Spring is very much sprung

Some wonderful descriptions of spring.

Check out the earthbound Roger Deakin in Notes from Walnut Tree Farm: (7th May)

‘Everywhere this morning in the May sunshine I notice the sudden, magical growth of trees. The mulberry has just come into leaf overnight…yesterday there was no sign of anything more than the tiniest buds. The ash tree is sending out shoots. The laid hedge of the wood is bursting into fresh leaf. The coppiced hazels…’

Or the more heavenbound Thomas Merton: (12th March), in Kentucky:

‘The sun was warm. I stood by the wall and watched the lambs, I had not known of their arrival. Little black-eyed things, jumping like toys on the green grass. I thought: ‘Feed my lambs.’ There is certainly something very touching about lambs, until they find their way into holy pictures and become unpleasant.’

I would agree with him there.

Some of our own recent spring days have been days simply to live in and not to describe. Hopkins nobly attempts to describe the indescribable…

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—/ When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;/ Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush/  Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring/  The ear…

And finally, illustrating how even the high heavens can be brought down to earth,  compare Hopkin’s wonderfully elevated Windhover

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-/ dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding/  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air,…

with the this-time-earthbound Thomas Merton’s dental chair:

‘The dentist came from Cincinnati and I spent three-quarters of an hour in the chair watching the buzzards circling in the grey sky over the old sheep barn while he drilled a wisdom tooth.’

Merton would seem to have had a very superior out-of-doors dentist.


In a previous blog I mentioned Roger Deakin’s Wildwood…

He makes habitable the Tudor farmhouse he buys by keeping out the wind and rain but still allowing at least partial free passage for the animal and insect life who had been its previous owners. He sleeps in a caravan to listen to the rooks, he’s part of the moth-makers circle as they cluster round the bright lights that draw the moths in, he recounts the stories of willow-men and the basket-and bat-makers who work the willow.

His is a wonderful but all too little known counter-balance to all the damage we do to our world, to our climate, to our landscape. I wonder at times whether we could impose a back-to-nature requirement on all road-builders, all architects and town-planners, anyone who would spread bricks and especially concrete over the landscape without a thought for future generations who will be left with it when lifestyles and domiciles and transport have moved on. Where once we felled trees in Britain at least we now have open pasture and hedges and copses which hide and nurture their own wildlife. Where we put down concrete nothing can grow, save after decades in the slow-wearing interstices where weeds find a scraggy home.

It would be good to have a long-term damage assessment built into every new project, with a minimum threshold in terms of decay or decomposition, to remind ourselves of the duty we owe not just our children, but to many generations hence.

It seems that the Environment Agency haven’t a clue when it comes to considerations of this kind. Deakin quotes their indifference to the withy (willow) growing tradition in the Somerset Levels. Floods brought poisoned water which ruined the crop one year, and no-one from the agency visited, and now it seems they have plans to flood the withy beds permanently. When I’ve heard stories about the agency in other flood situations I’ve always put it down to shortages of staff, or local misunderstandings, but it seems that it goes deeper, to an institutional level.

On a lighter note, Deakin notes that cricket bat willow only grows really well in England, to the frustration of Australians who must import English willow wherewith to thrash, they hope, the Poms.  Louis MacNeice writes of the drunkenness of things being various. Here we have the singular, the co-incidence of place and time to play which led to a game where the spring of willow and the resilience of cork and leather make for a game perfectly matched to human strength and capabilities. A more stolid bat would propel the ball much less far, and vibrate the hand, a softer bat and the ball would die before it left the square. Without willow where would we be, without the game that’s an antidote to all the frenetic activity which characterises most popular sports. With maybe the exception of snooker, but that’s about paralysis rather than relaxation of mind. But I digress.

20:20 cricket is another game altogether, although it still requires the magic of the willow wand, which however brandished remains something it seems modern materials can’t replicate. Long may it remain so.