Spirit

“There’s red deer up on Thornhill Head” he says.
“They’ll take a crop, a group like that. But beautiful”.
He offers cider with a mole-spread hand.
“I’ve seen more hares the last two years. And hedgehogs.
Things are coming back. Red deer on Thornhill Head”.
His eyes are very blue. He shakes his head.
“Now, starlings. They’re a bugger. What a mess.
What can you do?”. He leaves wide edges
on his fields, cuts hedges later than his father did.
He put up boxes for the swifts. He smiles,
straddling the wild and the farmed, holding
it all in balance, in these soil-stained hands.
Owned by the land, the ripe curves of it,
the steep-sided valleys, where the woods
shelter wild daffodils and bluebells,
and the gentler slopes for cattle and for maize.
You have to make a living. Then again,
you have to love this place. He smiles again.
“Red deer on Thornhill Head. That’s wonderful”.

This is for Brendan at earthweal. He asks us to think about the spirit of the place we live in.

This weekend we went on our village Scrumpy Stroll. It’s an annual event, though we haven’t held it since before covid (BC?). It’s a 4 mile walk, with several stops on the way to drink cider delivered by a 4-wheel drive. The local farmers organise it, and it’s a chance to see bits of land you wouldn’t normally access. I got talking to one of the local farmers, Steve, and when this challenge came up, I immediately thought of him. His family have farmed locally for many many years – like all our local farmers. He knows this land. He tries to find a balance between his needs as a farmer, and the land’s needs. He doesn’t always get it right. And he’s right about the starlings – they gather round his barns in the hundreds for weeks on end. Quite a sight from a distance, not so much fun for his wife putting out the washing.

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17 thoughts on “Spirit

  1. This has a beautiful roll and flow to it. I think those who work with the land and truly feel its presence(which is not enough of us) always appreciate the great arc of life which they work within and alongside. You bring both place and its inhabitants to life here. Just lovely.

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  2. I love this poem so much! And I love Steve, who loves and knows the land so well. This poem, and his Knowing, make me happy.

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  3. Wendell Berry is a US farmer/poet, and I hear him echo in your local farmer’s words, working what is a precarious but abiding balance of nature and cultivation. So much to learn from that in the making of poems. And what a lovely, lively tradition, your Scrumpy Stroll. An invitation to the suburban to delve out into the sustained.

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