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!
The “Independent” newspaper interviewed an old lady in Tobago who had visited England after winning a competition (I’m glad someone wins them).
One of her abiding memories was of seeing an apple tree. We have eyes but we do not see. There are still a good many orchards around here, even if many have been destroyed; taken for granted, by me at least, till they are lost.
This spring I intend to look at them anew.
Here’s a story from a few years ago. Riding away from Ezra’s grounds I had to pass the orchard of russets at the top of the hill. The week before the workers had been winter pruning, leaving long twigs on the ground to be picked up later. The snow had fallen before that could happen and the rabbits that swarm thereabouts had discovered the feast of sweet bark. As I rode by there was a golden glow above the white of the snow: with all the bark stripped the twigs were bright shining as the sun.
Another day to remember.
Edward Thomas came into this piece written in January:
Where the road cuts through the belt of sandy soil near Ezra’s place are clumps of gorse, filled with rabbit runs which the little terriers love to explore. The first week of the year, and the gorse is in flower. This always brings a smile to my lips, remembering Edward Thomas.
‘If I should ever by chance grow rich’, he wrote, he would buy local beauty spots and let them all to his elder daughter for a rent of the year’s first white violets, primroses and orchids, if she should find them before he did. I don’t know what these flowers were doing a century ago, but on January 1st this year the violets by our door are blooming – look under the leaves – primroses are out next door, and, though this is cheating, Mrs Turnstone’s Christmas orchid is next to the crib.
When his poem was first published, some readers saw a touch of cruelty in Thomas’s next thought:
‘ But if she find a blossom on furze
Without rent they shall all forever be hers.’
The joke was on them, had they but realised it, for gorse, or furze, can be found in flower every day of the year. Thomas was giving his child all this beauty without condition. It is given to us too, had we but eyes to see it. Not Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these. Was Jesus perhaps cracking a joke when he preached this parable, to show us that we don’t know as much as we think we do?
If I Should Ever by Chance by Edward Thomas
If I should ever by chance grow rich
I’ll buy Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater,
And let them all to my elder daughter.
The rent I shall ask of her will be only
Each year’s first violets, white and lonely,
The first primroses and orchises–
She must find them before I do, that is.
But if she finds a blossom on furze
Without rent they shall all for ever be hers,
Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo and Lapwater,–
I shall give them all to my elder daughter.