Flat Mountain Dispatches


Another slow Spring finally breaks. From daybreak to dusk heat pounds the Earth.

Hope for rain recedes in a repeat of last season. The groundwater dropping to Summer scarcity levels.

We watch the newly planted crops and wonder if this will be the year where we drain the well dry.

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Red yellow orange cross-pollinated tulips swirl vibrant splashes. White daffodils display their egg yolk centres. The horizon a pale swell of cherry blossom.

Overnight frosts announce the Iron Nights.

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A noisy robin watches me rake the scrubby ground, clearing the meadow of last year's dead grasses, fallen leaves and plant debris. Mounding piles of soft green, yellow and brown.

Alighting its cherry branch perch the robin searches around in the streaked bare soil.

This early stage in the annual meadow cycle is known as Fagning. A Gotlandic word stemming from the Old Norse “Feja”, meaning “to make fine”.

As I scrape the suffocating layer of moss I think how tending a meadow differs from tending a garden. While a garden might survive alone for generations — breaking free of its boundaries and spreading escapees throughout the surrounding land — a meadow may be overtaken within a few seasons of inattention. In this way the meadowland can be considered a more immediate bonding of human and non-human experience.

Our vital role in the ecosystem laid bare. We tend this tract for ourselves and for the teeming species who have evolved alongside us, in a country that until recently held a patchwork of grazing and grassland habitats. An ancient land use displaced by the shadow sprawl of spruce.

Each year dormant grasses and wildflowers resurrect. Beetles and moths and birds return. Fruit trees renew their branches.

I sit down, buried deep, and press my body beneath the Earth.

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blue frost sky crisp air blue scilla yellow dandelion white botanical tulip white april snow white linseed oil paint on fresh wood falun red on old wood green algae grass allium shoots green cabbage potato sprout canopies scrape up limp hay soft rot leaves plant anew alternating action inactivity waiting waiting waiting movement patience

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Listening to the pitched warble of Spring birds. I set down my empty cup and open the red enamel pot, tipping the wet tea leaves into the wooden planter. A salvaged pallet box sown with broad beans, pushed up against the barn wall where the sun's heat catches.

I look up at the goat willow, its broad canopy branches splayed. Yellow buds heavy with pollen, spotted with swirls of bees. A thousand busy bodies humm a soft static soundscape.

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Moving a fallen apple tree, dead long before we arrived on the mountain. The thick stump crumbles to an Earthy loam as I drag it across the garden, making way for a new planting bed.

A lizard clings to the soft, mossy trunk, housing a buffet of delicious bugs and larvae.

I stand back and look at the land encompassed by our wood-piled fence. Once a crowded thicket of aster, plum and sloe. Now a more open ground of growing beds and biodiversity piles, with wildflowers, grasses and wild strawberry sown throughout.

At the edges the more traditional vegetable planting tapers off to a wilder, forest garden inspired crop.

In several spots newly transplanted saplings take root. Raspberry, mulberry, hazel and honey berry budding in their first Spring season. In pots red and white currants, walnut, heartnut and sweet chestnut trees await their permanent homes.

As we shape the land we shape potential futures. Mindful of the complexity of life this space supports.

Year by year we weave ourselves into this woodland tapestry.

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Still in the pooling light. A lizard basks at my feet, enjoying a radiating slab of exposed bedrock.

The morning clear and bright with an icy undercurrent. The chill Spring air enlivening the stubborn Winter mind.

Impossible to convey the breadth of experience. These few lines only glancing blows.

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Snowdrops open in clusters. Self-seeding every patch of ground that catches early sun. Spears of purple, yellow and white crocuses push up through thawing soil, now a light dusting of snow mixed muddy.

Furled green leaves of daffodils and tulips rise to greet the Spring, escaped from old ornamental flower beds. Among the mossy rocks and rotting tree stumps the first small blue scilla emerge.

Overhead cranes fly, announced by mournful warbling.

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Arms ache after a day spent felling spruce. Clearing around out-shaded oak and willow. The diminished woodland species bend towards the light, continuing to sprout new leaves and shoots.

As we walk around our land we note the deciduous trees that are most in need of help. Remnants of the mountain's more biodiverse past. With a little guidance we can offer these survivors a new lease of life.

Alongside their elders, spindly saplings rise from the richly mulched forest floor, eager to join their established companions.

Every change we make here is considered and weighed. We soak in the terrain, the territory, the traces. Allowing the history of the land to guide us towards its future.

This is not a spiritual engagement. We have no wish for sentiment or sacredness. We are nothing more than muscle, marrow and bone, at work and rest with soil and root. Evolved co-dependents filling an ecological niche, aspiring only to dirty nails and muddy knees.

Simple form. Material sense. Clear action. Unadorned practice.

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Nettles push up between rocks and scrubby grass, growing around the foundations of the earth cellar and the edges of the fence-line. Ready to be gathered for cooking and tea.

We dig into the thawed topsoil of our kitchen garden beds, harvesting more of last year's crop of carrots, parsnips and artichokes, which have now survived through many frigid Winter months.

We make parsnip soup and nettle pie, and it's good soup and good pie. And I think about how lucky we are to have found this slice of land that keeps us fed and asks so little in return.

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