Our kitchen sink window frames a scene of distant England as June sunshine pours dreamy first light through the plum and hazel leaves.
A watering can stands unevenly in the rough grass between the rhubarb and the dome of lavender that marks the resting place of our Norfolk-born springer spaniels, who ended their days scenting a different land. Poppies run in a ragged, enchanting picture from my Holt Ridge childhood along the edge of our potato patch, from our plastic North Norfolk District Council compost bins to the ballooning walnut tree. The poppy petals are now losing their lustre with the onset of the wilting season, but the eye turns easily to the life in the runner bean blooms that spiral up two wigwams of cane, and to the immeasurable depth of the pink, cerise and maroon roses.
Runner beans in withering heat? Only copious amounts of water dawn and dusk, both to the roots and on the flowers, have brought us to this beauty. Only time will tell if the beans brought from my mother-in-law’s mid-Norfolk garden of plenty will defy the fiery odds.
And amid the green of the potato tops you might spy a spasmodic spray of dirt as our terriers dig for frogs.
While England gasped for spring rain we ran through countless storms and stood at the window and watched mountains vanish in the density of downpours. The reservoir is full and fresh enough for swimming because our spring is running at a rate we have not seen in years. So I have corrected a failing and watered for all my worth, hence the amphibian residents among the spuds and the disastrous consequence of the hounds burrowing in the worst possible place.
But for the irony of the water it could be Norfolk. Only this Mother’s Garden scene has the faintest cast of grey – the effect of the fine net stretched across the window that keeps at bay some less savoury aspects of this enchanting world.
A month ago I received an email from a disconsolate reader of my candid chronicle No Going Back – Journey To Mother’s Garden (which, staggeringly, is still in print after eight years, just). He said he was going to cancel his camping holiday in Catalonia on account of my blood-curdling encounters with creepy crawlies, reptiles and assorted rodents.
Hang on a minute, I countered, these are experiences spanning years and are all set in, I might add, a particularly wild and furry place. I don’t think I ever mentioned the black widow spider or the stinkbug beetle. “Just pack a non-toxic insect repellent, watch where you are walking and savour the wonders”.
I never heard from him again, and am beginning to worry I might be stifling the urge in some of you to get close to Iberian nature. I sincerely hope not. We humans are invariably the problem, not the other residents. Which reminds me: Anyone remotely interested in life beyond the costas should check out one of my favourite websites, www.iberianature.com – rich in knowledge and guidance.
But, yes, the biters are out in the twilight, some even during the thumping heat of the day.
There are constant reasons to be in the great outdoors – noisy, jumbo, gentle carpenter bees working the flower spikes of bear’s breeches, a buzzard riding the sky, the glimpse of a yellow-beaked Alpine chough, hollyhocks trumpeting the summer – but June is alive with newly hatched winged critters that want blood, hence we regularly slap our bare legs like dancers in leather shorts from Bavaria.
Maybe it is all the garlic I consume, or the toughness of hide, but for some reason they tend to spare me the intolerable pain and swelling inflicted on others, although my ankles itch as I write. What is far worse is the heaviness of heart.
There has been great sadness in the wake of shock. Our young pony, La Remoli, who came to live with us when she was just a few days old, died the day before her fifth birthday. In the delicate days that followed (and roll on) we have asked ourselves all the obvious questions, and have been comforted by the vets who tended her. A week earlier she had somehow pulled a tendon in her knee, her first illness of any description. She rallied, then was lame again, but it was not deemed a life-threatening condition. Then she was gone.
All of which, beyond the emptiness, leaves us with the dilemma of La Petita, her mother.
She paced and called into the night, so we put the word out that we can offer a home to a pony in need of one. That was four weeks ago.
La Petita has settled remarkably quickly – she spent her young life alone in fairly grim circumstances – but she must be grieving. We spend as much time with her as we can, tethering her close when we are working on the land, grooming and talking to her, while the hunt for a companion goes on, with the support of knowledgeable friends and the vets.
Hand on heart I am loathed to rush into yet more responsibility, although there are two reasons why we probably will. Horses and ponies are herd animals, social creatures, and La Petita should not be alone. Nor is parting with her an option. The old girl is weaved into the Mother’s Garden story and our hearts and lives, and as our equestrian contacts advise, she has been so happy here. Some people have suggested that getting a goat or donkey might work, but the other matter we must balance is the yearning of our children. Joe Joe and Ella both want to ride, and already we know of heart-breaking rescue centres full of animals in need of freedom.
That would mean a horse rather a pony, so again I walk the land, gazing the earth, a muddle of ponderings and emotions. I promise to let you know what transpires.