For those of you unfamiliar with the blog, I currently live in a bell tent on a four and a half acre smallholding in Lincolnshire with my husband, Dan, and our extended family. We have ducks, chickens, sheep, bees, dogs, an orchard, a veg patch, a woodworking shed, and the beginnings of a forge. Oh, and we're building our own house. Life is never dull! 'Life on a Smallholding' is a new series where I document seasonal changes on the land, and my observations of the natural world. Every post is written first in my green, linen-bound notebook in a spot somewhere on the smallholding, before being typed up using the tiny bit of internet signal I can find! But enough rambling, here's the first installment...
I'm sat in the top field, trying - but failing spectacularly - to find shelter from the blasts of wind that are rushing through the air, desperate to move every bolstered branch. The hawthorn offers limited protection; instead it scratches at my skin through my jumper, clawing me as I pass. It doesn't really feel like May. While nostalgically I like to think of this as a month of warmth and revelry, this year has been a cacophony of weather, and my skin longs for the prickle of sunshine.
The magpie darts without grace or elegance into a tree next to the duck house. From a distance, its tail looks like a dark and lugubrious unopened fan, feathers clustered like folds waiting to be unfurled. I whisper under my breath the old-age lore: "one for sorrow", and make sure I follow it with, "Hello Mr Magpie - how's your wife?" to dispel the misfortune the mystical bird connotes. Magpies are such a frequent sight here, that I'm sure to see another before too long, but I can't help repeating the words each time. I feel white with innocence, and my years fall into the horizon. I quite like it.
A tiny woodlouse rushes onto the dark green of my coat that acts as a blanket and a barrier to the damp earth beneath. It scurries and stresses over which way to turn, getting lost in the folds of the fabric before I guide it to a safer spot. Unless you actually sit in the middle of nature, it's easy to ignore these mavericks of the natural underworld. We waft them away without noticing their umber hues or the speed at which their legs move.
A gust awakens me from my reverie as dried spots of leftover leaves fall on my page, and a hawthorn branch breaks free and catches my forehead: a stark reminder that this is most definitely not the height of summer. The tree to my right is just beginning to bud, and while from a distance they are merely creamy flecks, up close they resemble minute scoops of vanilla ice-cream, held by their individual green crowns. To my left, however, it's a different story. The scoops are no longer tightly packed, and have melted into blossoming petals, centred by dark raspberry stamens. Decked out in its finest, this tree is storming ahead of the rest. It's strange how micro-climates appear in this way, separated only by the rough spikes of a recently-hewn grass path, and I wonder how many exist in this four and a half acre plot.
Beyond the hawthorn on my right, the field undulates with the medieval mounds of ancient community land, and rises slowly but steadily to the mismatched hedgerow and the horizon beyond. The skyline looks like it has been compressed until only the deepest, richest grey-blue remains concentrated atop the greenery in a thin, horizontal ribbon. The clouds above, though grey and indecisive themselves, move scornfully by, liberated, though less intense and demanding of my attention. They move faster now, as the afternoon moves forward and the flux of the weather's fingertips impacts on all that it touches. There are no lingering caresses today, only brisk, hurried movements, the sort that strip dandelions of their wisps, so evocative of childhood. Just like the hawthorn, the dandelions can't make up their minds: one boldly boasts of the sunshine it manages to keep in its centre, the colour even more hopeful when juxtaposed with the sludge-green insect that slumbers on the edge of an outer petal, looking as though it will fall off at any second; the other has lost its fervour of youth, but is ethereal in its translucency, offering a wish to one who plucks its bruised stem and blows out all its delicate candles. I leave them both.
Looking up again, mere minutes since the last glimpse, and I see things have changed already, and the thin band of gloom has risen majestically like the huge sublime peaks of a mountain-range. It reminds me of Wordsworth's 'Prelude' , of the vast and monstrous landscape in Shelley's Frankenstein, and I am warmed by these associations. The Romantics knew a thing or two about the force of nature, and today really feels like a day resplendent in that power. Perhaps that's what provoked me to emerge from the familiar and pay a visit to this part of the land. The wind can be clever; she lures when the spade and gardening gloves call me to the vegetable plot. Yet I am not disheartened by her persuasion. I might even stay a little while longer.