Mrs T brought bags to church on Sunday, intending to gather pine cones for winter fire-lighting. This happens every year, you could almost set your watch by it. And then we got sidetracked.
Following the success of her apricot jam, Mrs Turnstone has caught the preserving virus from her daughters and husband. She gathered sloes on the way home, while I threw in rowan berries; with bramley apples the latter made a tart jelly that will go well with lamb or venison (fat chance of that, but I had to pass by on the other side when I saw a road-killed roebuck whilst on holiday!) The sloe and apple jelly will go well with meat – turkey or goose or duck.
Then while I was at work Mrs T went out to gather blackberries and elder to add to apples and a few sloes for a hedgerow jelly. Even on her own, she reported, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. Purple fingers! Making this jam 12 years ago in Shropshire started NAIB’s addiction. We threw in rose hips and haws on that occasion; the recipe is flexible.
Oh yes, we gathered pine cones too. It’s as well my brother Chris was not with us; I recall his ambushes over at our old blackberry patch, with cones whizzing part the ear, and knocking pots of berries over; but he did help make the jam when all was gathered in.
Riding across the marsh it was mayflower, mayflower, all the way, creamy white, with the odd pink flowered bush: the hawthorn has occupied the nomansland between railway and rough grazing, even veiling the derelict coal sidings.
The blackthorn’s flowering over, it is putting on growth, with just a hint of pink in the bright green leaves.
Once on the Isle we come to market gardens – long, straight, raised beds, tended by narrow tractors, watered by self-propelled sprinklers. Stripes of burgundy and bright green lettuce contrast against the mustard yellow of the oil seed rape (colza) behind.
Before the air-conditioned trains rolled in, there were days when the traveller would be blessed with the penetrating aroma of newly harvested onion. Progress has its price!
Riding due East into Aylesham my expectations were somewhat confounded. I had expected the gale to be on my back, but it was on my left shoulder, pushing me towards the middle of the road. There was noticeable relief when there was a hedge on the North side of the road, so it was encouraging to see new hawthorn slips bursting green from their rabbit-proof planting tubes. Relief for cyclists and protection for the land. The soil up here is quite thin over the chalk.
More relief when I branched off on the Southern road into the village. The Spinney shields most of this stretch, a woodland with beech, hazel and sweet chestnut. I stopped to sit on a branch and eat lunch. The bluebells are in fine leaf, as are wild arum and anemones, but what of wild garlic? I hadn’t long to search, I had an appointment in the village and I wasted time watching a brimstone butterfly, happy enough to be out of the wind, under the trees, enjoying the sunshine beaming through the bare branches. I found just one leaf, which I nobly left to grow. And I was happy too.
Let’s change that ‘I wasted time’ to ‘I spent time’, while I was watching the butterfly. Time well-spent!
Into the scented woods we’ll go,
And see the blackthorn swim in snow.
High above, in the budding leaves,
A brooding dove awakes and grieves;
The glades with mingled music stir,
And wildly laughs the woodpecker.
When blackthorn petals pearl the breeze,
There are the twisted hawthorn trees
Thick-set with buds, as clear and pale
As golden water or green hail —
As if a storm of rain had stood
Enchanted in the thorny wood,
And, hearing fairy voices call,
Hung poised, forgetting how to fall.
It was local patriotism for the Marches that first had me open a book by Mary Webb; later I found the poems, a literary treasure Mrs Turnstone shares. Though we are well away from Shropshire we have the Blackthorn in bloom and the buds of the hawthorn are as Mary Webb describes them, green raindrops, poised on the tips of the twigs. Don’t analyse the poem, enjoy it!
PS – This links to the MS of the poem at Stanford University.
Saint Peter’s churchyard in Sandwich is on the South side, a good spot to bask for a quarter of an hour’s worth of Saint Martin’s Summer sunshine, having paid my Armistice Day respects to the poppies by the North door, and to the men they represent.
Once seated on the bench, it did not take long to realise I was not alone. From the church roof, from the tower and from the tall hawthorn bush behind me, rose the whirrings and chucklings of a murmuration of starlings, and contented chacks from the resident jackdaws, never still for long.
i enjoyed my fifteen minutes in their company before the chimes reminded me to make a move.
If these birds were not out in the nearby fields, gleaning and foraging, they must already have been well fed, ready to enjoy life. I think they may have stripped the hawthorn already, since the bright red among its branches came from a rose that was rambling all over it. Inspired planting! The rose should follow on nicely from the mayflower as summer gets going, and gives winter colour as well.