Nature’s ordinary artistry

April 28, 2014 § 25 Comments

It’s nothing special within the grand scheme of things: an old path sandwiched between two large fields. Gaudy, scentless commercial roses grow in long, straight rows to the north, acres of insipid yellow rape that makes a poor honey, to the south. Probably ancient, although there are no obvious signs of this – the path was shrouded in tarmac maybe a hundred years ago and turned into a single track road. It links the small market town with a tiny hamlet two miles away where there was once a railway station. After the Beeching axe fell on the rail network in the mid sixties, the station was closed and the lane became largely redundant. Eventually it was blocked off at either end and became a pathway again.

Each year more and more wild flowers push like small miracles through the cracks in the bleached tarmac, and the rich verges become thicker and deeper, overflowing onto what becomes an increasingly narrower track. Nature is silently and gracefully taking back what is hers.

The current hedgerow is not so old if one goes by the rule of one species for every hundred years. Most of it is hawthorn; the remainder blackthorn, the berries of which produce a heady drink when steeped in gin. There are a few specimen oaks, which may be up to two hundred years old. They are beautiful and healthy, and grow in stature and presence each year, in the way that trees do. Today I found remnants of an older hedge the other side of the northerly ditch – the only evidence I have found so far that the path could be much older than it seems.

I cycle here nearly every day, except when the snow is too thick:


But today it is not:


The verges are full of rustling creatures, of yarrow, stitchwort, garlic mustard, dead and stinging nettle,

dock, and masses of frothing cow parsley. Nothing rare or unusual, but enough

to give anyone pleasure who can still their mind for an hour or so in this haven that has escaped the brutality of monoculture.

Soon the lane will look like this:


And this:


Why is this ordinary place so special to me? Partly because I regard it as a benign familiar. A wren may flitter on the edge of my vision like a ghost of a moth as it hunts for insects, a weasel may cross my path intent on some business I would prefer not to witness: all appear mindless of my spinning wheels. The trees, hedges and the fecundity of the place, silences the movement of traffic less than a mile away.

I know the spots where the garlic mustard will soon be ready to pick for salads, where the cow parsley gets the most sun from the gaps in the hedges and grows bigger than the rest, and I know where I can reach the best blackberries without getting scratched.

It is a place I trust, and it is always generous in its giving. As I cycle along this small insignificant track, I immediately feel a sense of belonging. I feel calmed and cleansed and cradled. And it is here when the ideas often come for the day’s writing; and if my mind still races, I’ll find a gap in the hedge and sit in the meadow until I can breathe deep and long.


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§ 25 Responses to Nature’s ordinary artistry

  • pi314chron says:

    Gorgeous, Rachael! Your exquisite prose places you in company with Henry David Thoreau, Edwin Way Teale, and “The Winter Morning Walks” of Ted Kooser. (Ted Kooser – recent Poet Laureate of the U. S.)
    Sooo powerful!


  • NEO says:

    Lovely, both the lane and your writing about it. How I miss the similar places out in the second growth timber of my youth. In so many ways, that was where I was formed and tested myself. A bit of heaven, I think, fallen to earth.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thank you Neo for your kind comments. Your love for such places shines through your words. I think what we both may be talking about is a sense of place, and of belonging.

      • NEO says:

        I think you are correct. Where I am now sometimes seems nearly ephemeral compared to the Old Northwest where I grew up, and looking at picture of England, especially houses that have been in place for centuries, sometimes make one feel a vagabond. Still, for most of us here, movement is also in the blood, and so life both pushes and pulls.

        • Rachael Charmley says:

          It’s interesting how where we live shapes us. I lived for many years in a farmhouse that was over four hundred years old, and it has left a deep imprint upon me. I know somehow I shall never leave that place.
          I understand what you mean about your sense of being a vagabond. Perhaps that is deeply rooted in the psyche of the North American…

          • NEO says:

            I think it is. We are all descendants of the people who left, mostly willingly, looking for greener pastures. It’s a thesis that explains quite a lot of the difference between the new world and the old. And yet, back east remains home, and Norway the home country.

            Particularly when you add in that for most of us, those that came, knew that it was very unlikely that that they would ever see those they had left behind again. That echoes through our history, especially when one reads of the people who made the journey down the Oregon trail and such.

            Maybe that’s why it moves me, the trail is just across the river from me, and you can still see the ruts from the wagons in places.

          • Rachael Charmley says:

            What you say really interests me, Neo, and I am moved by your words. Is there any reading you could suggest? I have read some stuff, but most is dressed up fiction. A Europeans idea of place and belonging will surely be very different from yours. Yours has, by definition, an extra layer, as defined by the ocean crossing.
            And of course, who were your ancestors before they were Nordic? This is where my mind goes at present. John has the look of the Celt, I the Meditteranean and/or Roman. It’s fascinating.

          • NEO says:

            I don’t have much to recommend, rachael, and I suspect it’s different for each of us, and many never seem to think about it at all. I touched on it once, long ago, which is here.


            Willa Cather did the best job I know of describing life around here in the 19th century, she grew up about 80 miles from here. I’ll look around, and see what i can find, somebody must have written about it.

            The thing about America is our mobility, at least often. Even to this day. My folks grew up in NW Minnesota, moved through Iowa for work and ended up in Indiana. I started in Indiana worked in western North Dakota, Montana, and a bit in Kansas, before I settled down here, one of my sisters ended up in Fargo, one in Philadelphia, and their kids are scattered from Philadelphia to Phoenix, Arizona.

            When we speak of getting together for weddings and funerals, it’s no joke, and not everybody makes those. A lot of voting with our feet goes on here.

            It strikes me that maybe the truest feel for us is in our music, “Shenandoah”, referenced above yes, but almost all of it has the feel of movement in it, right on through to even “The Battle Hymn”. One can nearly hear the harness jungling and the clop of the hooves behind it.

            As too where my folks came from before the Nordic, I frankly have no idea, wherever most of the Nordics came from, I’d guess.

            Dad’s family goes back to the 14th century in the forests and villages around Oslo. Mom’s, we know less but is comparable, perhaps a bit more upscale but not much, in the environs of Trondheim.

            I wrote this in the commbox, so I hope it made some sense. šŸ˜‰

          • Rachael Charmley says:

            Thanks for that, Neo. It all made sense and it’s so interesting. Lots to think about. I will check out Willa Cather and check out your link.

          • NEO says:

            Always a risk in a commbox, as we all know. It is interesting, I’ll think about it as well, maybe something will grow from it. šŸ™‚

          • Rachael Charmley says:

            Don’t know what a commbox is, I’m afraid – but I now have a Kindle edition of Cather’s ‘My Antonia’. šŸ™‚

          • NEO says:

            Good starting point, I should read it again, myself,

            What we tend to call the commbox is what you get when you click on the comment in the notification, as opposed to going to the post, it tends to be small and one can lose continuity easily, in one is making a longer answer. It’s very handy, but can mess you up as well šŸ™‚

  • This post is so beautifully written, so natural. When I walk my dogs down a familiar lane, I enjoy the changes in nature and the weather, everyday there is something different to see.The ordinary becomes the extraordinary šŸ™‚

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thank you. How nice it is to get to know an ordinary place well and to be able to appreciate how special it is. Every day for about ten years I would walk the same stretch of beach (in Southwold) after I had dropped the children off at school. I go back there now though and it’s not the same šŸ™‚

  • Miranda Stone says:

    These writings of yours show what a sacred connection you have to nature. Oh, think of what a splendid world it would be if all humans felt the same kinship to Mother Earth. Beautifully written, Rachael.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      You, my dear friend, are largely responsible for the way my writing is going. Without your kind and thoughtful comments I would probably never have had the confidence to explore. There. I’ve said it!! Bless you šŸ™‚

      • Miranda Stone says:

        It’s been my pleasure to read your work and express my admiration of it here, but I can’t take any credit for the direction of your fantastic writing, Rachael. You have a true gift, and I’m so glad you feel comfortable in exploring it now. Happy writing, my friend!

  • JessicaHof says:

    I loved this, as I always do in your nature writing. Here I got a really strong sense of nature gradually reclaiming its own. I’ve been enjoying the elegance and zen atmosphere of the haiku too.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thank you, Jess. I do appreciate your feedback, even though one can’t say much about haiku! Hope all is well with you. I hear Geoffrey is back blogging again šŸ™‚

  • It sounds like a wild place which you have formed a deep and meaningful connection with. I’m mourning the loss of my similar old railway track which is being relaid as a railway as we write šŸ˜¦

  • Rachael Charmley says:

    I understand and appreciate your sadness. I was thinking about what Robert MacFarlane says: that even in our cultivated and urbanised land, there are pockets of ‘wildness’. Not true wilderness, but small places – like the inside of a dead tree trunk or the fecundity of our holloways, that give us hope and pleasure šŸ™‚

  • This made me long for the places I grew up in Rachael, I loved the pictures of the lane in both summer and winter,and smelt that freshness of grass and trees and woods , and even that aroma of the stinging nettles… places like you describe are so precious, and descriptions like yours are just as precious to those of us prone to homesickness!
    A beautiful piece of writing to be savoured, thank you

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thank you Valerie. Reading through this piece again just now I realise that what I feel for this place (and other places too of course) is a deep sense of belonging and of being ‘anchored’. Many nature writers seem to feel this connectedness with the earth. I suspect you do too šŸ™‚

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