Sunday, 23 September 2012

Seek out abundance

I was going to write a whole article this week about the melting arctic ice . . . but what more is there to say? It's reached a record low, it's serious, it probably (though not certainly) means that in 2013 we'll have another year's weather like 2012 . . . and the issue has vanished from the news agenda even faster than the ice melted. With unbelievable idiocy Shell wants to drill for oil in the newly-opened water . . . excuse me, why exactly has the ice melted? At least an all-party committee of MPs has come out trenchantly against it, though whether they can influence the government remains to be seen.

What can we do? Reduce our own carbon footprints - that's the first and most important. Write to your MP in support of the committee report. Support campaigning organisations that are working on the issue, such as Greenpeace or World Wildlife Fund. If you send Christmas cards, try these from WWF, or - even better - reduce carbon emissions by sending e-cards and give a donation instead.

If you want to get better informed about the social and political, as well as the climatic, issues then I recommend you read Laurence Smith's book The New North (it's only £5 in paperback, and less than that in a Kindle edition).

That's enough on that . . . I want us all to do all of this, of course, but direct our hearts and spirits elsewhere. This weekend I've been out in my garden, harvesting. Yes, it's been a dire year but some things are there. Outdoor tomatoes are starting to ripen at last, beans and peas are heading for their last picking already, having got going late and slowly in the first place.
Rosa rugosa hips

But the Rosa rugosa are heavy with big fat rose hips, which I'm about to make into jelly - and if there were no imported fruit available, that would be my vitamin C for the winter!

My apples have done very well - I think I was just lucky, as many people are reporting poor crops. At the moment I'm just picking up windfalls, but there's a good crop coming soon.

The cranberries and lingonberries have also done very well, so that's another jelly-making session.

But more than even all of these, it's the astonishing abundance of the blackberry crop. They've liked the rain and they're fat and juicy - though, alas, not very sweet or flavourful because they haven't had the sun on them to increase the sugars. So they're for jam, and pies or crumbles, rather than just eating raw.

I have a cultivated blackberry in my garden, which has hardly any spines, so you don't shred your hands while picking. It's also very easy to manage - the branches that have fruited this year are cut right back to the ground at the end of the season, and this year's new growth is tied in to supports and will fruit next year. This means you don't get a massed thicket of brambles, as happens in the wild, which is really crucial in a tiny garden like mine. Even so, I can't reach all of the fruit, so a fair bit gets left for the birds, which is good for the ecosystem.

 But if you don't have a garden, get out and find a hedgerow and pick blackberries, rose hips, and anything else edible you can find. (Elderberries, for instance can be made into pies, jam, jelly, cordial or wine.)

When I was a child, all sorts of people went out blackberrying at this time of year, and there was fierce competition for the best wild hedgerows - get there too soon and the fruit wasn't ripe; leave it too late and someone else would have picked it all!

We're surrounded by bad news and tales of scarcity - the ice is melting, there's been drought in the world's grain-growing states, farmers have had a bad year, food is going to get more expensive, economic conditions aren't about to improve and people in the lower half of the income distribution in this country are going to get poorer . . . it's all very grim.

But don't forget the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem God's Grandeur (1918) - what could have been a more grim time to be writing than the closing stages of World War 1?

THE world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? *
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

We need to seek out experiences of life, of abundance.

* The word 'reck' is a short term for recognise; the 'rod' is a scepter, a symbol of authority. The words 'then now' suggest  the ongoing nature of humanity's lack of  awareness: people of the past ('then') and people of the  present ('now') do not 'reck' or recognise God's authority, God's 'rod'.  

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