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.

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.

Foraging

Catch their sound:
A long-drawn snarl
From beyond the woods.

I track them
Across glistening fields
Bouldered with cows;

Through a gate
Kinked by years of heavy carelessness,
Over a stile in the wayward hedge,

A hundred yards up a concrete road;
Another gate, bent like an old coat-hanger,
And over the brow.

There: the big machines
Peeling dark swaths from the shocked hillside;
Gaudy jewels on pale skin.

As another turncoat June
Hurls wind and rain like insults
The breathless work goes on:

The famished clamps gape like fledglings
And so the trailers fly
To feed them

While I stand here,
Powerless to help,
Taking a first cut of my own.

 

Silage-making is under way at last in our corner of Sussex. Better late than never. N.

The road taken

If I’d only gone straight on after Tanyard Green
I’d have made it home much sooner
But I never would have seen

That John Deere and silage trailer running flat-out on the road
To the hungry forage harvester for one more load.

If I’d turned to the left when I chose to go right
I’d have dodged that one-in-seven
But I would have missed the sight

Of a big New Holland crawling with the throttle thrown wide
As it hauled a power harrow up a steep hillside.

If I’d thought to take the shortcut, not the long way round,
I’d have saved myself some miles
But instead I caught the sound

Of three magpies’ loud alarums in an oak, while down below
The dog-fox paused, then vanished in the deep hedgerow.

Yes, it’s easy to regret the many roads I never took –
All those straighter, smoother highways –
But I must not overlook

All the unexpected magic that’s waylaid me on this track;
I’ll forsake the map and compass, ride my road – and not look back.

Robocrop

The farmer rises early (lots to do)
Eats breakfast, settles in his comfy chair,
Logs on to FarmCommand Pro (Version Two).
From deep within a datahub somewhere
Instructions are dispatched. Now on the screen
The big John Deere pops up: tasks verified,
The engine fires and, unmanned, the machine
Rolls off to work, with laser beams to guide
Its every move. The farmer nods. A wink
Of infra-red detectors in the shed
Tells him how much the calves have had to drink:
Another click, and all the beasts are fed.
New window. Scroll-down menu: highlight ‘Hive’.
Check status, scan for viruses, click ‘Run’.
A hum of minute motors and they’re live;
The day’s first wave of drone strikes has begun,
While through the whispering stems, unheard, unseen
More tiny workers fan across the land
As programmed, picking wheat and barley clean
Of pests and weeds too small for any hand.
And all the while, beyond the empty skies,
The sleepless satellites are on patrol
Like gangmasters with hard, all-seeing eyes,
Reporting ceaselessly to Ground Control
With data from each square inch of the fields.
The farmer smiles; he’s constantly on top
Of fertilisers, pests, projected yields
And profits from this season’s robocrop.
No senseless labour in the heartless sun;
No wasted effort; everything exact
And micro-managed, all resources run
For optimum production, based on fact
And real-time information – farms reduced
To mere facilities; a factory floor
Where food’s no longer grown, but just produced
According to a new, unnatural law.
So, with a robot made for every task,
Our mastery of Nature is complete.
There’s only one more question left to ask:
Is this the kind of food we want to eat?

 

On a long drive up the M40 last week, I listened to Costing the Earth on BBC Radio 4, which investigated how “satellite technology and advances in robotics are set to revolutionise the future of farming”. It was fascinating, but I have to say I also found it absolutely chilling – it seemed to be predicting the end of everything I know and love about farms, farming and the countryside. There’s a good deal wrong with current agricultural practices, of course, but if this is the answer, I’m not sure we’re asking all the right questions yet. N.

(NB There’s no such software as FarmCommand Pro Version Two. Or at least, not yet!)

A thorny issue

Image0503

 

I hear it up ahead – the age-old threat
That haunts the lanes around this time of year.
For months I’m almost able to forget
That creeping sense of doom, the lurking fear
Until I see the signs left where it passed –
The shattered stems, the blasted branches, white
As clean-picked bones. And here it is at last:
Deep diesel growls as whirling steel teeth bite
And chew the hedge to splinters. Every thorn
The beast spits out across the road a baited
Trap primed to treat tough Kevlar tyres with scorn
And leave me stranded, beaten and deflated.
So while these hungry monsters snarl and stalk
I’ll ride prepared to turn around – or walk.

 

Seems our local farmers are obsessed with trimming their hedges. All autumn they were out there with their big mechanical flails, and now they’re at it again, leaving every lane like a bed of nails, and the dreaded P*ncture Fairy rubbing her hands with glee. It’s something to occupy the winter months, and as an erstwhile agriculturalist myself, I appreciate the husbandry benefits – but as a cyclist, I wish they’d leave the poor hedges alone for a bit!

Image0506

Sonnet Cycle: The Field – Part 4

building site

 

AUTUMN

The hips and haws hang heavy on the thorn;
Dew-silvered cobwebs glitter in the grass
Along my headlands. Fox and badger pass
Like footpads, hastened by a scarlet dawn.
My fleeting furlough ends: a settled spell
Marks me for autumn sowing, and I feel
The tractor’s weight, the thrust of polished steel
From landside, tine and drill I know so well.
Then strangers come, survey with greedy eyes
My empty acres. It’s not whispering wheat
They see: a tightly-packed and tidy street
Of huge five-bedroomed houses is their prize.
They’ll break my ground their way; and in a year
There’ll be no sign that I was ever here.

Sonnet Cycle: The Field – Part 3

Image0471

 

SUMMER

No rest in these full, fiery days: the trust
Placed in me months long gone must be repaid
In fat, gold grain. The combine’s twelve-foot blade
Leaves me stark, convict-cropped. They raise my dust
With ten-tonne trailers, roll my ribs of straw
For steer and stable; when the men depart
The patient crows come gleaning – every part
Of all I’ve made picked up and set in store.
And in a monstrous sky my exhaled heat
Is gathered too. From thunderheads I’ve stacked
Ten miles high, blessed rain renews my cracked
And gasping soil. The circle is complete.
Once more I keep my promise made to Man;
Just as I have each year since time began.

Sonnet Cycle: The Field – Part 2

JD ploughing

 

SPRING

The first bite of the coulter wakens me;
Five mouldboards turn my face to greet the sun
That climbs above the wood. Work has begun.
Gulls flock my furrows; on the easterly
Crows ride like witches. Celandines appear
In my hedge-bottoms; harrow, roll and drill
Pass over me with steel and noise until
The seed lies warm and deep. Another year.
Then ancient war breaks out. In elder days
I gloried in my arsenal of flowers
And weeds: now men have new, undreamt-of powers
And subjugate me with their soundless sprays.
The urging in the warming earth grows strong;
My young shoots rise up with the skylark’s song.