This column originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Mendip Times
Can there be a wetter month than February? Yes… possibly July with the way our weather patterns are changing. We should however be grateful that within this sceptred Isle our climate is fairly benign. At the time I sit down to write this month column, the weather in Eastern Europe sounds positivity Ice age, with snow even reaching some of the coastal resorts of Italy and Greece. Anyone thinking of escaping our English winter for a spot of sun on the Mediterranean may well have to think again.
As always the plants and wildlife seem to have been thrown into total confusion with the weather. I have been told of daffodils, already on the move before Christmas. Primroses in flower are nothing new, Edith Holden mentions them in her book, The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady, a classic record of the countryside over a century ago. She also talks about a very mild January in 1906. Nature however will redress the balance and keep order like a strict school mistress over her unruly class of the countryside!
I am now back in the orchards and managing to get quite a bit done despite the weather predictions. Success favours the bold and I have taken to looking at the forecast and making my mind up by looking to the South West. This policy however is always backed up by the waterproof trousers and coat stowed in the back of the Land Rover. Insurance is a very important thing, as the invoices from my insurance companies bear witness. So in line with this, the apple crop ‘insurance’ has been taken out across the orchard of Somerset in the form of the Wassail. What a great turn out for the Mendip Society and Rickford Community Orchard celebration on January 7th. Despite a damp day everyone enjoyed themselves. We woke the apple trees from their long winter sleep, drove away the negative and encouraged the positive to ensure that all would be good in the apple world. More for me in February, when I go and help the Village of Godney with their celebration. For those of you who may never have come across this before, the Wassail is derived from a Saxon word, ‘Waeshail’ meaning ‘Health be unto you’ and was a pagan ritual ensuring that everything was blessed by the Earth Gods for a good year ahead.
Tradition is important, its the ‘glue’ that connects us to the past, and to those who have given us what we enjoy today. Every family will have it’s own traditions. One Devonshire Farmer I know always has an Apple Pie supper in August, so I was able to help him by grafting one of his young apple trees over to an early cooking variety…I have helped maintain his family tradition! Sunday walks, family gatherings and a host of other activities all help to cement relationships and family ties and make us what we are.
Our countryside is steeped in tradition and soaked in history. It has a linage of human influence that stretches back for millennia. The landscape we look at today however is not the same as it has always been. Like us it may have changed it’s looks with the passing of years and the ravages of life. I have always found it to be a place of inspiration and comfort. So lucky am I therefore, to be able to be able to spend a lot of my life working in it, or in connection with it. There is nothing in it that jades me; there is nothing in it that I take for granted, but there is a lot that I draw from it. These sentiments are probably a modern thing. Many of those who have gone before me spent their lives just surviving, with no time or possibly no inclination to sit and stare at the world about. Its certainly something I intend to do even more of in 2017
I am sat at my desk looking through the rain spattered window, as the rain throws itself against the glass. The rain drops race one another down pane, only to crash into the window frame at the bottom, is there another lesson in this for us? The garden is saturated, the hedgerow bare of any leaf and not even the blackbirds posture upon my shed roof in a show of male dominance and swagger. Everything is at rest, it still hides beneath the winter quilt, and although the shortest day has past we will not see any appreciable difference in daylight hours until well into February.
Time then to gather the thoughts and to plan ahead. I have always found the evening firelight to be a great help when it comes to this. Unfortunately however the fire does have a tendency to take the evening over by sending me off to sleep. Ah… To sleep, perchance to dream, if I may borrow a line from William Shakespeare. Its all about relaxation and contentment and this is something that is important in our lives. On the morning News today there was again the issue of stress and depression that has such a negative effect upon life. Even more important then to grab the inspiration from our natural surroundings. Put on your boots, put on your coat, grab a hat and go for a stroll.
I would not want to live in a country without seasons. I like the fact the weather changes and with it the countryside. There is a time to be indoors, storm driven and in safe haven as the Winter wind and rain outside beats against the windows. There is the excitement of Spring and the thoughts of a summer ahead, with I hope long sunny days and balmy evenings. Finally the stage is cleared to makes way for Autumn with all the colour and splender of a carnival, before gently leading me back into Winter again.
Finally, get out when ever you can. Enjoy life and the company of family and friends that surround you. Always remember however that when things do go wrong, the most important thing is having good people around you!
This months photo is a bit of ‘Les Art’. History, Mystery, Myth and Legend talk of Dragons such as this that once frequented the Orchards of Somerset.