January Road Trip (XXX)

Earth tumbles off steel

Turned turf rolls over face down

Gulls trawl plough’s soil wake

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n.b. After the urgent work of hedge cutting, trimming, mending, it is the time to plough. This is the moment to open the ground to air, rain and frost so the soil can break up, breathe and prepare for sewing and the warmth of spring.

It seems that every field I have passed from Norfolk to Hertfordshire is being worked today. This is the heavy, steady work of the season; rod by rod, acre by acre with the patience of the ploughman.

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CLP 30/01/2020

Come On…Come On…

We’d watched and learned

Our noses pink from unseasonal warmth

Through April and May

How the farmer

Pulled stubborn lambs from the ewe

Revived the still-born with vigorous shakes

Rubbing orphans with the bloody mess birth makes

Sneaking them close, out of mother’s view

So she would stand and suckle two

Even though she had borne just one

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Through new nettles we stepped

To gather up the nervous flock

To face down the boisterous lambs

Turning them towards their baa’ing mums

As they tried to twist and leap by

Running at us down the hill

Like gangs of children freed from school

And then later in the summer

You with strong maternal craft

Led the old sheep back to the barn

Without the need to catch her young

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Daily moving, feeding and watering chickens

Removing victims of the fox

Returning together on the quad

Then in the orchard you sat with bottles

Feeding Daisy-Mae and the others

Naming animals, though not encouraged

Made morning and evening special

As blossom turned to small hard fruit

You happily fed your woolly babies

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We watched the herd of fifty-six

Clear each fresh meadow of the sheep

To ensure that they would get the best

One day you stepped into their heavy midst

To rescue the little one enclosed by the cattle

He so curious, you so brave

No nonsense, firm and swiftly done

You saved him from the hefty hooves

Set him down and let him run

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We watched and learned

Our skin weathered

By the wind and rain of mid-summer

To prepare the cows’ route

From field to field along the hedges

Along the electrified lines

We opened gates and stood well back

Leaving them their safe space

Then called them on and let them run

Down the hill and on between the posts

They could sense the fresh pasture in the air

On their sloppy, bubbled, rough tongues

They chased each other to the new grazing

In breath-taking leaps and thundering charge

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In our first summer of such work

We grew fitter, stronger, closer

Until winter’s dark advance cast doubt

Separation leaving us scratched, stung and shocked

But the gate is open; has never closed

I cannot drive you where you will not go

But call as softly as I can

“Come on…Come on…”

That you might is yours to choose

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CLP 27/12/2019

On August X

Ewe calls to her lambs

Not feeding anymore but

These are still her young

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n.b. With lambs weaned after four months, or so, the bonds between ewe and offspring are still strong. When the flock is disturbed by a passing walker pausing and taking in the view at the gate, the baa-ing begins between ewes and lambs; they have recognisable voices. I am sure there must be shepherds who learn who is who in their flock from the individual calls.

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CLP 21/08/2019

On Dorset III (of XIII)

Atop chalk observe

Forests’ vestiges cling still

Rare isles rich in life

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n.b. Here, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, (ANOB), the land is wonderous to observe.

These chalk hills, laid down over millenia, have been worked by various human species for tens of thousands of years, They have been sculpted by farming; stripped of variety by sheep and cattle; denuded of woodland by the need for fuel, housing and shipping.

What we are looking at is a wholly man-made environment. Even the hills have been re-shaped by tumuli and crowned by huge earthworks, such as Maiden Castle. It is not an area of natural nature, it is an area dominated by farming that is strictly managed by tight planning regulation to restrict changes to its current manicured presentation.

The outstanding natural beauty is found in small clumps of green, where the diversity of life exists in isolation. The planning regulations in an AONB inhibit development of these rare spaces, but still allow glades to be cleared, houses to be built – if you have money.

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CLP 15/07/2019