Earth’s Slow Incline

I came across this beautiful poem last night. Almond Blossom, by Fiona Benson.

This morning, love, I’m tired and grave;
I can barely hear the wintered bird’s small song
over the hum of the central heating.
We must trust, I suppose, to the song’s bare minim:

that spring will be a green havoc
as the trees burst their slums
and the dirt breaks open to admit
crocus-spear and cyclamen;

and though we can’t yet feel it
earth’s already begun
her slow incline, inch by ruined inch,
easing you back from the brink.

With that in mind, and the certain knowledge that I still hadn’t cleared away last year’s green havoc, I thought it was probably time to visit the allotment. It has been shamefully neglected in recent weeks and is in much need of some tender loving care. Perhaps undeservedly, I have been rewarded for my slightly reluctant virtue, for the grey skies that sat heavily over the Fens in recent days have finally lifted. The firmament is blue once more and, ducking into the doorway of my shed to get out of the gentle but chilly wind, I can feel the sun on my face. I sit back and doze.

The work is mostly digging – turning the soil over ready for the spring which isn’t so far away, although it looks like we could be in for a long old January this year. And, if I’m honest, I too am tired and grave, but then I rather suspect that we all are right now. So the process of clearing and preparing the ground is both a therapy and an investment; a physical version of out with the old and in with the new. I have talked before about the benefits of digging, and so it is today – there are few things quite as satisfying as freshly dug soil. The dry stalks are raked away and the dead grass is pulled up for the compost; chickweed is left and dug in as a green manure.

It’s hard work, mind, so I pause to take a stroll around the plot. There is still edible stuff to be found among the detritus; purple broccoli, clumps of red and yellow chard and a few rows of leeks. They stand in vibrant contrast to the otherwise muted winter colour scheme. Hidden away, some cabbages have avoided becoming pigeon food. The apple trees could do with some attention; pruning, and a spruce up in preparation for the wassail.

Time for something less strenuous, so I kneel and start tidying the asparagus beds (should have done this in the autumn), trimming the stalks and weeding around them. I’ll treat this lot to a mulch from the compost bins, the spoil of previous years, magically broken down and converted into a rich humus, renewing and revitalising. And there, tiny but impossible to ignore, are the tips of some as yet unidentifiable bulb, poking up through the icy soil. I feel a palpable thrill run through me and, cheered, I wander back to the shed for a coffee and some more sun.

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