One of the walks which draws me each morning and evening at this time of year is the serpentine path which meanders through the wild flower meadow. It is the sheer abundance of plants, the constant motion of the bees and the butterflies, the scent of summer, the rattle of the beetles and crickets and the buzz of a myriad of tiny busy wings.
It changes every week, indeed almost every day. Yellow rattle is entirely overtaken by wild thyme and blue scabious, wild geranium and lady’s bedstraw. The whole extraordinary mosaic is brought together by thousands of small wildflowers and wild grasses, offering sources of food along with sanctuary and havens for those with whom we share our world.
This area was not always like this. Geordie and I first harrowed the turf and began to make the wild flower meadow about 14 years ago. By taking out the grass and stripping the land of its fertility, the whole area has become the more stimulating for it. A few centuries ago, pastures probably looked a lot more like this rather than just the plain expanses of grass we see today so it is not a new idea but we are the richer for it.
Over the last 18 months there has been a resurgence in our awareness of the appeal of the pastoral scene. These days many of us are almost totally removed from association with the land and have forgotten its importance: that it is not ours to pillage but in fact offers us life.
None of this is new although the scale is probably different these days compared to the concerns of those in the past. Two hundred years ago, a Northamptonshire poet called John Clare wrote about the world he loved being destroyed and trampled by the galloping tide of industrialisation. Born a poor farm labourer, he was more realistic about the poverty of the countryside rather than in love with an idealised arcadia as were many of his contemporaries and, also unlike them, was aware of the environmental challenges. He knew that the countryside was an escape from urban gridlock and had an idiosyncratic style, looking in places where others didn’t with a wonderful eye for detail, seeing beauty in the smallest things.
“I love to see the summer beaming forth
And white wool sack clouds sailing to the north
I love to see the wild flowers come again”
He also listened and, in an effort to describe what he heard, he often used words from local dialects, for example “gulsh” meaning to fall or splash heavily, “clock-o’-clay” for ladybird and “crumping” for the sound of a boot stepping onto fresh snow.
His poetry is about place: about the weather, seasons, and the proximity of a bird or animal. Much of this is conveyed by his descriptions of their noises and sounds, particularly in reference to birds:
“Up this green woodland drive lets softly rove
& list the nightingale – she dwelleth here –
Hush let the wood gate softly clap – for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love”
Sounds, however, also define the time of day and week – “Sabbath Bells” and offer lessons and healing: “song of Birds …restores/ The soul to harmony”.
His verses take us back to a time when poetry was read out loud and comprehended as much by the ear as it was by the mind. He uses sound to immerse us in the countryside, to ask for our sympathy for nature and to remind us that we neither possess it nor control it, even to the point of being mildly unsettling. To remind us that small things have their own power.
“The older I get, the more I’m conscious of ways very small things can make a change in the world. Tiny little things, but the world is made up of tiny matters, isn’t it?” Vincent van Gogh