Home & Shop Companion #0094
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
There was a surprising chill in the air when I went to the field this morning, the thick mist hanging heavy in the air and highlighting the cobwebs on every surface. It shouldn’t be a surprise it has turned colder because it is now the middle of November, but until this morning, you wouldn’t think we were much past the middle of October. Because it is still warm, the weatherman earlier this week described it ‘very, very, very mild for the time of year,’ and the deciduous trees are still holding onto many of their leaves, some of which have only started to turn colour a week or so back. Two days ago, however, the wind did knock 90% of the leaves off our favourite garden tree, the Japanese maple, and those that remain are now fiery bright in the late morning sun.
The warm weather means that the grass is still growing; you can see the difference either side of the electric fence where I have moved it sideways to prevent the horses from overgrazing and dropping more manure in the same place. This week I also finally got round to shifting the last of the manure from the heap made last winter, spreading it between the old dunging areas on the part of the field where Lucy was grazing until a month ago. Hopefully that grass will put on a little more height before winter, because with being away and other things I didn’t move the back fence up behind her, so some parts got grazed down almost to the soil. I also should have spread the manure before, when the grass was still growing quickly, when the soil was more biologically active and when the nutrients would have been used up, but this year I have got behind; the big sweep of jobs did get done, but not the smaller ones.
The biggest loser has been the vegetable garden, which since the summer has had very little attention other than harvesting crops. I did manage to fork out the weeds in one bed after taking out the courgette and pumpkin plants, and although it was already late enough, I did sow some green manure. Rye mixed with vetch would have been my choice, a little nitrogen fixing from the vetch alongside some vigorous growth from the rye, but I must have used the last of the seed last year. Instead, I sowed some black oats, the remnants of the seed I used in the field two years ago. The shoots are now up, though the germination is not very good, not surprisingly with old seed. In the other vegetable beds, it is too late to sow green manure, so the remains of the plants and the weeds will have to stay there until next year. It could be construed as laziness on my part, but I see it as using my energy wisely, although it will certainly mean that ground preparation next spring will be slower as I weed out the roots of the weeds rather than simply turning under a green manure. It is not my ideal solution, but at this late stage the choices are limited, and I am convinced that having some plants covering the soil is better than no plants.
This is also the approach I am taking with the grass in the field, keeping the horses moving onto fresh grass, relatively large areas now that the grass has lost much of its nutritive value, and closing off other areas, as much as is compatible with having safe areas of retreat. By doing so, most of the grass is left a few inches high, in the hope of a better start to grass growth next spring, but it is also hard for someone with a farming background to ‘waste’ grass by not letting them eat it down, for the sake of a probable but uncertain benefit in the future.
A probable and uncertain future has certainly been the wider theme this week. I guess you all know the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It came into my mind last week, and more especially a few years ago, when a young Swedish girl effectively did the same thing, pointing out to today’s ‘Emperors’ that they were ignoring the obvious. That little girl, Greta Thunberg, now in her late teens, is still stating the obvious and has become the voice of her generation, an unshakable presence in Glasgow these past two weeks. But I have a neighbour who thinks differently, who thinks she is a terrorist and should be put away, a surprisingly harsh judgement from someone who speaks his mind, condemning a young person for saying what she believes and what most of us know to be true. But not my neighbour, who thinks global temperature changes are just part of natural fluctuations, and although he is a great believer in ‘progress’ and technological development, and presumably the science it is based on, does not believe, for instance, that gases trapped in the ice of thousands of years are a valid way of measuring carbon dioxide levels going back through centuries.
To me, this is a remarkable contradiction, but as years pass by, I am ever more aware that the way we function, the way we think about things, depends primarily on our earlier experiences, what has worked out for us and what went wrong. In my own case, for instance, I was quite ready, thirty years ago, to believe that something strange was happening when the theory of climate change was mooted. There were four reasons; firstly, because I could see that the evidence of CO2 increase coincided with the warming and the increase of fossil fuel use which produced that carbon dioxide.
Secondly, the experience of similar ‘scares,’ once questioned and then accepted – smoking and cancer, DDT, acid rain – they all told the same story, of conscientious and dedicated scientists noticing something wrong, discovering causes and consequences, whilst the establishment and vested interests first ignored, then ridiculed and denounced it, criticized and attacked the scientists’ integrity and the veracity of the science, and when it was finally accepted, prevaricated and threatened dire consequences for the economy or livelihoods, whilst spinning themselves as honest brokers who are only following what the consumer or voters demanded.
The third reason is because I could see from my own childhood growing up on a farm and during my early adulthood, that the further away you moved from natural processes, the more problems you created, and you needed ever more potent ‘solutions’ to solve those problems.
My fourth reason is no reason at all, but a predisposition, a state of mind, because by the time I was ten or eleven, I had learnt from the school I attended that their version of fair-mindedness, of ‘doing the right thing,’ of ‘taking one for the team,’ was a smokescreen for enforcing the status quo, with all the small and large injustices that went with it. Of course, you were supposed to learn to tough it out, to ‘play the game,’ to be moulded into an acquiescent child and an upright and unquestioning adult. But I learnt something completely different; to treat anyone in power with suspicion, and to doubt what they said until I had worked out for myself whether it was likely to be true. It is perhaps a hard way to live, but it does force you back to the fundamentals, to human interactions, to chemistry, physics, and the ways of nature.
And that is the problem with my neighbour’s stance, and those of many leaders who forgathered in Glasgow, their inability to accept the essential facts and the enormity of the consequences, because it flies in the face of their politics, inclinations, or personal experiences.
But there were personal experiences in evidence at COP26 too, and however successful or unsuccessful the summit proves to be, four images will stay with me – first, the ten foot polar bear made of willow wands and paper, carried, with some help, by one man from Shropshire all the way to Glasgow as a pilgrimage for humanity, then the scientist interviewed on television who has spent her life working on climate change, struggling to remain light, hopeful and positive, despite her profound frustration, then the good sense and balanced humanity of the former Irish President Mary Robinson – and, finally the representatives of Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands as they told of their countries’ plight, already succumbing to the waves, their faces crumbling as they spoke.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.