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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