Wise words

All voices mute. All books closed.
And so I took myself into the hills
Wandered among the woods and fields
To tap the wisdom of the world.

Seek my silence, said the land. Breathe my air.
Watch the shadows cross my face, the trees bend with the wind.
Understand my deeper workings
But never let your knowledge close the door on wonder.

Follow the roll of stars and seasons,
The great wheel turning in the earth.
Plough, sow and harvest; but guard the goodness in you.
The sin is not in lying fallow, but working gifted ground to dust.

Feel my bones beneath your feet. Be that bulwark for those you love.
And as time and fortune wear and shape you
Be shot through with truths as hard as flints
That strike sparks, blunt blades, outlast events and weather.

Cold sweat

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The fear follows me
Everywhere:

Even out here
To the edge of the stubble

Where bales are scattered like erratic boulders
Left behind by a vanished ice-sheet.

It wraps itself around me
Like a dark, heavy cloak

And even in this hot July
It chills me to the heart.

 

Plein air, near Ripe, East Sussex

Rewilding

To my left-brained
Scientifically-inclined
Critically-trained
Eye and mind

These fields should now
Be an abomination;
No discipline by plough
Or corrective cultivation.

A shameful parade
Of gleeful weeds appears;
Led by a brigade
Of over-eager volunteers.

But as I look around
All that I can see
Is my native ground
As it’s meant to be.

 

The fields close to our home have been left uncultivated this year and the weeds – and we – are making the most of it. As well as wheat plants seeded from the previous crop (known as volunteers) there’s an amazing profusion and diversity of wild plants that would normally be sprayed out of existence. We’ve followed the rewilding process right through the lockdown period (we’ve been allowed to go out for exercise) and it’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch. Sadly, all the plants, and their attendant birds and insects, are doomed, but not for reasons of husbandry: the entire farm is a development site and is slowly disappearing under what will eventually be 1,000 new houses. I studied agriculture at university years ago, and I still like to follow the rhythms and workings of the farming calendar. But this spring, I’ve learned I’m even happier seeing what Nature can do when left to her own devices. N.

Something in the air

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Now the breeze brushes the barley
Sweeping through the crop like a cavalry charge;
Darkening the bright awns
Like velvet rubbed against the nap;

Then switches, swings, retreats in waves of pale gold;
All the field in motion, shaken by a hidden hand.
A power – all-present, fierce, unseen –
Swirling, sleepless, through the land.

Taken I

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A faint breeze wafts the feathery tops
Of the grasses in the hayfield;
Soft, tawny with sun, downy with pollen.
Shut up safe all spring,
No hungry mouths to tear and chew,
No hard hooves to spoil and trample.
But soon the end will come
In the whine and slash of spinning steel
And thus laid low, all will be withered, gathered up,
Neatly compressed, and then consumed.

Taken II

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The sward close-cropped, shocked
Pale and scarred as a convict’s scalp.
The careful husbanding of months
Undone; stripped and carted, buried deep
Beneath black plastic. Overhead
The buzzard circles, patient, watchful.
While in the shattered stems
The urge to grow anew gains strength
And, irresistible, prepares a second crop
To be cut down in its time.

Harvest

From the hot road
I watched combines make wide-wale corduroy
Of gasping fields cast in bronze and gold;
Racing balers trailing fine brown dust
Build their fleeting henges and tight-rolled scrolls of straw;
Felt the fat, satisfied summer –
The goodness and greenness of the place –
Wrap itself around me.

I come from here. That can never change.
Its deep rhythms are my heartbeat;
By its moods and seasons, I measure out my own small days.

In these dark times I cannot look upon it as I did:
Forces far beyond these gentle hills conflate
A love of one place with a hatred of The Other.

But this country is deep-grained in my hands, clings fast to my boots:
I am bound to it, and it to me
Until I too am gathered in, and finally ploughed under.

 
 

Events of the last three years have changed the way I look at the UK. But on a long, hot ride yesterday, I came to realise that it’s not my local tract of countryside that’s changed: it remains as lovely as it ever was, and I still feel very deeply about it. That, I guess, is one of the worst aspects of what our politicians are doing: their nationalism taints any innocent expression of love for the place one lives in. Just one more item on the lengthening list of things I’m not sure how we fix, or forgive. N.

Northbound train

A long, slow groundswell
Torn, cut, worked over
And the steel road slicing through.

Raisin rooks
Cookie-dough cows
Low sheds full of secrets
Silos packed with wealth and mystery.

Flat as a skillet.
Only the trees
Muscular pylons shouldering powerlines
And the racing streak of the train
Break the line.

A sudden tunnel
Through a surprise hill
Coming out of nowhere.
The odd comedy of a deadpan country
And a suggestion of what’s ahead.

Farmyard junk, mouldering straw
The carcases of nameless machines;
The tell-tale symmetry of old spoil heaps
Now grassed over; the burial mounds of industries long dead
But still remembered
And never far below the surface.

Turbines and church spires
Jostle for airspace
Each tapping into and transmitting
Their own unseen sources of power.
In this unpeopled place.

The empty heart of England.

 

Random thoughts from the East Coast Main Line, somewhere between King’s Cross and Peterborough, earlier this week. N.

Shadorma: A wet Monday

Rain returns
Drowning a week’s dust.
The woods weep
Roads glisten
The down-pipes chuckle, pleased to
Be busy again.

Sit and gaze,
Glad I’m not going
Hauling hay
To dumb sheep
Fixing fence, chasing loose cows,
Forking steaming muck,

Or dragging
Some reluctant nag
From a warm
Dry stable
To plod fetlock-deep, and return
Stiff with mud and cold.

Done all that:
In no real hurry
To go back.
But a bit
Of me still thinks of it as
Real work. Not like this:

Stuck inside
In front of a screen,
Making words
Stand in line,
And only sweating when the
Internet goes down.

Just as well
I have a dog here
Looking up
Eagerly.
Grab coat, hat and boots, head out
To find my old self.

Droighneach II: Harvest

High summer heat. Out here, the pressure’s palpable.
Sun-shimmer on the wheat, and yet we’re worrying
About the weather, praying it’s possible,
To keep running hell-for-leather with harvesting.

The tractors creep beside combines crawling ceaselessly.
Night brings no sleep for now; we’re hauling heavyweight
Trailers gorged with golden grain, and checking constantly
For news of rain; the threat we don’t care to contemplate.

Days drag, dredged in dust and diesel fumes. We’re wondering
If we’ve edged ahead. The work consumes us utterly.
From dawn to dew the big rigs roll through, thundering
Scorn at forecasts and fatigue. The heat builds brutally.

One last load. Black battlements brood high overhead.
On the road, racing back beneath a sky suspended
Like an executioner’s axe; throbbing thunderheads
Prepare to strike. The first cracks come. Dark, distended

Clouds tear open; an electric ecstasy
Ignites the bristling air too late: the storm’s defeated –
The fields stand silent; tyre-tracks the only legacy
We’ve left. The land exhales. Another crop completed.

 
 

I’m not going to let the droighneach beat me. Still tricky as all hell, but at least I managed five stanzas this time! My admiration for Tom and Ina, who’ve got this thing well and truly nailed, knows no bounds. Wishing you all a splendid weekend. N.