Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On feeling slightly spooked

To be honest with you I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

Very little rattles me. Give me a chopped off finger, some blood, some gore...creaking floorboards or a spooky ol' graveyard on All Hallows Eve and I'll laugh in the face of fear....but I'm not very happy about the big old tree that's lying up there in the orchard. The tree that toppled only yesterday.

I have my big bright torch and the ability to say boo to a goose but there are still shivers going up my spine as I walk to the field to shut hens in. An unfamiliar shape up there to my left. The big tipped-up root is horrid, the gnarled tangle of snapped branches and vastness of its dark girth is heavy and foreboding....ye gods it could rise up and roar at me. I would not be surprised if it did. I am spooked.

I'm not and never have been a 'tree-hugger' - yet have always afforded them respect none-the-less. There are vague memories of my father telling me what a bad thing it was to carve into the bark - would that be paring into the tree's very soul I wonder now? His words? 'They don't like it.' Whatever. The 5 year old me took his advice on board and have never knowingly done an unkind thing to a tree. I've come to understand the reverence that ancient man felt towards these leviathans of forest and hill - what powerful symbols of longevity and permanence they must have seemed.

The fallen tree's neighbour will be felled next week; having taken advice we believe it is too dangerous to leave standing. I also have a curious feeling that without its life's partner it will fade and die quickly anyway.  We will see this as an opportunity to replant - undoubtably for future generations.

Tomorrow I shall go up into the orchard and stroke the bark a bit. I'll say goodbye -  ask 'Please, don't frighten me in the dark anymore. It will be OK old beech tree - this is the next part of your journey. The Glam Ass will be persuaded to make something from your timber. In that you will live on. '

And there will of course be other trees.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Well that's that then. A tremendous gust of wind, a crack, a woosh and a graceful flop into the orchard and the Big Beech Tree is gone. Gone as in not standing next to its partner aka the Small Beech Tree anymore; but definitely not gone in terms of 'a lot to be cleared away'.....

I suppose I must count myself lucky that it didn't land on my head - I'd stopped before going down the garden, waiting for the gusts to pass before I went under the big sycamores which line our dingle. We've always counted ourselves lucky to have these Beeches, these mature monsters - maybe I'm not so sure now. We've been trying to estimate their age - probably well in excess of 150 years. (Wikipedia tells me they have a typical lifespan of 150 - 200 years.) I'd like to think these two were planted around the time of the enclosures which took place here in the 1840s.
About 18 months ago we noticed abundant fungal growth at their roots - and the death knell began to toll. Looking at the remains of the root which is now revealed it is a wonder that the tree has stood as long as it did.
On the plus side the tree missed the bench, fence and gas tank but unfortunately squashed some of the fruit trees in the orchard - there are plums and apples scattered everywhere. The Glam Ass points out that firewood won't be a problem for the next few years.
So, a dramatic start to the week. A bit sad really - particularly as we now think the other tree is equally vulnerable and will have to go too....

I'm off to crack on with my jam making activities; when life sends you lemons, make lemonade plum jam.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Greengage summer

As a child I could never see what my mother liked about greengages. She would sigh with delight at the prospect. In truth she sighed with delight over very little. The county of Yorkshire, white cats and poultry are the three things which come to mind after a bit of thought. That she approved of this humble little plum is quite something.

To my suspicious child's eye they looked nasty sour things. I didn't like green boiled sweets either - and still don't. Unnatural things.

Ah, but now show me a greengage and I'll jump through hoops; stretch up through a scratchy hedge to pick the very last one off the tree - all the while cursing the man who planted fruit trees amongst Hawthorn...

Perhaps not the most elegant of fruit but so, so sweet. The soft ripe flesh melts to honeyed juice.

Simply gorgeous.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Strangers in the night

Hen shutting in time. Gird the loins, wellie-boot up, grab the torch.

What's the light up there in the field? Perhaps it's the lad from next door with his dad and his torch. Nope. It's Pete and Abby (who?), lost on their circular walk from a - b.

By the light of our combined torches we find where we are on their map. Lost. That's where - 'cept I'm not. I know exactly where I am.

We discuss the options of where they want to be - most of which would be better in the clear light of day. They don't want to go by the lanes (no way!) so I point them in the direction of the gaps in hedges and the half hidden signs and wish them well as they stumble off into the darkness.

We say our goodnights- and exchange our names. Pete adds that it's great to walk like this. The night is cool and clean and quiet. Indeed it is.

I plod back to the hen pens in the field to drop the pop'oles on birds which acknowledge my passing visit with some sotto voce hen-talk. In a sort of mini experimental tribute to my just-met walking friends I switch off the torch and, giving my eyes a moment or two to adjust to the darkness, make my way tentatively back to the house through the garden.

The night is soft indeed, with not a sough of wind. Gentle, gentle. Over by the church across the field, from the hidden slopes of Trelystan Dingle I hear the muted yelp of a fox. Behind me in the dark conifers of Badnage Wood is the whispery whoot of a tawny owl. Oh, this is pretty good; the cries of the night; the scent of the garden, green, earth and sweet peas.

I know why you walk by night Pete and Abby. You have each other and the wonderfulness of the great Out There. Hope you got home safely.