from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

... and back to the material plane...

 ...where, after a couple of days of rain after two weeks of sun, the garden at last is beginning to take off. Everything's about a month late, here, right now; in the hedgerows the foxgloves are just starting, and the yellow flag irises are powering out from the reedy Beenleigh Brook, the other side of which some Ruby Devon (deep red-brown) and South Devon (chestnut) cattle are grazing. The horses next door have noses dusted in gold from the cloths of buttercups spread over every meadow – they're not very good for horses, but beautiful powdered onto soft charcoal, palomino and chestnut muzzles, and against the vibrant greens of this lush area.

A couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of this sunny period, I spent a few days down in my native West Cornwall helping my painter and printmaker friend Jenny set up her exhibition for Open Studios. As always when I'm down there, walking the coastpath played a big role, and I miss the sea so much. Jenny's just sent me the wonderful pic above: the bluebells, ox-eye daisies (I call them moon-daisies), foxglove, red and bladder campions against that blue blue sea spell 'home' to me. I believe my lucky sister is down there at the moment walking and writing and being paid for it... what a job, hey? 

Speaking of writers (and also Cornwall), two participants on one of the Scottish courses on which I tutored in April have written books I'm currently reading: one is The Passionate Sisterhood, by Kathleen Jones, biographies of the three women associated with the Romantic poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey; the other is a novel, a ghost story set in West Cornwall – completely engaging – by Shirley Wright, and called Time out of Mind.

Once, on a rock near the view above, I watched a cuckoo close by. I haven't heard one here in Devon at all this year, though on Skye there was one every morning, doing the round of the garden fencepost to fencepost, within yards of the house, cuckooing away, for 30 or 40 minutes at a time. It was being chivvied by various small brown birds – pipits, finches or warblers, maybe. It took no notice at all of them. I'm struck by the irony of the fact that the smaller birds know that it is in some ways a predator, and yet their instinct is still to incubate and rear the changeling cuckoo egg/chick deposited in their nest – even though that fledgling will heave their own eggs and fledglings out, and even though the fledgling will be bigger than its adoptive parent within days of hatching...

In the garden there have been no slugs, and not even any weeds worth talking about this year. However, there's been little food there for us over the winter after last year's washout, either; and almost no germination. We've had the usual slug-discussion nonetheless, as this rain will no doubt entice them out in droves; so far, I've won, and we're using once again the plastic slug collars which are reasonably effective if not infallible, and also around some of the plants in my new herb/flower/bee-garden I'm using twists of thin copper wire (apparently it gives the slugs the equivalent of a small electric shock and thus deters them). I won't kill slugs: partly because they're food for other creatures, partly because I like to live in harmony with other species and the ecosystem, and also because the garden and house are organic – I don't use toxic substances of any kind, and we don't seem to have suffered any through a non-sterile home environment. (There's no need to use bleach, anti-microbials or the usual supermarket cleaning substances/laundry powders etc. when plant-based products that entirely degrade do the same job gently; if we need something anti-bacterial I'll put essential oils of tea tree, rosemary, oregano, thyme and such like into warm water and use that.) However, back to the slugs: we lost almost all our crop, on which we rely very heavily, to rain and slugs last year; and TM was understandably enraged at the slug damage. I'm very much hoping it won't come to this, but he has squirreled away a little cache of animal-and-bird-friendly slug-killer pellets for if need be.

M and B, our neighbours, brought us around a little punnet of new courgettes and mangetout peas from their polytunnel. Uprush of envy. For all that we hate using plastic we too might have to go that way – climate change means we are likely to have more rain generally, and milder conditions (well, cooler summers, probably, and wetter winters) down here in the southwest, and fewer of the cold snaps needed by gardeners to kill off the pests naturally.

However, I had a little harvest of broad bean tops – some say that if you pick out the growing shoot (I took out about 10cms from each plant) you can help prevent blackfly infestation. My daughter gave me a recipe – originally I think from Riverford – which was so completely delicious I'm going to share it with you here. If you're a gardener, use your own broad bean tops; if not, you can use mangetout peas, or broad beans themselves when they come into the shops.

Bring some pasta to the boil (I use wholemeal spelt). While it cooks, grate the zest of and squeeze the juice from a lemon, and chop a small handful of fresh mint. Just before the pasta is cooked, throw in the bean tops/mangetout peas to wilt/blanch (I added the courgette flowers too). When it's all cooked, stir in the lemon and mint, lots of black pepper, some chopped feta cheese or toasted cashews as a vegan substitute and a good slosh of olive oil. I served it with sautéd courgettes on the side and a salad. Mmmm.

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