Archive for October, 2013

Robert Frost: Nothing

Not sure what else I can add.

Robert Frost, to me was always able to catch moments and change in spectacular fashion and there are times when his work is so current and leaps across the space between then and now, where he was and I am.


Here, then is his piece:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf‘s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf,

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day

Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

Hallowe’en: Kind of …

In a blog that purports to be allotment based, around Hallowe’en time there has to be somethin’ about pumpkins right?
Well, near enough I am hoping.
When I was a child, we always had jack lanterns. My grandfather brought home some swedes from the farm fields and we hollowed them out; eating the flesh, either raw (my favourite) or cooked. Ironically the sharp taste of swede is one of my sweet and abiding memories associated with Hallowe’en. At that time pumpkins were “heard about, but seldom seen” (one of my grandfather’s regular sayings that one) so most Jack lanterns were swedes.
We’d carve a simple face, put a candle inside and put it in the hedgerow at night. We lived out in the country so hardly anyone would have seen it, but it was fun. We always did another one for bonfire night. More people would see this one as our bonfires were very real, if unofficial community events where family and friends got together.

These, incidentally are at least family traditions that I have tried to pass on; we have, however moved on to pumpkins, which we grow in raised beds at the allotment. Not the monster, show-table, record-breaking “bosters”, just reliable-and-interesting pumpkins. Of which we use a couple for carving, using the flesh for eating: soups, scones, pies and roasted chunks: all delicious!

But there was no trick or treating. None of the whole long-term party-over-a-month-or-so American invasion was somewhere in the future.
In New England (on a recent, enjoyable recent “leaf peeper” tour that had so many memorable) we experienced the whole shebang shootin’ match first hand … and began to put into context some of the film and American Halloween references that have surrounded us.


Arriving on the last day of September we saw every house, café, bus station, hotel lobby, business premises decorated with wreaths, carved and un-carved pumpkins, mannequins, scary tableaux and all extravagantly done. (I was inclined to type “done to Death” but not sure it would have worked.)
To my middle of England sensibilities the celebration has just extended, extended and gone on extending. There is almost nothing European about the U.S. celebrations. Now that’s not meant to be critical, but Hallowe’en started as some kind of religious festival – and over there, bears no relation to what I had understood it to be – originally.
 On the advice of a member of staff at a hotel we hiked up a seriously steep path which switch backed between gathering rainclouds that kept wiser walkers indoors. When we reached the top (ski-lift station) we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by the paraphernalia of a night-time Zombie tour. Life sized skeletons in iron cages strapped to trees, a guillotine, a shed with severed heads hanging from the rafters, a gibbet with corpse dangling from it …
With the clouds rifting in, that peculiar silence that you get on mountains when conditions are like this it was eerie.
But, while this was spook and the hotel knew all about it, saving me the job of reporting a serial killer to the police, somewhat stranger was the churchyard in Chatham, Cape Cod.
Now, they grow a lot of pumpkins in New England. Informed by our (Irish) tour guide that over 90% of the pumpkins sold in the U.S. are used for decoration only, we were so very surprised when the pastor of the church (First Episcopalian I think, but don’t quote me) told us most of these pumpkins had been bought from New Mexico. I was thinking they had been donated by local people, perhaps farmers whose cleared squash fields we had passed on the coach (and continued to pass for the rest of the tour).

Only One Way to Spell Recovery ?

I’m in the back garden today, shuffling about in what, I sincerely hope, is the aftermath of the cold/stroke ‘flu I’ve been fighting weakly against for more than six days. Eventually, as if not wanting to acknowledge a marvellous holiday is over I’ve managed to put a suitcase back into the roof: one of the two we took on our “leaf peeper” tour of New England.
While un-packing and drooling over the leaflets, maps and odds and sods I invariably collect (like some kind of demented magpie) , I came across the fridge magnet/emergency notice I was fascinated by in Vermont. They were “please take one” reminders in a tourist information office (but please do not ask which one … OK?). I made, at the time, no connection between the “unusual token/souvenir”, the weather in the North-Eastern states of the good ol’ U.S. of A. and what just happened here: the storm we have, apparently named St Jude.
On the tour bus we were regaled with stories of how the roads we were now gaily zooming along had been ripped up by floodwaters following a tornado surge and violent heavy rains some years ago. I was trying to imagine my own reaction if I had been on a coach that could, simply not get, to where the itinerary had said it would go. Contractors were still repairing roads and bridges. A large number of the “covered bridges” that this part of the world is famous for were washed away,; along, of course with entire towns, and lives. Again we passed these “ghost towns” on the sides of roads.
A couple of days ago we had national weather forecasts announcing that a heavy storm would be hitting the south west of great Britain on Sunday night/Monday morning. It was going to pass through – winds of up to 90 miles per hour – and into the North Sea, via all points in between, including the Midlands. With some trepidation (greenhouses, trees and roof tiles) we awaited the drama that would keep us awake. In fact in this part of the world there was very little. Strong winds stirred the trees, the Lombardy poplars at the edge of the field bent about a bit. Meanwhile, in the south, trees were, predictably up-rooted, traffic seriously disrupted … and, at the last count four people last their lives.
Not anywhere near as whole sale as weather storms can be “across the pond”, but certainly worthy of note and families are affected by single deaths, not mass counts. My heart is with those who have lost someone in this storm – of course.
DSC01922But this morning. I am recovering. The country is recovering. There is the snarl and whine of a chainsaw somewhere in the distance and closer at hand a bumble bee is pushing hard into the core of a nasturtium seeking sustenance; and I am doing something I always regarded as totally twee and, frankly un-necessary; Raking the leaves from the lawn. The lawn needs mowing. The compost heap up at the plot will benefit from the cuttings – and the leaf pile will be added to; eventually becoming useful soil conditioner.
DSC01925Rowan berries are spread across the green blanket of the lawn, the paths, the still-outside garden furniture. Whether the berries have been blown down or fell as a result of blackbird and song thrush activity is a different question. A few windfall Conference pears and the last of the apples are strewn about. But there always seem to be a few more apples: how does that work?
Closer to the house sparrows are the beneficiaries of the storm. They leap and squabble over scraps of dust and moss on the patio, characteristically ebullient.
The sun is low in the sky, its light is welcome but weak … and maybe just a little guilty.

The Wasps and The Ivy

Struggling a little with sore throat that might well become a raging ‘flu.
Struggling too with paperwork generated by recent allotment committee meetings.
It’s becoming a fine sun-warmed day outside. I long to be on the plot: autumn digging calls, but duty and the need to pamper my aching body (all sympathy genuinely received folks) is the better part of valour – well, so far at least.
But outside the double-glazed patio doors the ivy-in-need-of-trimming that sprawls luxuriously over the six foot high timber fence is brimming with slick, glossy dark leaves and discreet flowers. And overwhelmed by insects.
A season battered comma butterfly clinging on to the bloom. Another day of life really does depend on it for this banner winged stalwart. A great year for butterflies and moths – eventually, and I have been pleased to see so many more commas here this year than for a long, long time.
But there is a large number of wasps, displaying their mastery of flight in the fitful autumn breath breezes that rag-tag wrestle across the ready-for-a-final-cut – I sincerely hope –lawn. Two of the wasps are vivid and large. My guess is that they are queens and will soon be looking for a hibernation niche somewhere. Often they over-winter in our shed, but once or twice in the back bedroom in the curtains.
There was the angry sound and fury of a police helicopter over the fields earlier. I have always been astounded by the manoeuvrability of helicopters; this one was going through the range and the wind that seeks to confound the wasps bought used snatches of air-show volume sound as the machine went through the whole range, including flying backwards while tipped nose down forward.
But these min-replicas are in a class of their own. There is no aggression. They circle, bob and land. As if playing some game of tag that I don’t have the rules for.
But in the full-glare warmth of the sun there are hosts of what I have always thought of as house flies: blue and green bottles, flashing their jewelled abdomens in the outside world, lumbering amongst the mass of small midges that are resident.
There are gales forecast.
I have onions to string, there will be windfalls to collect and paperwork to complete, but the few moments lively distraction has been good for my soul.
Back to the grind, glad not to be a wasp with the winds and cold coming.

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