Friday, 23 April 2010

Earth Day


Spring is a month late in Italy this year, but even later in Cumbria. The magnolias have already wilted in Tuscany, but my beautiful Magnolia Stellata has only just begun to open its star-shaped, fragrant petals. Yesterday was Earth Day and, appropriately, I spent as much time as I could in the garden which is suffering from six months of neglect and the ravages of winter. Because the river bank floods so frequently during the winter months, it isn’t possible to do anything to the garden between October and March. If the soil’s disturbed it gets washed away when the water levels rise taking plants and nutrients with it. So I’ve learned to leave the flower beds alone while they’re dormant and plant only things that are water resistant. This year it’s the garden fence that has been demolished and will have to be replaced.
The river also brings gifts - most of them unwanted; plastic bags and bottles, and a plethora of weeds. Every year there are miles and miles of ground elder roots to tease out of the ground. It’s the Genghis Khan of weeds, choking everything in its path, and immune to every attempt to exterminate this ubiquitous Green Strangler. Digging it up is the only way to get rid of it.
There’s something totally satisfying about getting your hands into soil. I feel absolutely right with my wellington boots in the mud and my fingers round the roots of a plant. It also frees my mind to think and whatever I’m working on keeps on running inside my head while I dig.
But I also wonder if this compulsion to grow and nurture things is genetic. A primal urge to connect with my ancestors.
My father’s family were the children of small farmers, horse dealers and cattle drovers, who came over from Ireland to settle in the city and try to make a better life. My grandparents were delighted when Dad won a scholarship to the grammar school (you had to pay in the nineteen thirties) and hoped that he would become a teacher or a civil servant - something respectable to eradicate every trace of the Irish Tinker.
Unfortunately Dad hated the city and was crazy about horses. He used to get up at 4am to cycle out to a farm and help the owners with their milk round before he went to school. When he was fourteen the farmer offered him a job as a hired lad but my grandparents were scandalised and refused to allow him to leave school. So, one day, he simply got up at 4am, put his belongings in a backpack and cycled out to the farm leaving a note for his parents. He used to tell people, with a laugh, that he had run away with the milk-man!
The land was in his blood, and I think it’s in mine. I loved being brought up on a farm and if I’d been a boy I suspect I would never have left. I often wonder how different my life would have been but for that accident of gender.

3 comments:

  1. A lovely post as always Kathleen.
    I suppose we have been farmers for over 10,000 years.
    Surely that is long enough to leave a mark on our souls.

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  2. Lovely blog and pictures.

    I'm so glad I too have that feeling of connection with the earth, its seasons, and all things that grow on it. I could do without the bindweed - but maybe that also has its place in the scheme of things.

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  3. Yes, I think you're right Al - it's part of our basic human nature - the need to cultivate and nurture.
    Thank you for your comments Joanne. I think if we ever lose that feeling of connection, we're in trouble as a species!

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