Life on the edge.
If you’re interested in nature you probably watch Countryfile or listen to Farming Today as you boil your kettle of a morning. From those I get the idea that since WWII we have seen devastating habitat loss which has massacred our wildlife. But I’m afraid that the focus on trying to show alternative ways of farming that let nature in, might not be inspiring everyone who works in agriculture, and is rather working on us – it’s the opium of the people. O Yes, we think, we’ve been sinning since the war, but we’ve turned around and are going in the right direction once again, aren’t we.
I’m sorry – we’re just not.
These photos show the green desert that results from intensive dairy farming. It’s 10 years since it last saw a cow and the earth is compacted boulder-hard by the passage of tractors. A rye-grass monoculture squeezes right up to the last inch. An old holloway was filled in and all the hedgerows grubbed up. The streams have been pushed into underground pipes and the soggy patches drained. This has all happened in the last 15 years.
I don’t think farmers watch Countryfile. I think they look at their bottom line and they are struggling to break even. Only 9p in every pound you pay for farm produce in the supermarket ends up in the farmer’s pocket.*
We humans have pushed other life to the edge.
Isn’t the edge lovely?
A neighbour has a patch of land where he runs hens and geese. Something about the way they graze must encourage the flowering plants and he’s got the best bramble patch.
Everything is growing like mad. I love to see how once unwanted and unloved corners of the garden have become places where plants are able to find their natural form. In these corners you can have a scent bath of honeysuckle and Rosa rugosa. Then, in two days, when the downpours have put paid to the floating dinnerplates of elderflowers, out will come the Queen of the meadows. Hops are growing through and up into the elder, so twiggy and useless-looking in winter, and pulling the branches, arcing, down to me.
What is that splendid foliage plant with the shimmering silver flowers flourishing under your walnut tree?
The rainy season has begun.
My chickens have been off the lay ever since a massive thunderstorm last Wednesday. Since then, we’ve been getting used to a daily build up of great, threatening cumulonimbus followed by a thorough drenching and I’ve been feeling smug because I finally managed to put up some guttering along my shed roof so I can catch and keep the rainwater. It was much easier than I had imagined it was going to be, leaving me wondering why it has taken me 3 and a half years to get round to it.
These thunderclouds are nearly 10 miles high.
I sometimes tear my hair out dealing with my kids: trying to get the family together for a day-trip, for example, feels less and less do-able as they grow into teenagers. But, of course there are bright moments when they dazzle you with their ideas. My daughter, dutifully doing a school project about space, blowing our minds at dinner telling us how smooth the earth is (“Everest is just a pimple,Mum.”), and her brother mashing this up with his favourite skyscrapers to make this infographic.
I’m going to drag them round Scotland on a boat this summer. Could be fun? It’s an incentive to finally finish the red gansey. Here it is looking a lot less metallic than it did last week when I counted a total of seven stitch holders plus circular needles in its folds.
The weather has been extraordinarily good. I have been quite diligent in the garden. Nevertheless, my little corner of paradise is not-little, and, head down, bottom up in a nettle patch under the apple trees, or fiddling with little tiny seeds in the raised beds, or lazing by the barbecue I seem to have missed something happening in between winter and summer.
I could swear that the last time I looked at that patch there was nothing there – today it’s three foot high.
Everything is in full bloom like June. Unfortunately, that includes the nettles.
Dinner yesterday evening was asparagus straight from the garden and eggs fresh from the henhouse. The above photo is by David Loftus from the book Jamie at Home published in 2007. I loved this recipe book* (I am not big on recipes and even less on books of recipes) because the styling reminded me so much of the Make a Menu book which was a feature of the kitchen when I was wee. My sister and I spent many happy hours turning its pages. It had a lovely hard cloth cover, was spiral bound, but its most attractive feature, to us, was the division of the pages into 3 – starter, main, and pudding – so that you could have it open at, say, tomato soup, lamb chops, and lemon meringue pie all at once. That book was like a toy to us. It also had lovely little lino-cut illustrations.
Illustrations by “The Plant” remind me of those Make-a-Menu days.
I rarely prepare three courses. Thank goodness there’s no pud my lot like better than a delicious orange and I can only do soup when I am in the mood. Back in the 1970’s three courses was expected every day, even from my Mum, who went out to work. And all the 3 courses of washing up had to be done by hand, too.
*actually I see it was from this book that I got two of my favourite recipes: for BBQ spare ribs (basically slathered in every spice and herb known to man and pre-cooked in the oven before going anywhere near the barbie) and slow-roasted lamb (um, get a big old bit of lamb, put it in the oven all day at 145). copyright Jamie Oliver, obviously.
These paths made by walking are never quite straight. Lines of desire. The first cut of silage reveals the grass beaten down by walkers’ feet that can’t then be shaved as close. Footsteps in frost and a low, low sun to catch the faintest shadow. Leaf litter and snow.