On chooks, the planting of blossom trees, and building an ecological movement from the ground up
And so it begins: the garlic’s up; every day there’s a small fresh egg, or sometimes two. The old plum trees, which are always first - they know they’ve not much time left, perhaps - have a frisson of white.
A while ago now, at about this time of year when everything begins, I bought a sad cottage in a disappointed town and began to plant seeds, everywhere. I wrote a fairy tale called “Once upon a time”, about a little gardener who remembered Oscar Wilde; it was a silly piece of whimsy, and also, more or less, the truth. It went like this:
Every now and again the little gardener stopped putting one foot in front of the other, and paused to look about. She had found her way to a food forest, by what instinct or magic she did not know. It was not a well-trodden path, but a few had been before her. So she took the words that were forming and scattered them like breadcrumbs, in case anyone else might follow.
You can, I think, look up from this garden and gaze all the way to the horizon. You can see the curvature of the earth, from here.
I don’t believe you can make a garden, without thinking about the world around. A gardener at home today is tomorrow's ecologist. I want the trees I’ve planted to live for a thousand years. Every act I have ever done, and will do, helps make their weather.*
Soon my apricot tree will put on her prettiest dress and dance among the frosts. A frost on the apricot blossom is a blight on hope - on the bottles of sun that, but for the frost, would have shone in the cupboard and through the dark months, at breakfast time.
That’s why I would plant an apricot tree in every garden; that’s why every garden should have a chook, to herald at solstice and sunrise the turning of the light, because how could you have these things, and not understand
- Their simplicity, but also, their infinitely complex calibration
- That the gift can just as easily be snatched away again.
If one were to fill the public gardens and streets and school yards with food - were to wander in some wild places, and plant things that might take root there and thrive: some raspberry canes, and potatoes, and trees - were to make gardens for wild life, for foraging in - something, however vaguely, would dawn on us all. Something would shift, like a shift in the seasons, a tilt on earth’s axis, towards the sun.
Instead of pie wrappers and lolly papers blowing like tumbleweeds down the street, it would be leaves and blossom petals that would whirl through the air, and the smallest people would stuff cherries and peaches into their mouths, and give nature back the stones.
Writing in the Guardian today, Paul Kingsnorth says the same:
So we might learn what grows wild in our local area and whether we can eat it. We might build up a bank of practical skills, from horticulture to land management. We might go out at night and plant seeds in vacant flowerbeds near where we live. We might work on small-scale engineering projects, from water purification technologies to micro-solar panels. We might work to save bees or butterflies or water meadows or woodlands or playing fields that we know and have a relationship with. We might walk in the hills, or on the canal bank, or in the local waste ground; get to know our place and how it works.
I can hear the rejoinder already: "None of this is going to save the world!" It's true. But we've had four decades of trying to "save the world", and we have failed utterly. This would be a good time to step back, to get our hands dirty and our feet wet, to smell the rain when it comes and get a feel for where we are on this Earth and what, at the root of it all, we can still usefully do.
The paradox is, Kingsnorth isn’t movement building from the ground up. "This would be a good time to step back," he writes. He's letting go.
It’s almost an act of faith, or a kind of a prayer: acceptance, rooted in gentle exchange with nature, knowing our place, neither expecting nor hoping to change the world, since that’s been the problem after all.
And yet: that’s where the greatest hope now is.
* whether. Our future, our food, our fate, our choice.