I have been so glad of the garden lately. The mix of sunshine and showers has brought everything on, and every day there is something new to look at. It isn’t just the herbs, either. I have had our own lettuce, strawberries (never more than four at a time, but so tasty!) and potatoes for a few weeks now, and on Friday I got the first tomato.It was a new variety to me – Ruthje – which is an elegant peardrop shape, and not too big. I think I was a bit impatient, as it wasn’t really ripe, but there are plenty more to come, so we’ll see. The sweet peas have done well, and the poppies have been amazing – bright shots of colour in what would otherwise have been very gentle misty pastels. My grandson has been fascinated by the developing seed pods, so I hope he will help me harvest them when it comes to seed saving time.
Now that my husband is home again, the bird feeders are better maintained and we have flocks of sparrows and starlings clustered around them like fat bunches of grapes. We’ve even seen an ambitious magpie trying to twist itself into the right angle to get hold of a fatball, and there was a greater spotted woodpecker one quiet morning. I think there might be a hedgehog visting at night, because there was something moving in the shade of the fence in the dark. I have been woken several times by an owl flying in, calling, and its claws grating on the fence as it landed, and one spectacular night I looked out to find three foxes, almost full-grown, but clearly still adolescent, playing and chasing each other across the rough grass behind our house.
This had me thinking. When I first heard the sounds, it wasn’t animals I was thinking about. Now that the schools are on holiday, there are young people wandering about at all times of the day and night. Mostly they are just going home after parties, or setting off to catch early flights on holiday (that particular lot were far too lively for four o’clock in the morning!), or hanging about chatting and skylarking, away from their parents. Pretty much like the foxes, to be honest. I wonder if I would have felt more ambivalent about human prowlers? Yes, a hostile human can do more damage that a fox, but our neighbours are not our enemies, even when they are teenagers, are they? Sometimes they do seem as alien as the foxes – I’ve heard older people describe younger ones as ‘roaming in packs’ – but it’s natural and necessary, at some periods in your life, to distance yourself from the authorities in your life and from what’s expected of you, and renegotiate the boundaries between yourself and the world. And it isn’t easy to live with for a neighbour as much as a parent.
Somewhere in my head the wandering boys and the foxes are getting mixed up. There’s an Irish ballad called Sly Bold Reynardine, about a were-fox who seduces unwary maidens, lures them to his den on the mountains of Pomeroy and drowns them. And I remember that some people used to refer to the Faeries as ‘the good neighbours’ so as not to provoke them. There are poems here, and notes for the non-fiction book.
I feel as if I have been spinning my wheels on the whole writing thing for a long time, not only while my husband was in hospital, but since we moved, since I finished The Well of the Moon in fact. I’ve done a lot of reading, and a lot of editing, and a lot of planning and drafting and to-do lists. I went on a course last summer to learn how to write proper essays, only to be told I should ‘be more poet’.
It turns out to be right! There is a fox poem, possibly one of a sequence, and I’ve found my way in to the non-fiction. I’m following the ballads and the charms into the liminal spaces, renegotiating boundaries and allowing the poetry to shape the prose. It seems that if you find the form, the words flow much more freely, and I’m looking forward to finally making some progress with my own work.