To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn turn turn
and a time to every purpose under heaven.
As I went to pick some mint from where it sprouts between the stones of our drystone wall, I noticed that the new shoots had slowed down. In the ebullient abundance of full Summer, there is already the touch of autumn. Nothing that knows its stuff is pushing out too much in the way of new because each plant senses the time of dying and concentrates on keeping its roots strong. We still see the many greens of life in our gardens, the hedgerows, the fields, but there is a change afoot in the natural world, one we can forget to notice. The wild St John’s Wort has turned overnight, it seems, from wide mouthed buttery yellow blooms to an abundance of autumn fruit. Yesterday, buzzy bees dipped into its pool of nectar and today it is silent. Hazelnuts bow the branches and every day ripen a bit more. Rowan berries turn from blood to crimson in a few short days and there is a chill in the morning air.
In homes where only seasonable vegetables and fruit are eaten, the turning of life is presented on a daily dinner plate. My dad had a big veg garden, fruit cloches and trees, so we always ate according to the seasons and never thought a thing about it, although endless parsnips caused childish bother now and again. Fruits were preserved, jammed and chutneyed and I remember the steaming jars and the delicious taste of a ploughman’s lunch, or a generous spread of deep purple damson jam on an after-school slice of toast. As the seasons turned, Mother Nature provided the right foods for us to live well in body and mind. Now it is hard for anyone to remember what country we live in, never mind what season it is, and that confusion can look like lack, (try saying that without your foot tapping), and such confusion can prevent us living in the Now.
Did my own mother watch the seasons turn, make her plans accordingly? I do know she had a big ottoman chest to store our Scottish vests and big woolly jumpers by the end of Spring (Ne’er shed a cloot till May is oot) and our shorts and tees in the winter months, but I don’t know how she felt about it all. Did her heart sink a little as she noticed the slowing of growth in the mint bed I wonder, or see the damsons turning dark and plump and picture herself stoning pan-loads, whilst we children ran and played and never asked a single question? I will have to, now!
When we first moved to the island, we lived according to the seasons. Tourists decided that for us, in the main, although I was hungry to learn the language of the seasons, become part of the turning, engage with it and learn to love it, but it was comparatively easy for me, out here in a wild place. It must be very much more difficult living in a concrete-lined city that never sleeps – one that can create whatever money can buy and loudly enough to drown out nature’s gentle music.
I remember living for a short time in Glasgow and finding it very hard to find any balance to my own natural rhythm. I did enjoy Glasgow, mainly because the people are so wonderfully raw and honest and good-hearted, but it wasn’t the way for me to live. Blackbirds sang in the dead of night for starters, because of all the street lights and that really threw my sleep pattern out the ‘windy’. On the island, I wake with the birds and sleep when they do so my nights became days and I was sad for the blackbird and concerned for his singing career. I also found fences very upsetting. Ownership and fear of loss or trespass seemed to rule everyone’s life, and make each one lonely as a result. I used to have to hang my washing out on the communal ‘green’ on Wednesdays, even if it rained on Wednesdays and nobody hung their washing out there anyway, in case it was pinched.
Oh dearie me.
I believe we are out of kilter with ourselves when we ignore the heart beat of Nature and try to drown out her voice with electronic hums which, even put together, which they never are, cannot make a melody, let alone a harmony. If we want to live long and prosper we don’t follow money. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work for it, use it to make a good life for ourselves, of course we should, but it isn’t everything. After the tsunami, money lost its value overnight. That’s how fickle it is. But our natural world, now there is something worth looking after. Even after disaster, the earth can grow again, but she won’t if we don’t tend her garden, and care for her creatures and her people.
In Glasgow I waited half an hour for a bus. I was nervous and felt very ‘on show’ as the cars and bikes rolled by. Bus comes, I hold out a fiver and ask for one way to town. No change, he said, the driver, without looking at me. I don’t have any, I said, wishing the ground would take me down. Then off you get, he said.
Suddenly someone called from the back. Here you go hin! A wee woman in a plastic rain hat tottered up and shoved a pound coin in the driver’s face, like a punch. We both knew I wouldn’t see her again to pay it back.