About half a dozen more significant blogs (at least in my head) – philosophy, ecology, natural health, 5G, politics, literature, myth and story – have been and gone, in potentia only, in the last few weeks, while I've been working, briefly at least, harder than ever.
The lanes are wearing their May best – it's the season of the blues, pinks and whites now, with the yellows of early spring less prominent. I'm sure I say this every year, but this must be the plushest most luminous and most ecstasy-producing spring yet (easy to say, living here in the relative wild where we can walk the valley and the lanes every day, I know). Each spring feels like the first and last, and our valley, already swimming with wildlife, has given us the most amazing dawn chorus each day, enhanced by the absence of the already very little traffic we generally have. (The thrush, in fact, greets the dawn enthusiastically until about noon, and then begins to herald dusk mid-afternoon.)
Now, in the Celtic tree calendar we're moving into hawthorn, by whose flowering our ancestors would have entered into May (one of the other names for hawthorn). A potent time with this full 'flower' supermoon in Scorpio, increasing those energies. Courtesy of hawthorn (in addition to allopathic meds) my heart rate and blood pressure have gradually normalised (but do consult a herbalist if this interests you). 'Our' hawthorns in the field are magnificent:
– and the bluebells at the field margins this year are beginning to spread.
The local wild garlic – the white flower in the top photo – a little of which has finally 'taken' in our copse, has been leafing since late January. It's about to become tougher now, but is still edible. I've been using loads, most often in pesto (a good handful of washed and torn wild garlic leaves; about half that of fresh parsley; about the same amount of cashew or hazel nuts or sunflower seeds, or of course pine nuts if you have them, as garlic; salt and pepper and generous quantities of a good cold-pressed oil: olive traditionally, but I love the taste of Clearspring's cold-pressed sunflower oil; start with a tablespoon and add more if you need more liquid. Eat with pasta, on bread, on potatoes and salads.)
I also use it in my current favourite dish, potato, leek or courgette tortilla.
I was in the Basque Pyrenees through one winter when my daughter was small (with her too, I hasten to add). Most of the local bars had slices of potato tortilla (or frittata) for sale. A dispute rages still about whether a 'proper' potato tortilla should contain onions or garlic; purists, and I'm one, say garlic only. As a lacto-veggie I used to use eggs and put cheese on top. Now, as a vegan, I make it like this, and even TM swears it's as good as the old one (and he's a committed dairy-eater). Quantities are approximate; I do it by eye. For two:
2-3 large potatoes, thinly grated on the slicing edge of a box grater (or 3 courgettes, or 3 leeks, finely-sliced)
1 very generous handful wild garlic leaves, washed and torn
Yeast flakes (I use the Engevita one with B12)
Half a mug of gram (chickpea) flour
Half to three-quarters of a mug of water (or even more)
Smoked paprika to taste
Salt and pepper
Oil to cook
Frying pan with lid
Slice the potatoes and warm the oil until a slice dropped in sizzles. Cook all the spuds on a medium heat, lidded.
Halfway through, stir in the torn garlic. Add salt and pepper.
Once it's nearly cooked, whisk half a mug of the water, yeast flakes, paprika and seasoning into the gram flour: it needs to be a thinnish batter, and deep enough just to cover the potato mix. You may need to add the rest of the water, and maybe more too. Don't worry that it's thin. Pour the mix onto the spuds etc. and put the grill on to medium high. After about ten minutes on the hob on medium heat, transfer to under the grill. Here it should set, pretty much, and turn golden brown. It may be runny and creamy still – a lovely variant on pommes dauphinoises – or it may set enough to slice, depending on proportions. Either way, it's delicious. (When I come to complete the vegan cookbook I've not been writing I'll tighten this up a little!)
We live in two acres of wildish meadow, an orchard, two copses, a bee-bed and a herb-bed, and a courtyard garden around the stone, wood and glass house that TM built. (Most of that isn't as swanky or tidy as it sounds.) Our veg garden is on a steep north-facing slope, in the only flat area, the old silage pit. All the soil in our raised beds has been carried or barrowed up there by TM. He has been working on an eco-house for a client for the last year: a very elegant timber-clad straw bale structure. One week before he was due to finish, the joiner who was making the staircase suddenly closed, so TM has been back home every day for a month or so. This means we're ahead of our normal schedule in the garden, so it's all prepped and sown (or the seeds are sown and have germinated in the greenhouse). Our onions and potatoes are well-grown now, and the broad beans too.
My daughter, who's with us at the moment, after a chance remark of mine about growing in straw bales instead of making more raised beds, has invested any time, money and energy that's left over from her weaving into making a huge swathe of the meadow into a hay bale veg garden (hay doesn't need added nitrogen as straw does, hence the switch). Watch this space!
For myself, the more I read about mycorrhizal networks, the fungal 'highways' that are symbiotic with the roots of trees and plants, the more I am convinced that permaculture, forest gardens and no-dig approaches are the way forward, and urgently needed. We're nowhere near that yet apart from our fruit trees, and TM is a hardcore digger. However, there is one little bed on which I'm using the no-dig method (though TM couldn't resist 'lightly' digging over the patch where the last leeks have now come out): in the top two photos, it's the one with dark soil. It's been created by layer after layer of mulch: horse manure, seaweed, compost, composted bark. I didn't think I'd see myself posting a photo of a handful of soil, but look! AND it's jammed with earthworms. If you're interested, Charles Dowding is a bit of a pioneer.
So that has taken care of TM's last few weeks, and my snatched hours. I've been intensely busy. To my grief, and that too of the participants, I had to cancel my Isle of Iona courses.
This is troubling in terms of an income, but also devastating in as much as this would have been my 20th spring on the island, and I love both this sacred island and the work we do there (it's also a top-up of the Atlantic, by which I grew up). And I work with lovely people. So I designed some 'virtual' courses for the would-be participants. Of course they're no substitute for the island with its Otherworld shimmerings, nor for the meditative walks, writing hours, laughter, tears and trips to the seals and puffins on Staffa that we share in our extraordinary and warm gatherings. But it was something; and it took a lot of work and time.
Side-by-side with that my next book came back from the publishers' copyediting process for me to check and re-edit with a tight deadline – on a computer that didn't like the version of Word and inserted random phrases and characters throughout (long story. Took ages too.)
And I had some outstanding mentoring to complete from the Tree course I lead.
Now, all that behind me, I can breathe, and sort out unsorted website and work stuff, and design new online courses (including a 'virtual' Iona one), and think about which of the three books I've started to write I shall continue right now.
And make some forays into the audio world. I have a SoundCloud account, and have uploaded stuff that others have recorded for me. This time, I thought I'd 'make my own' on the ancient Mac. I have; so if you'd like to hear 8 minutes or so of the first few poems in my last poetry collection A Trick of the Light – poems from Iona you can hear it on this link.
So there are things to celebrate here.
And here's another: our lovely pups have been in and out of the vets' since October (until about late March), one or other almost all the time in a buster collar, those awful lampshade things. Lots of very long stories, some of them about breaks for freedom that did my stress levels no good at all, but much of it down to highly-active, very fast, daredevil young males acquiring serious cuts (ditto re stress); if one was bandaged, both often had to wear buster collars as they'd pull each other's bandages off; ditto with an eye infection they caught and passed back and forwards.
For a month, now, all has been well (apart from the odd adventure over a Devon bank, barbed wire or a high wall having caught sight of a hare or roe deer). Phew. And look – butter wouldn't melt, hey? They are the sweetest; and TM, an avowed cat man, is utterly, soppily, in love with them both.