The last few days the blackthorn blossom has been garlanding the hedgerows with its delicate white flowers which are such a contrast with the jagged spikes on in its branches. So I suppose it is no surprise that along with the blossom we now have snowflakes falling. They fall fitfully as though they themselves are not convinced that it is a time for snow. But it is not yet quite Spring and the Cailleach is still abroad.
As part of International Women’s day Northern Visions TV put up short clips of writers from WomenAloud NI reading from their books or poems. it is well worth looking at all the clips which show the range of wonderful writing by female authors who are a part of Women Aloud NI
The piece that I read from is from the opening chapter of The Lost Garden of Garraiblagh. I hope you enjoy it.
Today I saw the first dog violet flowers. Soon they will spread down the lane among the primroses and lesser Celandine. The colours move from yellow to purple and blues with the arrival of the violin;ets. The next will be the bluebells.
It’s a sunny, warm day, Spring is definitely in the air. Perfect really. And today I found a fungi I hadn’t come across before. Thanks to a Facebook friend Tanya it is, I think, Sarcoscypha, also known as Elf Cups or Fairy baths. They are so brightly coloured I can’t think I’ve missed them before. They look a little like strange and exotic sweets dropped on the ground by some otherworldly person. Not edible but fascinating.
No squirrel hurtled towards on our walk as had done yesterday. The squirrel obviously hadn’t expected anyone on the lane, suddenly saw us and diverted off the lane to a tree. Too fast for a photograph.
There are different yellows coming through – the pale, beige yellow of the hazel catkins each with hundreds of male flowers, the lesser celandine, primrose and now coltsfoot.
The sound of the mill stream cascading down the hill is joined by the high winds pushing through the trees and hedges. It is difficult to hear anything on the walk up the hill and Rosie and I both strain to listen for any cars or tractors – few that they are. Her canine ears are usually better.
Hazel trees covering their bare branches in yellow catkins bring bright flicks of colour to the scene. Today they wave soggily in the wildly stormy wind and rain today but still brighten up an otherwise drab day in Fermanagh where even the sheep in the fields look soggy. Anything blossoming at the moment has to contend with rain.
The primroses are gathering, in small groups, blossoming valiantly and there are more on the way. Even when they are so close to the mill stream full almost to the point of overflowing and enveloping them. Further up the lane hundreds of snowdrops cover the ground under the trees beside the old mill and seem completely unperturbed by the water rushing past them. There is obviously a lesson there for me. It doesn’t matter what is going on I just need to focus on what I am doing. Everything will sort itself out – even Covid.
A few days we had snow, snow that was deep enough to make snowballs and to feel the satisfying crunch as you walk. Then it rained and overnight the snow was gone except where it had huddled up to a wall or fence like a lost animal. There is something about the snow that offers new beginnings, a cleansing of grey skies and cloud. It is like repainting a room. All at once everything seems brighter, clearer, cleaner. When the snow is there the colours of the landscape may be lessened but there is a beauty in the muted greens and blues and gingery rusts of hills and trees.
It is strange, the snow, not like ice. It gently throws a blanket over the vulnerable. I looked for the the primrose and the lesser Celandine that had begun to flower before the snow. And they were there. Their bright yellow flowers looking out from the ivy and grasses, kept safe. And now the primroses are spreading down the lane, colouring the place with spring.
A misty afternoon on the lane, the lough and the hills lost from sight but flowering in the hedgerow, the first primrose I have seen this year.
Chapter twenty-five : 1914
‘It had been a gloriously warm spring and the flower scent and colour was overwhelming. Working in the garden had been all Frank Black had ever wanted, preferring the sound of the rake and the hoe to the noise and chatter of people trying to make conversation.
‘His eyes followed the horizon around. It was too beautiful for there to be a war, surely? He watched as another frigate joined the grey steel filling Belfast Lough. Warships of every size crowded thewater. The angular steel shapes of the ships and the gun emplacements he could see across on the southern shore were so different from the gardens, the plants that he tended, the natural rhythm and cycle of life, sustaining and comforting and reassuring. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a movement. A small black and white cat was making its way carefully through the herbaceous border to an ash tree where several finches and wagtails were enjoying themselves. Frank’s deep voice became lighter as he called the cat over.
‘Cass, away from there!’
‘The cat lowered her body and looked at him before deciding to continue. Frank strode over and caught her.
‘No, ye don’t.’
‘The cat squirmed and wriggled to be let down, but then realised the uselessness of that and lay back, enjoying being placated. As he continued to stroke the thick fur of the cat, Frank’s mind drifted to the thought of joining up. He felt sure it would come to that in the end. It wasn’t just the pressure he sensed when he wandered down into the city and saw the recruitment hoardings; he knew also that the Hendersons were encouraging their younger staff to ‘do the right thing.’ Their view was replicated in the papers and in dinner party conversations. The war would not last long they all said. The older staff would be able to manage for that short time.
‘Frank didn’t want to go. His world was the garden at Garraiblagh. It wasn’t Ireland and it wasn’t Britain. He knew what it was like when he had to uproot a plant and place it somewhere else against its will. The plant never thrived. Frank felt his roots were so deeply embedded he could not imagine anything different.’
The weather changes so rapidly at the moment, icy then mild. A couple of days ago after the most recent thaw there were still signs of the animals who make their way along the lane and across the fields as silently as they can. Caught in the strange freeze frame are the prints of one of the foxes who can be seen from time to time.
Today Rosie and I watched a squirrel high in one of the trees. Viewing the photograph it can be difficult to distinguish the squirrel from the tree! Oh for a more sophisticated camera. See if you can find it. Well camouflaged and quiet, only noticed because of the flash of red as it moved.
These are the slow days of January – even though the days are beginning to lighten for some reason it is always seems darker, difficult to concentrate in the few short hours of light and the newest lockdown doesn’t help.
Sheep gather in the nearby field, the watchers on high, ranged along the horizon, staring down on to the lane only visible through the dark intricate weave of hazel branches reaching down into the mill stream.
And now the first snowdrop flowers emerging from under their blanket of leaf litter. There are changes afoot. May they be positive ones.