IMG_7550

 

October, and the daily ritual and rhythm of a walk through the field is calling.

There’s the added boon of a new pup, Billie, to enjoy this time with me. She’s all legs, oversized feet and a mass of brindled fluff, and she reminds me of the easily overlooked joy of just being in this sea of green.

The field is beginning to hunker and huddle for Winter’s approach, and much rain has tramped down even the sturdiest and most stalwart of grassy outcrops.

The acrobatic ‘hoppers have left the stage, but in their place many spiders have been busy weaving huge trampolines between the hollowed husks of the once blowsy petticoats of mallow. Their silken skeins are taught with the anticipation of a meal; the master builders waiting at the edge, one foot poised to feel the slightest ripple of the foolish and fallen.

Billie is completely oblivious to these small but definitive set changes; her head is down and her nose is full to brimming with the unruly and chaotic torrent of new scents that are clambering for her attention as she snorkels through the dewy grass. There’s rabbit (so many), deer and fox (damn that beautiful fox) and also the freshly dug, blackberry-blue of a badger latrine. As a youngster she hasn’t quite mastered the skill of self application, but I can tell that to her it’s like raiding the shelves of a perfume counter… Penhaligons-for-pups. Her eyes are slightly crazed and showing a lot of white!

Onwards to the veg patch. It’s not looking its best, but even in this state of semi-decay there are elements that never fail to make my heart happy.

The empty hulls of forgotten and spent marrow lie stranded in their earthy bed like washed-up shipwrecks unceremoniously dumped by the careless hand of a storm.

The overwintering broccoli are all wearing peppered leafy overcoats,  morse-coded with the little of dots and dashes… ‘the coast is clear stop come dine here stop’. Evidence of a successful assault by the late army of Cabbage Whites.

And then there are the beautiful slow-nodding pompoms of overgrown leek. With a good friend’s encouragement, I decided to leave them and so they’re now approaching their third year. I’m dearly hoping for a huge crop of scapes to roast and roll in a thick balsamic vinegar; they go so well with a soft and creamy goat’s cheese. But even if this dreamy promise doesn’t come to fruition, their evolution has been a visual feast, like watching fireworks in very slow motion.

A visit to the greenhouse, to pick some late tomatoes and sort through some drying borlotti beans.

A couple of Winters ago I sent my mum some dried beans. Come the following Spring she sowed them and grew a sprawl of beautiful splatter-patterned, purple pods. And when Autumn arrived she sent me a generous handful from her borlotti harvest. From these I grew my own tangle, and enjoyed some happy, noisy meals with my family, particularly this one, by the very brilliant and wonderful Rachel Roddy. I’ve saved and dried a few dozen and now it’s time to send these new colourful little worlds back down to Mum, for the following Spring.

I love this very much. and I dearly wish we’d started it way back when… when I realised that growing things was destined to be one of the most pleasurable and enduring pursuits, rather than ‘just something your mother does’, along with listening to radio 4.  This particular pastime has taken me on quite a ramble both personally, and in terms of the choices I made when I decided to have a go at drawing stuff for a living.

IMG_4560

It has the ability to buoy me up when I’m flailing and all at sea, and if ever I get a little too smug it’s smartingly quick to deliver an earthy slap of reality. The simple and physical hard graft of growing vegetables… it’s perhaps the most honest and direct friendship one can have with the land. It’s both humbling and inspiring. And for me the rewards are beyond those that I bring home to the kitchen.

Heading back now, a bundle of kale under my arm, and I’m thinking of a warming soup with a perhaps a poached egg on top, and a dollop of fresh pesto.