Long Shadows and Woodsmoke

A Sunday in mid November, and it is a day of glorious life affirming sunshine. Sadly, I am up a ladder and, although warm from the sunshine, my life isn’t feeling as affirmed as it might. I can hear my allotment calling to me, but I have a roof to repair. Actually, it isn’t unpleasant work. I have to apply pitch to a flat roof – it’s a messy job, but the thick black bitumen is lovely stuff and I enjoy the viscous texture as I paint it on.

It is late afternoon, gone three, by the time I get to my garden. The sun is low on the horizon and the allotment is a magical place of long shadows and woodsmoke. Plots are being cleared and tidied up. Order is being restored after the anarchic chaos of summer.

My plot is a mess. I lost control towards the end of the summer and I am only just wrestling it back. Nettles and chickweed are running riot and the onset of winter, which can normally be relied on to kill everything off, has let me down this year. If anything, the mild autumn is encouraging things to grow. Oh for a frost! Slightly overwhelmed by the state of things, and uncertain as to where I should begin, I open up the shed, shift things around and pull out a chair. Which I promptly sit on, and now the sunshine feels life affirming.

I close my eyes and indulge in the warmth on my face whilst I consider my options. But not for long – a rustle to my left signals the arrival of one of the shed mice, who emerges to clean her whiskers. I watch for a while, her bright black eyes shining and, shamed by my companion’s industriousness, I haul myself up and get to work.

A few weeks ago I planted out a few rows of onions, which are coming on beautifully, so I decide to set out the remainder. I clear the ground, pulling up the weeds and lightly raking it over. The black fen soil is quite beautiful and doesn’t need much in the way of digging. It smells wonderful too. I like to plant as I clear, reclaiming the allotment foot by foot, yard by yard. Planting the onion sets out is a measured task – no need to hurry. It has a therapeutic quality, and the world feels like a better place when I have finished.


I pick some leeks, and am surprised to find some broccoli – tight round heads, the best I have ever grown. I have no recollection of planting it. The sun has gone, but is still picking out the tops of the trees, which glow against the darkening sky behind them. I pack up, close the shed, and watch the moon come up from behind the poplars.


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