Random words and pictures from our apple orchard in Kent, UK
The ferns are the first to go, followed by a single Golden Delicious tree, autumn's first hostage in a row of Cox's Orange Pippins. Two wood-pigeons lift their barrelled-bodies into the air, such effort in the whir of their wings, as if the weight of summer is still with them. And it is, in the long grass, the scatter of daisies, the oak trees, the sun-busting blue sky, these stray apples I gather, missed by the pickers almost two months ago.
Indian summer - the impatient rustle of something in the woods.
One tree without a single fruit is cloaked in hops, the sticky bines tangled around each branch, a tumble of flowers tinged with pink, a crop from 50 years ago pushing through the soil to reclaim its place.
windfall fruit the past is always with us
Indisputably the Sun's Day here in Kent today and clouds know better than to crash the party, politely nudge each other along the horizon or snicker and fidget stage right. Dydd Sul, we say in Welsh too: the sun the lord of the sky. A good day for August to take a bow, sweep its hat across the bright grass while all the sun songs I know stack one upon each other - Here Comes the Sun, I'll Follow the Sun, Seasons in the Sun, Sunshine On My Shoulders, Sunny Afternoon, You Are the Sunshine of My Life - for the month's finale. Then, sunset, sundown. The sky full of whispers.
is a collection of writings from 30 consecutive days of walking through the orchard in March and April
This evening a fox at the far end of a row near the railway line, a smudge of russet against the grass before he trots away, his tail like an arrow. Clouds have threatened rain all day but patches of blue persist.
The pruner is 20 rows away from the house. The grass beside the last six he's done still littered with branches, wilting leaf, some blossom, waiting to be pulverised when the tractor passes next week. It feels wrong to cut the blossom from a tree and let it die but you can prune safely up until May, he assures me.
Back at home, Tony has finished the retaining wall. It curves like a bow, all sharp edges lost in the slowly made sweep of brick and pug. We have to notice the beautiful things in this world and try and make other things so.
I'm going to check the new trees, you say through the door of the conservatory, and I say, Wait for me, because we haven't walked through the orchard together for an age. Last month you planted over 30 of them in the spaces where older trees had died and been taken out over the years and not replaced by the farmer who used to rent the land. And the trees are all fine, some in leaf, some with the tiniest of deep pink blossom, and I imagine their fine roots pushing through the earth, this new variety of Cheerful Gold that is hardier and sweeter and claiming a space in an orchard of trees that are older by 40 years.
we talk about the people
who have disappointed us
While I am closing the farm gates, while I glance over my shoulder to the sound of the tractor growling along another row of apple trees, the feed spray like a cloud around the driver's cab, steel is crumpling on the motorway a mile away. Two cars, two lorries, a van, the lives of two people snatched from this unassuming Wednesday morning, the lives of seven others that will shake for days like a loose rope over a precipice. On the news I watch the aerial footage, miles of traffic locked in both directions, the tiny drivers and passengers clustering on hard shoulders, leaning against central reservations, their hands grasping phones, or raised to their foreheads, sheltering their eyes from the sun, as if they might understand what happened if they continue to stare into the gridlocked distance. A second, perhaps less, divides us from our future: I step away from the gates' shade and into the sun.
I am tying bags of foil wrapped chocolate eggs to branches: in The Land of the Trees, the clue begins, if you stay on the Wide Path the Eggs will be Rightly Revealed. I have tried to imagine the mind of a ten year old but the mind of a girl, I think, perhaps the only mind I can imagine, a mind that will read a clue and read the landscape, not a mind that wants to be timed on his bike, hurtle along on the running machine at 10k an hour. I have imagined thoughtfulness and investigation not a hurly burly race to the end. I understand them, boys, but I do not know them the way I know girls. How they want to race and run and fight and win so much. But the clues unravel themselves all the same. The eggs are found, eventually. And eaten. The same result. A different journey.
waiting for a cloud to unmask the sun
the scent of fresh mown grass
For Aunty Marie (1930 - 2014)
How big the world seems at times, the way the trees stretch all the way to the horizon, and others how small, the space between the rows shrinking with the spring growth, first leaf and early blossom. The sky, an infinite canopy of blue, the grass a microscopic world of movement. The whole whistling rumble of the train and the small child with her hand pressed against the glass. My dreams that invent scenes beyond the capability of my waking mind, and this small cup of coffee you have made me this morning, white porcelain, a cloud of fine foam. The balance between the two sometimes impossible, sometimes perfected.
22 and 23
The daisies have shrunk back for the night, petals closed around their yellow eyes. A tennis ball in the middle of a row, thrown up by the tractor's pass, its yellow skin worn away by its hibernation in the undergrowth replaced by moss. It's all apples here now, the 1970's Golden Delicious mostly replaced by Cox, Greensleeves and Ida Red, but before that the acres were planted with hops that still grow wild in the hedges, the leafy blossom in the autumn scented like a blend of tobacco and rubber. The converted oast houses hang on to the past, white cowls still twisting in the wind: no smoke escapes any more but the sulphur released through all those years of drying hops preserved their timber frames and rafters. The London train rushes by: so many stories when I stop to look.
hill in sunlight
the road home
the journey inwards: bark, phloem, cambium, sapwood and heartwood,
the strongest part of the tree, the lifeless core
and now the journey out: amber beads of sap that glue themselves
into the grain of your skin
all day rain, you do not walk further than from the front door of the house to the back door of the greenhouse, twice
through the window you are sure you can see the leaf and blossom growing without the need for a time-lapse camera, rain
feeding each vein, uncurling another leaf, pushing out another white petal, this is all it takes - water, warmth, time, and you,
you like to think, a witness to the beauty, this gradual explosion of fresh, but take yourself out of the equation and nothing
will change: rain falls, trees grow, you are the uninvited audience. Be grateful.
Rain is falling. A big black crow walks among the young apple trees. Smoke rises from the chimney. Inside the house a table laid with bread and cheese. Two people sit opposite each other. The light from the fire glows in the bowls of their wine glasses. They hear the crow screech as it lifts but do not see the ragged cloak of its wings rise and circle once above them.
Once upon a time no one lived happily ever after.
something that can't be contained
bark or skin
the wall of your mind
you welcome it in
All the time we are viewing his house he talks about cars, the dealership he used to have in Tunbridge Wells, model numbers and horsepower, the classic Merc parked up outside, five others awaiting restoration behind a crooked wooden gate. And then about his ex-wife, his sons, the farmhouse where he used to live. The land she still owns. He points out a wall that could come down, the plot of land beyond the hedge the neighbours might sell. He's had his life on hold for four years, he says.
time to move on
the car's tyres half hidden
in the long grass
Today is the loading and unloading of bricks, the barrowing from one place to another, the stacking of bricks into alternate piles of red and black, bricks that are not really bricks but concrete made to look like bricks, block pavers dug up when we relaid the terrace around the house with Indian fossil sandstone and stacked behind the Applebox, sure that we'd find a use for them. I brush off sand, moss, slugs, snails, black beetles, spiders, woodlice, an amber centipede, 14 blocks to a barrowload, breathe out when I lift the weight, 14 per column set along the footings for a small retaining wall to curve around the edge of the new orchard. I never imagined this in my life. But maybe none of us imagine what really ends up happening. And if we did, would we change it? Tomorrow will be the loading and unloading of bricks. And I would not change a thing.
we name the things we love
but only love remains.
You bend the branch forward as you cut, the pruner says, though he does it so quickly it's hard to see any flex in the new wood that's suddenly in his hand then tossed between the rows before he moves onto the next. You have to get back to the shape of the tree, he says, speaking in a language I do not understand, watching him as the saw slices again and again, the clutch of trimmings growing in his fist, the tree emerging from a thicket of growth. One man, thousands of trees. How, after 7 weeks of this already, doesn't he drop to his knees, hold his head in his hands and weep at the thought of the thousands that remain? But I am thinking of me wrapped in confusion when the tree specialist left after a morning of showing me how to create light in an old tree, how I stood there with a small saw, some secateurs, a reversed cliche stock still in the long grass, unable to see the tree for the wood.
11 and 12
in the camera's flash
cherry leaf and blossom
yet to be unpacked
Nearer the house the older trees wait for the saw: they make me think of widows, the spindly new growth smothering them, like grief, sharp and angry. But how can I know what another woman feels when that loss arrives like the crashing bank of a river in flood, or a tree torn from the ground, its roots parched? The pruner moves through the orchard slowly, two or three long rows a day, each cut of his handsaw creating light and space. There's a dancer hidden in the old trees too.
On peeling a clementine in the fog at dusk in the company of a black cat
A last minute thing, this, snatching it from the wooden bowl on the kitchen bar and pocketing it until I reach the corner of the packing shed where the cat squeals at me and winds herself around my legs and the moment I dig my fingernail into its dimpled peel becomes the moment a train rolls past the edge of the orchard its carriages splashed with light and suddenly this fruit in the misty gloom pulls from me the words for every shade of orange I have ever known - peach, apricot, carrot, pumpkin, salmon, coral, tangerine - as if the conjuring of its names might repel the dark.
6 and 7
the sound of rain on grass is different to the sound of rain on my hood and the sound of rain falling on the branches of apple trees where some of them remain for as long as they can swelling like moons
today I listened to a woman say her son died in an earthquake four years ago and I imagine how she shaped the words in her head felt them form in her throat and curl around her tongue to deliver them into the world as a witness to his life
voices of birds I cannot name the sound of rain
For Nigel (1949 - 2014)
tractor ruts in the wet earth
some days I can't believe
there was so much
more laughing left to do
the scent of cut grass
And this is my church, this trench dug at the side of the greenhouse that I fill with hardcore - broken bricks, clumps of concrete, shattered tiles - wheeling the barrow back across the mud for another load, careful of the cut edge when I lift and tip, finding smaller stones to fill the gaps, ready for the concrete we'll pour next week, on my knees, my gloved fingertips blunted by heavy stone, a flurry of cold rain from a sky balancing sun and cloud, and rising from the wet earth, grateful for the weight I can carry. For the person I am when I am not thinking of me.
A promise does not exist unless it's kept. A hole is not complete until a tree is planted. A horseshoe dug up from the orchard is not always lucky. Things do not break when you expect them to. We are not the same man and woman who met all those years ago.
above the old apple trees
enough sky for me and you
and for everyone
The dregs of rain, low cloud, the horizon drones with the motorway's muffled crawl of traffic. The pile of eucalyptus logs behind the packing shed wait to be sawn and split, left to season for next winter. Containment, slowness, the long view,
unlike the irruption of first leaf and blossom, this moment, this green and pulsing world I can feel in my own heartbeat. And now the rattle and orange flash of the commuter train behind the orchard's southern fence.
Sparrows rise in a flap in front of the greenhouse. A black crow swoops around the corner of the packing shed. The muted whoop of wood pigeons in the windbreak trees. Yesterday a buzzard fell from the sky and landed between the apple trees, one wing splayed like a fan, eyes still bright but dark as grief.
The pruner says he's been watching a pair of them on the other side of the railway line, the way they plunge towards their nest in unison, wonders whether it was shot. Then tells me his son had melanoma, a course of chemo, but didn't lose his hair. Three years on he's clear still.
Buzzards mate for life. I can't tell if it's a cock or hen. But a flock of buzzards is called a wake. Wake, from the Old English wacian, to be awake, keep watch.
We keep watch over the people we love, pray for them to whatever gods we believe in.
above the railway embankment
the flash of a jay