Category Archives: ecology

The Scale of Change

On Saturday I visited Transition Tynedale’s Community Garden (in the grounds of Hexham Middle School) for the first time.  Despite the freezing temperatures and snow on the hills, a few sturdy souls had turned out for their regular twice-monthly garden session.

Garlic and onions were planted, fruit bushes pruned and leaves cleared.  Matty was even able to take her supper home with her.

My contribution was mostly admiration.  I particularly appreciated the ancient cherry tree and the grass sofas and willow den.  And the super-organised shed…

Really it’s the ‘wrong’ time of year to be immersed in a poetry project all about growing food.  In our workshop sessions in the Library on Monday tea-times we’ve tended to concentrate on the eating side of things.  which, along with reading gardening books, is what’s meant to happen in winter surely?

But, fair weather gardener that I am, after Saturday, I was shamed into doing a bit of tidying of my own patch – currently an uneasy limbo of snow and geraniums.  In the Community Garden too there were a few spots of colour and I found myself drawn to them like a starving bee.

Professor Stephen Blackmore (the Queen’s Botanist in Scotland) says that gardening can save the planet.  If everyone looks after their own bit of green, be it a garden or a hanging basket, the cumulative effect will make a difference.

‘…so much of the state of our planet hinges on the state of our plants and vegetation.  Often we are overwhelmed by the scale of change to the planet, and we think ‘What can we do to change anything?’, but your little patch of garden is part of the processes of nature, supporting wildlife and replenishing the atmosphere.’

 

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The Unexpected Orchard

Friday was a beautiful day and I tagged along with a couple of Transition Tynedalers to pick some apples at Jim’s orchard – an unlikely spot squeezed between the River Tyne and the A69 on the edge of Hexham.

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It was the start of a conversation I’ll be having with Transition Tynedale (and Edible Hexham) considering the poetry of food, gardening and ecology. Part of a new Northern Poetry Library Project, which is placing six poets in residence in libraries across the county. I’ll be based close to home in Hexham. There’s a launch reading at the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth on National Poetry Day, Thursday 8th October at 7pm. Do come along if you’d like to find out more and meet the poets.

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Transition Tynedale will be pressing some of Jim’s apples (and others) at Hexham Farmers’ Market on Saturday 10th October 10 – 1. If you’re passing, come and say hello and have a taste of juice. I will also be pressing poems out of people!

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At 96, Jim has trouble keeping on top of this wonderful orchard he planted himself. Figs, peaches, medlars and soft fruit as well as apples. Talking to him put me in mind of Robert Frost’s poem After Apple Picking.

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After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still,

And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill

Beside it, and there may be two or three

Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight

I got from looking through a pane of glass

I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough

And held against the world of hoary grass.

It melted, and I let it fall and break.

But I was well

Upon my way to sleep before it fell,

And I could tell

What form my dreaming was about to take.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

Stem end and blossom end,

And every fleck of russet showing clear.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,

It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

The rumbling sound

Of load on load of apples coming in.

For I have had too much

Of apple-picking: I am overtired

Of the great harvest I myself desired.

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

For all

That struck the earth,

No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,

Went surely to the cider-apple heap

As of no worth.

One can see what will trouble

This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.

Were he not gone,

The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his

Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,

Or just some human sleep.

Robert Frost

 

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Sea Sandwort and Other Stories

photoThose who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

Rachel Carson

It’s always wonderful to spend some time on the coast of Northumberland. I’m just home from a few days in Beadnell visiting Lisa Matthews and Melanie Ashby, immersed in their exciting A Year in Beadnell collaboration. Yesterday we went out for a walk and they showed me their chosen patch while I kept a weather eye out for the plant life. There was a surprising amount still in flower and several varieties that were new to me, which is always exciting. You can read a brief account of it and where it took me here. Later in the year, I’ll be writing something for the journal documenting the highlights of their year.

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As well as the beauty of the Northumbrian coastline, the project takes its inspiration from the environmental writing and research of Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964), most well-known for her book Silent Spring (1962), which drew attention to the dangers of introducing pesticides into the ecosystem. Before that ground-breaking work, she also wrote a trilogy focused on the sea, based on her explorations as a marine biologist along the New England coast. In Margaret Atwood’s 2009 novel The Year of the Flood, she is Saint Rachel of All Birds.

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Lisa and Mel will be reporting on their progress at this year’s Durham Book Festival on Sunday 11th October.  See you there!

In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.

Rachel Carson

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