Outlook Issue 12 Winter 2010
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Nature Notes
Nature Notes Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe This triptych of winter berries has a link with ancient days and Christmas. They are used as decoration; their symbolism helps us to understand our faith and the berries feed and nourish small birds in the cold weather. Holly is the only tree in this group. Ivy is a climber with no single, tree-like stem and mistletoe is a parasite, relying on its host for board and lodging. The bright red berries of the Holly start to ripen in early Autumn and are sometimes eaten by birds, before we start to cut the small branches for our use. It is considered unlucky, however, to fell a Holly tree. This perhaps is linked to former days when the dense foliage offered shelter for walkers or when the ploughman, peering through the November gloom, wanted a marker for a straight furrow. The dark green waxy and spiny leaves hanging with the bright red berries are more symbolic of the crown and blood of Christ’s death, than of His birth. The word Holly is likely to be a corruption of Holy; the white flowers suggestive of purity. It is interesting to note that Holly berries are borne on the female tree! Ivy’s ability to smother trees and buildings has given it the reputation of being a melancholy plant. Yet, that same dense foliage offers a warm and safe winter haven for small birds. In cold weather, blackbirds and pigeons can be seen eating the black berries and the small insectivorous birds devour spiders also sheltering among the Ivy leaves. For that reason alone we should not remove all the Ivy, which offends so many tree lovers, unless it begins to cover the crown of the tree. Ivy can be an attractive winter decoration. The nature poet John Clare records that his family collect Ivy, and coloured the berries, before hanging it around their pictures. Mistletoe is a licence to kiss but often frowned upon as a church decoration. Many claims have been made as to its restorative powers. It dispelled tumours, kept witches away, protected apple crops and was used as a fertility potion. This plant is best seen, not as an expensive and limp twig hanging in the parlour, but resplendent in the winter sun, glistening, resident on the bare limb of its host. Look high amongst lime, apple trees and sometimes poplar, for this attractive winter berry. Michael Stagg Five minutes with ... Michael Booth St. Mary’s Reader Michael Booth makes great coffee. The former Abbey School Headmaster is also an engaging conversationalist – full of anecdotes about local life, his own experiences and his family. He is a pillar of the community and he has been through the mill, surviving major brain surgery, plastic surgery and the disappointment of early retirement. Michael came to Woodbridge in 1986 having been appointed Master of the Abbey after 10 years as head of Elizabeth College Lower School in Guernsey. In those days The Abbey still took boarders and Sunday church at St. Mary’s was part of the rhythm of boarding school life. As a “strong believer and regular church goer” Michael provided an enthusiastic lead in this as in other areas. His faith is clearly an important part of his life – in preaching which he does once a month at St. Mary’s as a Reader; in providing communion and support for residents at the Deben View care home and as a thoroughly engaged and engaging member of the Woodbridge community. Humour, he says, also plays its part, helping to restore him to health and weaving its way through a very close and happy family life with wife Susan – “my best friend” – and grown up sons Marcus and Graham. “I cannot think that God could have given me a better family.” Drama is perhaps another Michael Booth benchmark in more ways than one. A member of the National Youth Theatre in the 1960s – and surrounded by future stars of stage and screen – he took school productions to a new level at the Abbey, not to mention the arts generally, with presentation – visual and oral – very much in evidence. Real life drama struck when Michael was diagnosed with Acoustic Neuroma – a tumour lodged just about in the middle of his skull – in 1990. After undergoing life saving surgery and painful convalescence he was operated on for a second tumour in 1994 and a third in 1995, temporarily losing his balance and suffering hearing loss along the way. Needless to say his family get a special mention for their love and support during this period as does the late Ian Bowles who was Michael’s GP. After stepping down from his post at the Abbey in 1997 Michael spent three years training to become a Reader – a role he describes as “acting as an intermediary between the laity and the clergy.” This he does to the benefit of all of us. Nick Cottam