Note: we've had some technical difficulties so far this year, so I haven't been able to write or post as much as usual -- sorry.
No matter when it officially begins, spring really starts for us the day the sky cracks open, the ashen clouds dissipate and a warm sun – sometimes the first we’ve seen in weeks or months – warms the damp ground below. Friday we saw nothing of that day’s solar eclipse; the clouds were so thick that the sky was already dark, and we could not tell when the eclipse was passing. Today winter returned, with sleet pelting me as I rode my bicycle to the bus stop. In between, though, was the weekend, when the gray parted and spring shone through.
For us it was none too soon; we have much to do in our garden. For us the most pernicious problems are elder trees, which shoot up unnoticed until they have begun to choke out the saplings we want. Merely cutting them is not enough; they must be uprooted, and if they are disturbed they emit a foul odour. They can’t even be burned, as the smoke is said to be toxic.
Nonetheless, I have been burning all the other plants whose roots I’m excavating from the garden; long brambles with thorns thick as nails that creep in from the neighbouring fields, or ash saplings that spring up on our forest floor like bamboo. In a more natural wilderness they might fight for space and kill each other off, but I don’t have time to wait for that, and I don’t want them to choke out the shade-loving flowers at their feet.
I grow frustrated sometimes at the language of environmental activists, who treat the natural world like a fragile ornament that shatters at our touch. There are relatively untouched regions of wilderness in the world that should stay that way, of course, but the urban and suburban lands most of us see every day have been clear-cut, bulldozed, built upon and bulldozed again many times over. It would take them hundreds of years to return to an old-growth forest, if we disappeared tomorrow, and even then, invasive species and changing weather patterns would ensure that the forest that grew back would not resemble the old.
Rather than avoid nature like a contagion, we prefer to know it intimately. My daughter and I wander through our woodland together, along with the bog-lands around us, and she knows the trees by personal names – Susan, George, Olive – that she gave them long ago. She has helped me chop down the willows that border our property, and we have watched the new willow shoots emerge from the stump the next year. We have wandered through swamp-fields in our wellies (boots), searching for the fox that killed our chickens, keeping clear of cows. She knows which mushrooms to pick on our walks, and the tracks of the animals we see. And now that spring has appeared, we need to make sure our woodlands are not overrun.
We also spent the afternoon replacing boards in our garden beds; a fungus has eaten the wood and we are plugging the soil-leaks where we can. My mother-in-law does most of the work in our garden while my wife and I are working at our jobs in Dublin, and she was busy weeding while I repaired the beds. The Girl raked up the winter’s leaves and I created a leaf-mould compost bin, and then I mowed the lawn for the first time this year. I pile the clippings into the chicken run; they have been laying less lately, and I suspect they need the vitamins after the long winter.
We will be planting potatoes and chicory and uproot our berry bushes – the bushes were useless to everyone but the birds. If they had only attracted more songbirds we could have had entertainment and fertiliser, but the hedge-rows here have many blackberries already, and the birds only stay to eat our cabbages.
By the way, a big tip of the hat to Ronald Langereis, who showed me a web site to order scorzonera seeds – thank you, Ronald.
Next weekend we have trees to trim, beds to build and new crops to plant – and The Girl and I still haven’t buried our butter in the bog. For the next few weeks it will be all hands on deck, every day we have.
Photo: Our garden last summer.