As for those deceitful orchids – I presume the story in my app is accurate. The insects must feel cheated.

  2. Lovely and always good to see other areas having not been more than 5 miles from home for a year and a bit! I went on a bus last week but it didn’t go well! We do have some good bluebells round here, though.

    • I’ve not been on public transport for nearly two years now. I didn’t expect to see bluebells in open fields by a coastal path. I just feel the need to see the sea, if lockdown regulations allow – which they now do, thank goodness.

  3. So lovely Simon! If I may, can I run a grammar question by you? You are my English Language Yoda. In a rather informal email, I wrote a note on the scheduling of a project I am taking on.

    “Just to confirm, this WAS something that could wait until the afternoon, per Sally. I am on it.”

    A coworker took it on himself to correct my English with a large, bold “CAN WAIT.” I have withheld my “friendly” (we are on good terms) fire, but I was reporting back on a phone conversation with our boss, Sally. I think in this case “could” works. I usually trust my instincts. What say you, Yoda Lavery Thank you!

    • You’re wrestling with the tricky fellows called modal auxiliaries – verbs like can, could, will, would. Their use is something of a grey area. Grammar isn’t always clear-cut. There are fine shades of distinction of meaning and connotation between ‘can’ and ‘could wait’. The first, to my mind, sounds more definite, the second more tentative. I think the way you used it signified that you’re aware the other person might have expected you to act straight away, but you were conveying the message that it was something that wouldn’t hurt to wait. You were being polite. Your coworker should (see what I did there?) have exercised more restraint. It’s often a bad idea to intrude into someone else’s language use: it’s a kind of linguistic aggression. Even if you think they’re ‘wrong’ (which, as I said, isn’t a linguistically solid notion), why would (or should) you take it upon yourself to ‘correct’ them? Would (or should) you tell them that the clothes they’re wearing are ‘wrong’? Anyway, good to hear from you, Maureen, hope all is well with you.

      • THANK YOU SIMON! It is great to catch up with you as well. Your beautiful photos of Cornwall are a balm. I have not been to the ocean in FOUR years, and am starved for salt water.

        That was a wonderful analysis. English has great subtlety.

        Between “can” and “could,” the former applying to objective ability, sometimes via fiat from authority figure (like MATER or NANNY!) and the other suggesting more of a free rein.

        CAN: “Master Egbert, you just had your tea and must wait an hour, but then you can go swimming.”

        COULD: “Darling, it is so hot! We could go swimming, or we could just loll about under the macadamia tree until the cocktail hour. Ginny Gin Gin!”

        • To get more technical, these are called epistemic and deontic modals. Deontic suggests obligation – how the world ought to be (you must do something; you should obey the law); epistemic suggests a statement based on the speaker’s knowledge of the world, of belief or experience (it must be raining – the ground is wet) or possibility (he can speak French – or your example: we could go swimming). In the first example you gave, you were using an epistemic modal auxiliary: based on your knowledge of the context, it was logical to conclude that waiting a bit longer was ok. This all sounds very technical, and I’d guess that your coworker wasn’t expert in linguistics. We tend to make such pronouncements on the basis of our own mindset and usage. Do as I say, etc.

          • He is a picky fellow but in general a good egg.

            I like to learn as much as I can about English for Special Purpose English teaching as a “retirement” gig and while traveling. My niche is the EU market (attorneys, diplomats, etc.) who are at a fairly advanced level of English but my run afoul of subtle distinctions while covering a U.S. Congressional hearing on coffee imports or working on a transaction where the UK, vs. the U.S. legal term may be subtly different. I definitely want to learn more about linguistics! Thanks again.

          • I love that expression’a good egg’. I didn’t expect to hear it from an American. Sounds like Wodehouse! Those modalities are particularly tricky.

  4. Lovely to see the carpet of purple orchids in your photo above, Simon. Cornwall is such a gorgeous part of the world – you are very lucky to live there!

    • They are lovely flowers, aren’t they. Yes, we’re very fortunate to live here – it’s always heartening to go to the coast and see the sea. Even in the wind and rain.

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