The game of chess that is farming demands we always think several moves ahead, before moving at all – we move the cows and sheep into a field for one reason, then out for another one; we shut up fields for hay or silage, resting them, or in a year of no rain, working them too hard. No matter how long and glorious the summer, we always plan for winter and in winter, we always plan for spring.
The leaves of the mulberry are rustling as I climb up into the tree to take the more than generous fruit it offers. The sweet wind crackles the leaves and I know that the tiny spots of rain we had did not convince the fruiting trees and bushes not to worry. Apple, plum, pear, hawthorn and walnut trees are laden with their bounty and I avoid walking directly beneath them for fear the branches will give way. Gathering and storing what’s available now, provides a bulwark against the temptation to buy fruit from afar during the winter.
Most things in my life are solvable with hard work and the answer to almost every problem is to work even harder – physically that is. But any problem not in this category can be addressed by climbing a tree.
This particular mulberry was planted by my brother Richard some 35 years ago: a direct result of reading that King James I had required land owners to purchase and plant mulberry trees (at the rate of six shillings per thousand) to fuel what, he hoped vainly, would be an English silk industry. Richard fenced the tiny tree so well that no cow, sheep, deer or rabbit has ever hurt it and the same fence is still rock solid.
I climb ever higher, knowing that if I stretch for one of two berries in close reach, the second one is sure to plummet to earth; I reason that, should the branch I am standing on decide to give way, the chances are it will only drop to the branch below and jolt me. I won’t actually die for my exertion.
So now as I walk, drive, trot, sprint or meander round the farm, I deliberately brush against the elder, sloe, rowan and beech to reinforce my conviction that the fruiting trees know what to do to when there is a drought: close down all systems and slip into autumn-mode, producing monumental quantities of fruit.
The trees know, and the birds, and of course, the bees, ants, spiders and beetles. We humans need to observe more closely and act on what we see and learn. The winters are unlikely to continue being kind to the cattle, allowing them to be happy outside all the time, as they have managed to be every year since we came here. So, we hurry on the plans for a new barn.
I am usually far too good at not facing reality and only wishing for what has been and should be. But last winter taught even intransigent me. We need enough under cover space, just in case, and the cows are not to blame for climate change – a little enough sentence with scope for big disagreement.
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