Still Life: Winter’s Harvest

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I confess I’ve been bogged down in the post-viral doldrums for the past two weeks – feeling very sorry for myself. This is definitely a bad place for anyone to be. I did not want to do ANYTHING. And everything I attempted to do I judged hopeless, and pointless, and badly executed. My writing came in for a very large amount of stick, which gross assault was especially demoralizing and depressing.

But wallowing in bouts of self-castigation has to have some limits. In fact wilful incapacity finally led to something distinctly nourishing and wonderful. I lay down all day for several days and read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, followed by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I let myself be psychically transported, and I cannot say how grateful I am to the spirits of those two fine women writers. They knew how to create unforgettable characters. They knew how to conjure an under-your-skin sense of place. And the tales they told, although very much of their time, also possess many timeless qualities, as well as addressing themes (the position of women, for instance) that are still very much with us today.

So this is my first winter’s harvest – a darn good read. In fact I finished Jane Eyre late last night. When I woke this morning the dark mood that had weighed me down for a fortnight had miraculously lifted. On the skylight above the bed were large snow flakes frosted on the pane, a blue sky and everywhere lit up by an other-worldly, early morning sun. My inner eyes were open again too. Finally I could see how lucky I was. The mild depression I had been feeling was absolutely nothing compared with the perpetual darkness that so many have to contend with.

When I got up I found that it had not snowed much – just enough to cover the field behind the house in a thin white dusting. By the time I set off across it, the thaw had already set in, but it was good to be walking out in a white world. I realised, too, it was high time to venture out in pursuit of another kind of harvest. What had been going on at the allotment during my absence?

As you can see, the answer is: quite a lot. I’m amazed how much there was still to pick in the middle of winter: broccoli, purple and romanesco cauliflowers, leeks and parsnips. The brassicas are growing under enviromesh, and seem lush and healthy. In the polytunnel frilly lettuce, rocket, mizuna, bok choy and two kinds of parsley are quietly growing under fleece. Elsewhere on the plot the overwintering onions look well sprouted, and the field beans (mini broad beans) have germinated quite strongly. There will be crops of purple sprouting broccoli in the early spring, and the Swiss chard is still hanging on in sheltered corners. In fact all seems to be thriving on the additions of Biochar organic fertilizer that I added to every vegetable’s planting hole last year. It is supposed to be magic stuff – a form of charcoal that not only improves soil and feeds plants, but also possibly helps to reduce the effects of carbon emission by means of carbon sequestration.

And so, finally, to all of you who might be suffering the January blues, here is my third harvest: the blackbird caught this afternoon on my frosty crab apples. May this image transform any darkling tendencies, and the colours kindle sparks of elemental joy. There is life still…

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© 2015 Tish Farrell

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60 thoughts on “Still Life: Winter’s Harvest

      1. Yes, all packed. Decided to take just one camera, my LUMIX, a pair of binoculars, laptop, headphones, iPad, mobile phone, medical diagnostic kit, plus clothes for a year.

      2. The LUMIX is portable in my pocket or on my belt. I don’t like lugging my Canon 6d around with me at work. I have a couple of decent long zooms, 70-200 f2.8 with no image stabilisation and a 100-400 f4 with image stabilisation. Good for animal shots and cheeky snaps of unsuspecting subjects at a distance. But very heavy. I’m going to be working 11 weeks out of 12, so animal viewing will be limited. There are some interesting birds, however, so I might change my mind.

  1. Great writing, great photos, great that you are feeling better! Loved the angle taken for the first photo, and loved also the colors and the brilliance of the veggies! Thanks much! 🙂

  2. What a wonderful, healthy, good-looking still life, Tish!
    I’m glad to see that you’re feeling a bit better. You are not alone feeling like this, may the longer days to come help us through the blues. Your harvest surely does! 🙂
    Dina xo

  3. Beautiful photo of your veg haul. Not fond of parsnips, too sweet, but I’ll still eat the odd one. The greens are absolutely to die for. Even the parsnips look beautiful. Great to be able to get so much veg in the midst of winter. I’ve totally lost track of the UK growing season, just that it is looooong. Isn’t the traditional hungry gap around May as I recall? Mizuna was a joy to grow. One evening we were feeding a neighbour spontaneously, seitan casserole, mashed pots, cabbage from the garden, and a salad with mizuna. Bit sooner? she repeated, puzzled. Don’t think we ever called it mizuna again.

    1. Bit sooner it now must be then, Kate. And yes, it’s such an accommodating plant. Having just eaten most of the veg, I can say it tasted pretty good. I’m not sure when the traditional hungry gap is supposed to be these days. I don’t seem to have one at the allotment. Though some time in the spring one can get a wee bit tired of chard.

  4. Tish, so glad to hear you’re feeling better. Although I love winter, sometimes the gloominess (if there are no snow and no sunshine), can be a bit much. Those lovely greens should make you feel better just looking at them and that fat bird is so cute.

    janet

    1. Salvation, that’s a good word. I think I’ve been reading too much nonfiction over the past year – interesting but not inspiring. Sometimes, you need a really good soak in a fine novel. Cheers to Elrond!

  5. What a wonderfully inspiring post Tish. Sometimes I think it is that very creative souls are being visited by black moods during this time so that we can process our own darkness and transcend it. You have done this brilliantly here. The wonderful photo of the blackbird against the red berries is so symbolic. I have heard that blackbirds were considered magical birds by the Celts because they could enter the magical realms at will.
    Your words of gratitude towards the writing of others and your wonderful harvest are proof indeed that have transcended something

  6. Sorry my comment posted before I finished it. Final sentence should read – proof indeed that YOU have transcended something dark within yourself.

  7. I do hope you’re feeling better, Tish, and also want to thank you for sharing both your winter “cure” and your harvest. Very effective medicine indeed. Best, Babsje

  8. I’m happy you’re on the mend from the winter blues. I used to have those spouts when we lived up north, and remember how additional light from snow usually picked me up. Your harvest was amazing, like magic happening in your allotment!! And I love the bird, of course.

    1. I’m beginning to think the allotment has more to it than veggies. It’s not a beautiful place of itself, but there is a sense of something special up there. Must be, to grow those lovely caulis.

    1. Thank you for your good wishes, Stephen, and yes those veggies did perk me up. The blackbird was a v. lucky shot. It moved, and I moved, and somehow the pic arrived in the camera. Taken through my kitchen window too.

  9. I’m so glad you are starting to feel better. I hope that your harvest produces some wonderful meals that nourish both body and soul. Gorgeous photo too btw. Sending sunny thoughts, Su 🙂

      1. We used to get really bad bouts of SAD when we lived in the UK; lack of Vitamin D I think. Certainly not a problem here at the moment, although the fear of melanoma has driven lots of us indoors.

    1. You are so kind, Sue. After I looked at you two dunking yourselves in freezing water for such a good cause, I felt I had been making too much fuss over a germ. Your photos instantly perked me up.

  10. I can relate to your winter doldrums, still at the tail end of a nasty cold, but also dispirited by the lack of sun and outdoor activity. A bit of sun and a visit to my greenhouse also cheer me up, though I can’t boast the kind of harvest you are describing (just some greens). Enjoy your winter veggies. I love the bird in the fruit-laden branches…

  11. Ahhh, I can entirely empathise with the self-questionning lethargy you write about, Tish! I don’t have a vegetable garden to go and work it out on (certainly nothing as productive as your patch – wow!), but perhaps I’ll go and find my old copy of Jane Eyre – it certainly seemed to work for you.

    I actually stopped by to say that I’ve nominated you for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award: https://readsbyredriverbanks.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/grateful-inspired-and-full-of-thanks/.
    I’m not sure how you feel about awards? If you do want to play, I’ll be thrilled, but if not, then being inspired by you and your beautiful photos is enough! Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Jenny, for your very kind comments. Also for the award nomination. I do very much appreciate the nomination but I don’t have awards on my blog. I hope Jane Eyre works for you. I think it’s a question of finding another writer’s voice that really speaks to you, and ALSO helps you remember that you have your own voice, AND things to say. I also find reading very good children’s books can buoy me up – they have such energy e.g. David Almond’s Skellig and Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Kite Rider.

      1. You are very welcome Tish, and no problem, I totally understand. Thank you for the children’s book recommendations – a top tip and not ones I’ve read, so will try them at some point soon. I find Neil Gaiman books (for adults or children) have a similar effect, so I might revisit one of those too!

  12. I missed this post! How the heck that happened I don’t know.
    In an odd sort of way I actually enjoy finding posts I missed. It’s a bit like that feeling one gets when unexpectedly coming across something you thought was misplaced or lost. ‘Oh, wow, haven’t seen this for yonks!’ And what a capture of the blackbird. How did you manage that!

    I am even inspired to read a bit of Bronte. I know I have a copy of one of the books on a shelf somewhere. I shall dig it out and have another crack at it.

    1. Bronte is definitely worth another crack, Ark, As to the photo, it was a sheer fluke – just a lucky snap through the kitchen window, which considering it’s double glazed and I was in zoom mode, and in the process of falling over in an attempt to catch it from a daft angle was even more remarkable. Actually, I think the shot just flew into my camera by itself.

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