Earth Day assessment . . .

A few willow whips are still growing in the boggy bit

Yesterday, the 22nd of April, was Earth Day, and I was intrigued to revisit a poem I’d written a couple of years ago about tree planting and recycling. It might be worthwhile to assess just how well these projects are going, but first, the recycled poem:

Stewardship in a Smallholding

Surrounded by grazed fellsides, meadows of upland hay
the rest abandoned moorland
left to the delight of wading birds and intermittent sheep;
here on our precious hectare

I am as proud, insufferable perhaps, of the hundred whips
of willow that I planted for the second time this winter 
(the rabbits chewed the first set all to bits) —
but now this batch is hidden in translucent  shields
and, staked with ageing bamboo poles is sprouting
long and robust leaves to sway in constant wind —
extending roots to soak up once-a-century rainfall 
which we well know will far-too-soon return
and cause great floods downstream, 

as I am of two hundred odd potato plants
now growing out of last year’s scratchy chicken patch
through rich nutritious layers of the never-ending 
poos the pony left for us to harvest on his field in early 
spring.  This year’s the third successive sequence —
the earth’s become so good and loamy —
and our prize-winning, tasty spuds are safe, 
sheltered within the windy lea

of three hundred, maybe more, strong and sturdy 
hedges:  hawthorn; blackthorn; roses;
that I planted, with a friend, six  years ago
creating smaller outdoor rooms  with unexpected
pleasures:  May blossom; soft pink petals;  nesting
spaces for the little birds that fly
high up  the bleak and breezy fellside 
where our smallholding sits, precarious, 
balancing like our lives.

That was then, and this is now: the 200 odd potato tubers are newly in the ground, again, under their recycled black mulch, and protected on various sides by 50 metres of robust and vigorous hedging (hawthorn, blackthorn, rose and specimen trees of crab apple and field maple). But the rain hasn’t fallen for a couple of weeks now, and things are dry. Some dock weeds had emerged, so I plucked them out yesterday, hoping to encourage the potatoes to follow.

But the hundred or so willow whips are really struggling; those in the boggiest bits of the natural spring run-off are doing the best. It’s hard to know if the willow grove will ever materialise. The weather and altitude is not kind, up here on the high fellside, to young plantings, which need protection from grazing predators as well as something like a wind barrier.

I was happy to see some signs of growth, but I’m prepared to accept an inevitable decline of my willow whip planting. Life goes on, or it doesn’t. Perhaps this is a salutary lesson for Earth Day, after all, a sobering assessment of the chances our beloved planet faces.

What wonderful joy is possible, as long as we do our part to ensure that life on this earth can carry on.

One response to “Earth Day assessment . . .”

  1. Larry, Here’s to you for leaving a section of earth greener than you found it. This week we will plant annuals for hummingbirds. We do not plant invasive species. PA has banned several sold by nurseries bc people do not contain them. It would be easy for both of us to plant commercial dandelion seeds which are harvested for several purposes but are green spring through fall. I once planted ironwood seedlings which I intended to grow & harvest for walking sticks. The rabbits however enjoyed the bark before I could save them.

    I urge a certain optimism for the planet as more of us keep planting. I appreciate your closing thoughts: “What wonderful joy is possible, as long as we do our part to ensure that life on this earth can carry on.” So let’s plant on! Peace, Henry


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