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Hefting to the land

Author: Annie Sturgeon
Year: Future

I live in the Howe, a hollow surrounded by hills, where calling geese can circle all night in a bowl of winter fog that has the density of porridge, but where now, intense yellow broom lights a glowing edge the colour of free-range egg yolks around the rim. The river Don runs through it, west to east. Not a huge river but quite fast flowing and you can’t cross it on foot. It’s clear and bright, the colour of polished pewter. My side is north of the river. My home is surrounded by fields of sheep brought inbye for the lambing, below a ridge of mixed woodland where buzzards nest. The pot-holed roads are barely more than single-track, quiet with only farm vehicles and the postie van now. I know that I am fortunate. I know this.

Our old granite house has a one acre garden protected by huge trees and granite walls. It’s full of plants; domesticated and wild. We have two dogs and six hens; free to roam their world. There are established fruit trees and bushes, and newly planted vegetables growing in rich, well-tended soil. The air is fresh, clean and light; lichens testify to that. Sometimes, there are smells of beasts or earthy rain, daphne or honeysuckle, rosemary, tarragon or golden marjoram and clover flowers of honey scent to succour the senses. And gorse, with its scent of coconut and almonds, fills the air on warm, calm days. And birds: the air is full of birds and their songs and calls now. I hear them above other world music. I roll along with it, beside it and within it. I know that I am fortunate. I know this.

My community is growing with the shrinking; restricted in terms of travel, distances no more now. We are becoming aware. We are smiling; greeting over garden gates, speaking as we cross the road, connecting in WhatsApp groups, caring that we all have everything we need and more (like the nest boxes Theo is making for us all despite his blindness), sharing the joy and sorrow of a granddaughter not yet held. We are owning each other, reaching out and reaching in. We’re creating a web, of security and contentment. Learning to value each other and where we are. We’re discovering who we are, who is around us. Not what they are or who they strove to be. We are shedding outer layers, removing personal shields (whilst shielding), letting them slowly fall away; we are revealing and letting in a light. We touch, without touching. We are embracing; 2 meters apart. I know that I am fortunate. I know this.

I sense that I am moving in a time that’s a reflection of 150 years ago; at the pace of the Shire horse, the pace of a laden donkey. I’m trundling along on my Tramper. Listening to breezes through the crab apple blossom flanking the old drove road, watching pink petals floating like confetti on my union with this life now. This warm breeze has time to ruffle hair and bring butterflies for me to notice. I have time to watch buds unfurl and insects pollinating. I have time to listen to all the different calls of each bird and their young. I have time to smell the scents of the gorse and the woolly, blooded scent of new born lambs that we drove past with the windows closed this time last year; and to notice their roughly wrinkled skin. I am aware now of the smaller things like speedwell; bright blue bird’s-eyes peering through the sweet green of fresh grass. All these things were there before, always present, rarely observed, essential to our lives; to my life. I know that I am fortunate. I know this.

And when the lockdown’s over I’ll be hefted to this land, like the sheep.