“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
Given the hyperbole about the heat that struck us at the beginning of the week I think I am bound to begin with that. I hardly need repeat my own very real concerns about climate change, but I do feel the media response has been less about that very real threat, and more about generating hysteria of the moment – underlining what a frightened people we have become. Aside from the possibility of nuclear war, which would at least end all concerns, I would suggest we live in a period safer than any before. Yet fear feels to be the prevailing underlying feeling, but why?
Is it perhaps a short-term feeling that this ‘good life’ just cannot continue, or is it a longer term understanding that, despite all our brilliance, the human race is racing to end its own existence? Not such a farfetched notion, as elements within our society happily work to cut off the branches on which they themselves sit, and have done so throughout my lifetime at least. Speculation has to be resisted.
We were situated on the fringes of the ‘Red alert’, and the maximum temperature was not much over 39 centigrade, or just over 102 Fahrenheit. Not what we are used to in Worcestershire, but for a short period bearable, and of course we are not living in the centre of a crowded city.
As importantly, our sheep and cattle seemed to cope well, and we had no standing crops to ignite, accidentally or deliberately.
There is evidence that the United Kingdom is one of the least well prepared of European countries to have the necessary resilience to cope with these bursts of very hot temperatures, particularly with regard to housing, but not forgetting the railway networks, the tarmac we use here…
Returning to last week’s AGM, I admit after the formal part I rather scurried away but for most that was not the end.
Sebastian and a number of attendees took a walk along the bridle path to see the new barn and those animals sheltering from the heat in the barn, after which lunch was provided. No doubt minutes will follow.
One issue raised was of direct relevance to these notes, and that was that it would be helpful to have a reminder of what being a biodynamic farm actually meant, aside from just hearing that we have done this or that.
Anne thought to take this in bite size chunks. Here is the first ‘chapter’:
Farming biodynamically asks you, through the work of farming the land, to develop a relationship with the land, as any farmer of a small farm does, but going further than might be assumed, so that as the farmer walks their fields, they get to know and understand one another.
Why to get to know one another? Because Gaia* is a living being – the soil is alive, as are the plants – life is within, and through everything.
We know for ourselves that if we are loved and understood, and cared for rightly, we are able to achieve so much more.
Biodynamics acknowledges that this is also true of nature.
But one cannot run before one can walk, so one’s phenomenology, one’s observations, are gradually acquired. And how to respond is also learned.
*(See James Lovelock, a New Look at Life On Earth: The Gaia Hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock (1972) suggests that living organisms on the planet interact with their surrounding inorganic environment to form a synergetic and self-regulating system that created, and now maintains, the climate and biochemical conditions that make life on Earth possible.)
As I am sure is the case with most of you, from Wednesday temperatures tumbled, a joy for some if not all, and then unexpectedly rebounded. We, of course, have missed out on all the indicated rainfall earlier in the week, and going round the farm the colour of many pastures is stalky-yellow – at least until you look closely. Ditches are mainly dry, as is the scrape.
Nonetheless some fields are as green as we could wish, and despite the drought, hedges and trees show no signs of distress. What was wonderful to see was the great numbers of butterflies, of many varieties, even though often tall thistles might have been as important for nectar as the clover. As to the fields used for the Inkberrow Horse Show, evidence of that event was essentially not to be seen. The forecast rain for Friday, which no one dared refer to, at 90% prediction, sadly was rather misleading, but eventually in the early evening there was enough to at least leave puddles on the bridle path, and it seems that the water level in the Brook has slightly increased.
There is little to say about the sheep though Chris driving in the heat of Tuesday afternoon to deliver our five sheets of wool to the collecting depot at Bromyard was an impressive feat. I have not the courage to estimate just what the loss might be on the whole business, but for the health of the sheep it is necessary. The flock was put in the field containing the defunct long gallop where there is a great deal of shelter. The grass in the field is so high that all that can be seen as the animal’s move are their ears. We were surprised on Friday to be told by Yannick that, yet another lamb had just been born!
This coming week will already be Yannick’s last week with us – these weeks have really flown by. Yet again we are so fortunate, and we will miss him and his help when he returns home.
While the suckler herd remain in the barn, the young ones have been moved back over the river. The eye problem remains, and I fear by the end of the season a majority of the animals will have had to be treated. The ‘reactors’ were collected on Wednesday, and as one had a four-month-old calf, this has joined the calf being bottle fed, and two others in another part of the barn.
There has been considerable correspondence circulating on Pasture Fed regards poisonous weeds. In this instance mainly about the identification of hemlock, and a general feeling that this has only been a general problem in the last twenty years. A plant that once was only found in damp ground by streams or ditches has now spread onto much dryer ground. Here, as every year at this time, it is ragwort pulling. Despite our best efforts over many years the wretched plant springs up, often in new places.
Another worry for the large commercial farmer, is that the weight of machinery now used, despite huge wide tyres, is causing significant compaction to the subsoil, and compaction at this level is very difficult to rectify. All machinery, as do horses and cattle, causes compaction of the topsoil. Not a good thing, but at least remediable.
The good weather has at least ensured that cricket has bloomed, and Anne is rather a TV cricket widow. Aside from Friday I cannot think of any problems caused by rain. The ECB seem to have ensured that there is no conflict in terms of watching between women and men’s games, and as I have admitted, before the slower tempo and good spirit of the women’s games suits my age best. Bowling at 90 miles an hour, testing enough for the players, is just too fast to be as entertaining as top speeds of 73mph.
The other feature of the summer which I hope you are enjoying is the Proms. I have never concealed my irritation over the need to force feed us ‘noise’ as part of our education, but that is a small price to pay. I admit that it seems to me sad that the opportunity never seems to be taken to go back and revive composers who in their own time were considered as great as the ‘greats’ we worship today.
Lately I have been enjoying music by Johannes Wilhelm Wilms, German by birth, but one who made Holland his musical home. A composer who was also a pianist and flautist.
Obviously influenced by Mozart, his works were overtaken in public regard by the mid-20th century ‘romantics’, but as in so much of life, fashion that ‘fickle goddess’, while ensuring that Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were not forgotten, and that Mendelssohn, rescued Bach from oblivion, there was no one to do the same for Wilms.
Early in the week I listened to three very interesting radio programmes. Of these, one referred to a matter shared with you before, and that is the high level of suicide or mental illness among the farming community, an issue only recently grasped by the wider public. The farmer has all the difficulties of any small business owner, but additionally has the weather to live with. Add to that very small, if any, profit margins, almost invariably large capital debts, and possibly family debts if the farm has been passed down, and other members of the family have some claim and little community support. Add to those two common characteristics: A readiness to feel a sense of failure, and a feeling that only you can do something really properly. And one peculiarly male problem, admitting what’s going on in your head, especially emotions.
The second of the three radio programmes that really caught my attention was Rory Stewart, with the first of a series of five, on the significance and early history of ‘argument’.
He is interesting, and despite my negative feelings as to the, as I see it, horrific influence of ancient Greek studies to education, still held my attention. I see our obsession with the Greeks and Romans as blocking our realisation that European thought was centuries behind thought in other parts of the world.
Yes, like many of my age group, Latin was part of my education, and my memory can still trawl up sections of poetry relating to Vulcan’ forge, but I find it very hard to forgive those who attempted to impose the structure of Latin grammar on our language – idiots. As a pupil, it’s great advantage over French say, was that it could be spoken in an English accent.
I admit I regret not having any ancient Greek, but its alphabet like, that of phonics, which defeated me at first base. My regret is based on having to rely on translations, and I know enough to understand that language is as slippery as English. In another life perhaps. I shall listen to the next programmes in the series not least because argument is one of my greatest joys.
Finally, of far more importance was a discussion on placebos. Regarded for years as an irritant when it came to double blind trials, it now appears that placebo effect is both real and important. As is so often the case, it was the experience of a medic operating in field hospitals in 1944 and 1945, that eventually penetrated thinking of medics fifty years later. The placebo effect is real, at about 30%, and confirmation and acceptance of this forces serious thought on the body/mind interaction. It also explains so much that was obvious but not accepted. You are worried, and go to see your GP, her response and approach is often all that is needed to make you feel better.
None of this is new, but now we appear to have a better understanding as to what is happening. It is of course no magic solution, and positive thinking will not achieve miracles, but the power of the mind to trigger responses is now to be taken seriously by all in the medical community, including those who can only believe what experimentation and statistics appear to ‘prove’.
I was feeling this week very much in tune with the song made famous by Anthony Newly, heaven knows how many years ago, ‘Stop the world I want to get off’, especially after the statement by Sir Graham Brady on Wednesday afternoon, and I thought of this poem by that great man Thomas Emerson titled “Terminus”.
Listening to the radio on Thursday morning and being reminded of the catastrophic effects, should the North Atlantic Water circulation slow down much more (the Gulf Stream being part of it) I knew my choice was spot on.
Terminus by Ralph Emerson
It is time to be old,
To take in sail:—
The god of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds,
And said: “No more!
No farther shoot
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root.
Fancy departs: no more invent;
Contract thy firmament
To compass of a tent.
There’s not enough for this and that,
Make thy option which of two;
Economize the failing river,
Not the less revere the Giver,
Leave the many and hold the few.
Timely wise accept the terms,
Soften the fall with wary foot;
A little while
Still plan and smile,
And,—fault of novel germs,—
Mature the unfallen fruit.
Curse, if thou wilt, thy sires,
Bad husbands of their fires,
Who, when they gave thee breath,
Failed to bequeath
The needful sinew stark as once,
The Baresark marrow to thy bones,
But left a legacy of ebbing veins,
Inconstant heat and nerveless reins,—
Amid the Muses, left thee deaf and dumb,
Amid the gladiators, halt and numb