My affair with farm life began last year, and although I am not deep buried in it, I love to tip toe into the wonderfulness of an environment that is not only beautiful but so actively produces food and energy. From willow harvests to drying up wheat in the dusty yard, to sitting on a tractor ploughing a field with a hundred seagull groupies. I treasure the time I spend there, I soak it up, after all, I get the most lovely company and learn something new every day. I am an observer who is still wondering if I’ve got what it takes, it is romantic, but also harsh. It invites me and at the same time overwhelms me.
When I am there, I love the simple things. I love watching hares with their reddish fur playing hide seek with my dog Pirate, who also mimics and blends with the straw left on the ground after the wheat has been reaped. Being a few good miles away from York helps me notice the way the sky changes, I spend time regarding insects, picking flowers or feathers, experiencing textures, hearing the silence in the early evening broken by the hoot of the tiny owl that lives in the Dutch Barn, or watching the hyperkinetic swallows doing their last dances before flying off to Africa. Hugo, who has been at the farm on and off most of his life, says the day the swallows leave is the saddest day of the year. How lovely, I thought, even in its sorrowful tone, the marking of the change of season, from summer to autumn is not only beautiful, but the most poetic.
Yesterday we went to collect fruit so I could take some on retreat. Running parallel to the formal garden there is a Victorian Orchard with some old English varieties of apples and pears. The plum tree which is fairly young was laden with the most beautiful pinkish plums. Apart from the glorious sentiment that picking fruit provokes in me, that evocative action of gathering that connects me humbly with my humanity, the place looked like a postcard of abundance, like a sonnet, the trees were offering treasure with open arms, the sun was shining for a while, the light was musical.
Hugo and Ian brought a big ladder and we spent some time watching a spider eating a moth in one of the steps. Then, we literally went around the mulberry tree, and filled a small bag with ripe and semi-ripe mulberries. We moved to the apples, filling some old wooden vegetable boxes which I treasure and which made the fruit look even more appealing and beautiful.
Then we found some tiny pears, with very tough skin which are probably good for stewing. A variety of Insects were thriving on the fallen fruit half rotting on the ground, Spiders were making webs in the lower brunches taking advantage of the attraction, Wasps were fighting us for plums, it was all alive and pulsating, vibrant. It was also fun. I love the change of season, I love the smell of fire, making apple crumbles and chutney, fresh savoy cabbages, the produce.
When I get back from retreat the quinces will probably be ready and I will make quince cheese and maybe we will get that cider press we planned last year. Until then, I thought I’d share this beautiful poem which for me, speaks of the transition and all the beauty that is there, at this very moment, in front of our eyes, as the season changes.
To Autumn by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.