I cannot stop you tearing up the land;
Turn back the clock or stay your heedless hand;
No word of mine can still your crushing wheels;
My flesh and bone no match for your cold steel.
But what I can, I’ll do. And so I lay
This charm upon you and your deeds this day.
From sullied soil, let briar and bramble spring –
Let thistle burn, thorn scratch and nettle sting;
And when the summer sun warms earth and sky,
Come, adders, sharp of fang and cold of eye.
In every vehicle that you blithely ride
Let spiders big as saucers now reside;
And in the cabin where you take your rest
Bid hordes of wicked hornets build their nest.
Then let it rain and churn the clay to mire
To grab and grip and clog each helpless tyre;
And when the cries of rook-bands fill the air
May you hear mocking laughter everywhere.
Now let this doom hang heavy round your necks;
A right reward for him who rips and wrecks
Without regard or care. My rhyme is done.
But not the charm. Its work has just begun.
To my left-brained
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.
We know what’s coming
From the pictographs and hammered posts;
Spray-painted warrants of execution;
Whole acres marked for death.
But who will tell the trees
Inform the flowers, tip off the birds and animals?
If I could, I’d pick them up
In my two hands, spirit them away
But I’m condemned to stand and watch
The steel blades bite, the heavy wheels shake the earth
See all I’ve know and come to love
Torn up, despoiled and thrown aside
Entirely unconsoled by knowing
There was nothing I could have said or done.
The gulls are everywhere
Filling the bright air
With their wheeling mystery.
Where do they go at night
Make nests, lay eggs
Rear their tea-stained young?
Does their quarrelsome clamour
Every bird for himself
Hide a fiercer loyalty?
And could an untempered appetite
Disguise a finer feeling
In matters of the heart?
I do not doubt
Some wise, observant soul
Could lay their whole life bare.
But out here, in their world
Of sand, wind and saltwater,
I am the stranger, and happy not to know.
Easier to count
The days I don’t see your lesser kin;
Familiar, worthy of a look, a nod
Like neighbours passed in the street.
But you. What wild wind
Blew you out here;
A foreign shadow falling on the field,
The crows in uproar, the air alive;
All things made smaller
By your breadth and heft;
The flash of copper on your wings
The glint of a drawn sword.
A wanderer from beyond our bounds,
Rarely seen and half forgotten.
But you are surely welcome, stranger.
The great world turns. Not all is lost.
Buzzards are common as sparrows rouhnd here these days, but their larger cousins, red kites, are still pretty rare. I saw one today, though, for the first time in ages, set against a bright spring sky. Of such true and noble things is happiness made in times like these. N.
He rides high over the wood,
A black cross carved
On a flat, cold sky:
The wind and all the world
Turn with a twist
Of his curved flight feather;
His weapons ready –
Beak, eye, wing and talon
Sharp and clean.
What I would give
For his lone completeness,
Such unweighted, spare perfection;
While I am bound and grounded
By this jealous, grasping earth
And all its superfluities.
Bare ground frowns
A warning; reproach seethes
In the grumbling river that, in its anger,
Has hurled aside cracked slabs of dirty ice
And made its sodden banks
A desecrated graveyard.
Every unburdened birch
Points accusing fingers as we pass;
Reindeer stand like cattle,
Hemmed in by fence and flood;
While the empty roads
Hiss sinister threats
In the grey spray thrown by passing trucks.
And away in the north
The long night’s slow retreat
Brings no hopeful dawn
But a new and different darkness
We may never drive away.
Just returned from our second trip to northern Norway, which has experienced its mildest winter in (depending on who you talk to) 60, 70, perhaps even 100 years. The difference in the landscape compared to this time last year was stark and startling: I have looked climate change straight in the eye, and it is real and scary. N.
I walked the woods, where Spring at last bestirred
Herself with bright abandon. All around
Bluebells and windflowers gleamed, and every bird
Rejoiced in lusty song. Then came the sound
Of angry scolding overhead: a coarse
And ragged band of brigands in full cry
As one by one, they swooped and swirled to force
The noble, broad-winged buzzard from their sky.
And thus when I, too, seek release in flight
Or silent solitude, the world’s dark woes
Rise up in loud pursuit, grant no respite
And crowd in, mobbing me like churlish crows.
How many years and miles before I find
A place to rest to my weary heart and mind?
Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary last Saturday has led to this sudden outbreak of sonnets; old and familiar ground, I know, but it’s still my favourite form to work with, and just feels right at this time of year. That said, spring is showing recidivist tendencies this week, with a bitter northerly pegging temperatures in single digits (C) and leaving the flowers wondering if they’ve accidentally skipped a few pages in their diaries. N.
They come in numbers now. Each new dawn brings
Another band of travellers. Steely cries
Slice through the breathless air; sharp sickle wings
Unceasing in their scything of the skies.
The sleepless nights and restless, unmapped days
Have brought them up from Africa, through Spain
And France, their single thought to feed, and raise
Their young. So much to lose, and all to gain.
Then, with the seasons’ shift, the bounty spent,
An urge strong as the force that drew them here
Will send them south once more. The sky we lent
Them handed back, they’ll mass and disappear.
Come one, come all, and welcome; for we know
That when the great wheel turns again, you’ll go.
A lot of talk here and across Europe at the moment about the migration crisis. Meanwhile, the swifts have arrived and are happily helping themselves to our high-altitude insects. It struck me that we actively look for and welcome migrant birds, like swifts and fieldfares, as symbols of the seasons, yet regard people arriving on our shores having fled war, poverty and persecution as a threat. It’s also telling that both swifts and people are coming here from roughly the same places, by similar routes, and for the same reasons. I guess if I had any answers to offer, I wouldn’t be sitting here now. N.
A run of bladed, jetstream-jagged days
Ends in a windless dusk. Bold blackbirds sing
Down in the wood; a pale rosewater haze
Makes paper cut-outs of the hills. Now spring
Has shown herself; a hope so long suppressed
By bitter blows and wicked weathers’ sting
Glows like the trembling sun that fires the west.
But do we dare set blossom, bud or flower
When still, at any time, the wind may turn
And rake us with its icy claws; an hour
Condemn a season’s patient growth to burn?
I’ll see the greenwood burst in leaf and then
Believe that winter will not bite again.