Green Deserts

My Dad remembers fields
like tapestries, embroidered
with wild flowers.
He remembers golds and pinks,
purples and blues; and butterflies
and hovering bees –
the humming meadows.

Here, there are green deserts –
cut and sprayed and ploughed
and planted every year –
rye grass, bright green and lush
and dead. Wild flowers banished
to the hedgerows – bees following
the paths we follow, skirting the fields.

My Dad remembers cuckoos,
corn buntings, tree sparrows,
turtle doves. These green deserts
are almost silent. Only the rooks,
patrolling, and the winter fieldfare.

My Dad remembers hares hiding
in the long grass of the meadows;
deer stepping dainty in the twilight,
a kestrel quartering the field.
These green deserts are still,
only the wind blowing through
the lifeless grass, and the rain falling.

I’m lucky to live in a rural area where we have lush hedgerows and neglected patches of woodland. However, even here farming practices are not ideal for the environment. We visited a local garden today where they have re-created wildflower meadows. Last time I visited with my Dad he told me that was how fields were when he was young – I hadn’t realised it was so recently that we lost our traditional meadows. This is for earthweal, where we’re thinking about extremes. The uniform green fields around here ARE extreme – a massive change within living memory.

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.