Sunday 8.30am, shards of sunlight break through the trees, catching the sugary frost, the wilting, silver bank of tired nasturtiums. Bouncing, too, off the apple branches, dew hanging like jewels, hard to tell at first if the pearls are ice or water droplets.
As we arrive the fat pigeons nonchalantly ignore us, others hang in the skeleton tree like vultures waiting patiently for something to die. The fox slopes off, abandoning the hole he/she has been digging and returning to for three years now. We have trenched here, turning over manure, planting seasons of potatoes and other crops, but still the fox returns, searching through the soil like a pirate seeking treasure. Undiscovered, the map is lost, the buried memories missing, elusive.
The pigeons, bloated like cardinals, shift their slow lazy legs. They are determined not to be disturbed from their breakfast unless absolutely necessary. It is a challenge of wild ownership; they know we will be gone before them and cannot much be bothered to go through the niceties of pretending they are scared. It isn’t until we set foot on the plot they lift like blimps, back into the trees to wait us out, as though almost bored by our insolence.
It is cold, maybe three degrees. Ice had formed on the comfrey tea we keep in the blue barrel still promising exotic fruits complete with its aeroplane logo. Fermenting fronds and leaves lie trapped under a gossamer skin like drowned birds. The water brackish as I break it, unleashing a feral stink of roadkill, death.
The chicories are flecked with ice, curling in on themselves like beaten soldiers returning from a front, their coats threadbare, their shoes no longer able to keep them dry. Winter creeps up from the soil, calling the stuttering life back underground. It is mid November and the plot is in retreat.
There are though if you adjust your eyes, small signs of life. The Siberian kale seedlings are regathering, a few retrenching after the assault of wet and cold, slugs and snails, rapacious birds. These we will nurture, try to ease their slow, difficult passage to growth.
While Howard adjusts the netting over the decimated Oriental seeds, I hoe the bare patch where just a few weeks ago, blue, yellow and green beans crushed the hazel poles with the weight of their crop. I lay out a mosaic of red onion, and shallot sets, to be ready in the summer, almost guiltily pushing in each bulb up to its shoulder in the icy soil, my fingers and feet succumbing to the creeping cold, as though it wants to hold on to me, too.
Howard tidies, clearing dying leaves to create life-giving air and space. The wild Tuscan calendula holds on, its buttery baby flowers more hardy somehow that its commercial cousins. Occasionally, I look up to see steam escaping through the sunlit asparagus fronds. As Howard talks his words turn to smoke and drift away.
We each gather chard and salads, small perfect bunches of japonica mustards, sorrel, rocket, herbs. Star-shared seed heads hang suspended as the autumn leaves list in the November air. I take the seed packets from the shed to sort on a wet wintry day. We pack up and leave, refreshed, calmed by our quiet communion.
11 11 2012
words – Allan Jenkins
photographs – Howard Sooley