Very Positive Memories

And very few regrets

There was a time, a long while back, when I was responsible for a good chunk of land, about 2.5 hectares. I wasn’t the only one who worked that land, but I made most of the decisions and thinking about what we did there fills me with happy memories.

Part of it was working with others to achieve a common goal. Like a long weekend during which a couple of friends helped me manhandle old railway sleepers to mark the edges of 18 long, raised beds. And subsequent days, mucking out my partner’s horse and carting the muck directly to fill the beds, not all of them, but the ones destined for potatoes. Over the next four years, the potatoes moved around and each of the beds filled with delicious, well-rotted manure. Planning the rotations, selecting the particular varieties, carrying out the plan and adapting it when we had to, all memories that make me smile still today.

With all the beds built and planted, the next year was the year of the polytunnel. We had land, so why stay small? I cannot remember the exact dimensions but I seem to recall it was about 11 metres long and 3 metres wide. A polytunnel is essentially a giant sheet of plastic stretched over a set of metal hoops. My friends and I spent a couple of weekends setting up the hoops, digging holes, mixing concrete to set them in, building temporary supports to keep everything just so until the concrete set. And then we had a party to enclose the hoops with the plastic. It wasn’t exactly the barn-raising scene from Witness. It was better, because it was ours.

In the winter, other jobs kept us busy. There were old, forgotten apples trees to prune and bring back into more vigorous growth, rewarding us later with blossom like snow and more apples than we knew what to do with. Willow trees needed to be coppiced and the resulting thinnings put to use either as stakes for the garden or as split timber to season for firewood. Boundary hedges had to be looking after, and I learned how to lay a hedge, again with a friend. There’s not much more satisfying at the end of the day than looking over what was an untidy, straggly hedge riddled with gaps and seeing instead a line of bent saplings, order from chaos, and knowing that come the spring buds will break and a functional hedge will be reborn. Meanwhile, the trimmings crackle and pop in a bonfire and as the sun sets a cup of tea around the flying sparks becomes a moment for silent reflection and camaraderie.

Winter wasn’t all work of course. On a clear day, no matter how cold outside, the polytunnel provided shelter and warmth and a place to read when there was no work to be done, which was often. The willow came in handy too, because for the millennium we splurged on a wood-fired hot tub that was very happy indeed burning willow. On an outdoor working day, the first order of business would be to fire up the hot tub. Occasional refills during the day meant that the last order of business could be a relaxing soak, a perfect coda to a day of physical work.

So yes, lots of positive memories of that time, and lots more that I am not going to write about here and now. But have I internalised them? I think so, because despite the fact that I don’t do any of those things any more, I know that I have, and could again, albeit at a slower pace. They are a definite aspect of who I am, someone who tries to understand the rest of the natural world, who is willing to compromise to make use of what it can produce, and who takes the responsibility of stewardship seriously. All that is reflected in the things I am able to do now, a couple of decades older and a long way away.

This post is a submission to Positive Internalization, hosted by for the IndieWeb Carnival.

p.s. I went past the old place a couple of years ago. I shouldn’t have. All gone.

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