Tree planting

“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

In light of the last few days, I hope you will understand if we place the poem first, and the farm news second. 

Though I am very happy that we live under a constitutional monarchy I have little interest in royalty as such. For me, beyond The Queen, only two figures stand out, the Prince of Wales and his father the Duke of Edinburgh, and now the latter has gone.  

I never met him, but through my involvement with young people had first-hand evidence of the enormous value of his contribution to our society, and for that alone his life deserves to be commemorated – add in the other activities in his life and we have an inspirational individual for all, and particularly the young. 

When Great Trees Fall, Maya Angelou 

When great trees fall,   
rocks on distant hills shudder,   
lions hunker down   
in tall grasses,   
and even elephants   
lumber after safety.   

When great trees fall in   
forests,   
small things recoil into silence,   
their senses   
eroded beyond fear.   

When great souls die,   
the air around us becomes   
light, rare, sterile.   
We breathe, briefly.   
Our eyes, briefly,   
see with a hurtful clarity.   
Our memory, suddenly sharpened  
examines,   
gnaws on kind words   
unsaid,   
promised walks   
never taken.   

Great souls die and   
our reality, bound to   
them, takes leave of us.   
Our souls,   
dependent upon their   
nurture,   
now shrink, wizened.   
Our minds, formed   
and informed by their   
radiance, fall away.   
We are not so much maddened  
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance  
of dark, cold    
caves

And when great souls die,  
after a period peace blooms,   
slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill  
with a kind of   
soothing electric vibration.   
Our senses, restored,   
never to be the same, whisper to us.   
They existed. They existed.   
We can be. Be and be   
better. For they existed.  

So, to our week. Anne has gently drawn my attention to the apparent reality that these notes are perhaps becoming too long. Too late to affect this week’s effort but I shall try to do better next week.   

Farm News

At the end of the week, by dint of a combination of walking and being driven, I managed to visit fields at the back of the farm. I particularly wanted to see how Martin was getting on in removing old fencing to allow our fencers to return to work. He has cleared well over a thousand metres, and a great deal of overgrown brambles over two days.  

Although we had a bad and damaging frost on Tuesday night, our hedgerows are looking very attractive as the blackthorn undaunted, is in full bloom. It was very good also to see along the track to the middle rear field, cowslips and violets.  

As last week, biodynamics was an important activity: Cow horns that had been filled with cow manure last autumn and then buried over the winter, were dug up and then emptied for use as preparation 500 to be sprayed on the farm. We were not happy with last year’s results, but these results were very good. Additionally, using the growth of young nettles, Nettle ‘tea’ was made. Use of comfrey and nettles for homemade fertiliser is a common practice but making enough for a whole farm is a rather bigger operation.  

Depending on how lambing goes the farm will be sprayed again at the end of this month.  

There is little to share on the animals. All but a handful of lambs went to Ford Hall farm leaving us with five. As I shared before for dog and child training, while two cows went as well. The ewes are showing signs of being nearly ready to give birth, while the cattle seem very settled. Their peace will be disturbed at the end of the months as we face a full herd TB test. This is always an anxious time for us since there is no way we can predict the outcome.  

The pastures vary in their readiness for use, and some clearly would benefit from rain – that which we had on Saturday and Sunday was welcome but very much a shower rather than a deluge. Spring may have caused considerable growth in lawns but not yet in fields.  

Finally, but certainly not unimportantly, a number of trees were planted – lime, willow, sweet gum and elderberry. Two were particularly important and were not saplings. A lime (not the small leaf variety) was planted to commemorate Beryl and her love of bees. The other was a sweet gum to celebrate the time passed since Chris became a British citizen. The willow saplings were planted along a section of brooks bank, while four small-leafed lime, and four elderberry went into hedgerows. All are clearly marked so they can be nurtured should we have a prolonged drought.   

This need for nurture in the early years was a lesson learnt as last year we lost a number of fruit trees in the orchard, either from drowning or drought. Discussions as to the varieties to plant as replacements have already started with a view to an autumn planting. The drowning came about because of the pond overflowing. This problem has been resolved by inserting a pipe to ensure the water level cannot any longer rise too high. Drought is a different matter and though we have on several occasions thought about irrigation should prolonged droughts become more common, at this stage it is just not a realistic option.  

Climate Damage

My attention was attracted to an article in the Economist magazine of the 3rd of April in the science and environment section, needing on my part to be read twice I found it very interesting. You will recall the arguments as to which is the most damaging to the climate, CO2 or methane. One persists for centuries while the other, methane has a half-life of only 10 years. Methane it is that currently is causing the most alarm to those who see climate change as essentially due to humans.  

While levels of methane emitted in Europe have been falling, this not the case elsewhere. The article suggests that methane results both from nature and from human activities on a nearly equal basis. Sources in nature include swamps, rivers and lakes. In the 50% or so arising from human activity ruminants are seen to be responsible for 3/10ths, while of the remain 7/10th come from a variety of human activities from leaking gas pipes to fossil fuel extraction.  

Much of this methane has a commercial value and could in large part be collected for commercial use, and very often you will see on former landfill sites pipes to emit the methane resulting from decaying waste, rarely do you see evidence of this gas being collected.  

The issue of ruminants is a different matter, as the world outside Europe developed the taste and resources to eat meat. At this point I shall be repetitive and say the data from Europe shows a decline in the levels of methane and only around 17% of this results from ruminants. The writer of the article uses an oft quoted statement from Bismark that “politics is the art of the possible” to suggest that the general public are highly unlikely to give up eating meat and that possibly a solution might be found by adding something to cattle feed which will inhibit the production of methane.  

Doubtless this article will find supporters and detractors, but it is the first report I have seen which attempts to blend information from ground level with information from the theoretical.  

Woke

I think it has to be admitted that I have never been whatever it is that is now called ‘woke’. I am not claiming that as either a triumph or a failure, but somehow peer group pressure has never been an issue in my life other than perhaps to exacerbate my contrary nature. Frankly, I not only find it absurd, but also a frightening indication that we are now in a period when, attitudes I cling to believing are part of our cultural identity, are being thrown out of the window.  

The shadow Prime Minister feeling he has to apologise for visiting a church hosting a vaccination session whose pastor holds unfashionable views, and a world in which a headteacher and school governors fail to support a teacher who is teaching… There is only one word for it, pathetic. As pathetic as the BBC feeling unable to give space to the Cameron issue, or to provide us with a truncated Messiah without any indication that this was what we were about to experience.  

A world however in which certain habits never change. For example: the weekend before was the annual litter pick by the parishioners of Stock and Bradley, and as he does every year, Chris loaded up the litter on the farm trailer and took it to the dump. I remember Bill Bryson expressing his amazement that we English should show so little respect for things that we should treat as national treasures.   

Happily, that the Easter weekend was of religious significance was not entirely forgotten. We were treated to an exquisite service of songs and readings from Kings College Cambridge. The message was so simple, yet inspiring, and very moving.  

Sadly, I was left thinking about how the simple message, though lip service, may from time to time be paid to it, has largely been lost because of built in weaknesses in humankind, and the failure to recognise that the God of the Old Testament is not the God of the New Testament. 

The linkage made in the gospels was for tactical and political reasons, and because the writers of the gospels were Jews and it was fellow Jews they were seeking to evangelise, rather than the understanding of St Paul, writer of the oldest parts of the New Testament, that here was a message for all and especially non-Jews. 

And it is that Old Testament first God who has wrought so much damage in the ‘Christian ’world over the centuries and to this present world.  

Growing old and greater understanding 

Growing old, despite it being a terminal experience, can without doubt also be an interesting one. I have not concealed from you that my mobility and physical state have reduced my day-to-day activity in the farm, or that the increasing demand to use computerisation has reduced my contribution to paperwork. This does at least mean I can think and read about agricultural issues likely to be facing us in the near future. But that is by the by. What I really want to share, is the greater understanding I am developing of all that is now and past.  

My mobility, aside from back and breathing problems, is also affected by what the Doctors have diagnosed as intermittent benign vertigo. An interesting use of the word ‘vertigo’ since here, it refers to balance rather than to fear and effect of heights. Benign, because it is merely a sign of aging and, to be cynical, because probably nobody really knows what causes it. Of interest to me, aside from the inconvenience, because it has underlined how remarkable is the process of learning to stand and then walk in babies – something one knows in theory, but that is really not the same as experiencing it. Quite fascinating.  

Music 

For me, the other pluses you have probably guessed from my notes. Every week it seems I come across music I was unfamiliar with of or is interpreted in a radically different style and or, listen to artists or conductors new to me and most importantly the time to enjoy the experience. So, this week I have been listening to pianists totally new to me – two Russian and one French.  

I knew Crusell’s clarinet quartets, but now have come across his clarinet concertos. Crusell is seen as second only to Sibelius in the pantheon of Finnish composers. Also, for the first time I have braved Malcom Arnolds symphonic works and actually felt I got something from them. 

The past 

The same goes for knowledge of the past. This week for me has been rather dominated by reading and thinking initiated by last week’s radio programme “In our time”.  

The programme was about the Japanese-Russian conflict of 1904/1905 but inevitably raised a host of questions about the lead up to the conflict and the subsequent consequences.  

While I guess the defeat of the Russian fleet, Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly and the attack by Japan on America in 1942 and subsequent defeat are hardly unknown, the context of all these events was certainly not really well known to me. The war itself is actually well documented and many of us know the name Port Arthur – the Russian base in Manchuria; that the Russian Baltic fleet took seven months to reach the town but arrived after it had fallen, that the Russian ships used inferior coal which belched out dark smoke, while the Japanese vessels used high quality Welsh coal which burnt vastly better and emitted much less smoke.  

Similarly, the war as it affected the British and American forces in 1942 to 1945 is well known as is the fact that war in the region began some years before.  

Though the six foot six inches tall son of a friend and colleague, studied and then took up residence in Japan, I completely failed to exploit his newfound knowledge of that country. Consequently, I had to turn to my own bookshelves.  

I discovered I had only one specific book on Japanese history and that is written by Christopher Harding and published 2018. Though it has a subtitle of “In search of a Nation 1850 to The Present”, the early chapters cover the early history of the nation. These show that from a very early time, Japan, Korea and China had a relationship which had as many bad as it had good times. This of course lay behind the attacks on China from 1937 onwards. Korea had fallen to the Japanese in 1910.  

The experts drew attention to the date 1868 as being the start of the new Germany, the new Italy and the new Japan. For all three countries, before this date, were turbulent times. For Japan, following the overthrow of the Samurai, peace took a long time to arrive. Before that time however, the Americans in the shape of Commodore Perry had first arrived in 1853 and handed over a blank piece of paper demanding that when his fleet reappeared in 1854, the Japanese would have signed this to accept American demands. In a society where ‘face’ was important this had repercussions later.  

To the tune of Yankee Doodle and written by a long-term expatriate contemptuous of the wealthy American tourists in the 1920’s  

Doodle San will leave Japan  
With several tons of cargo;  
Folks will stare when all his ware  
Is poured into Chicago  

There’s silk, cut velvet, old brocade  
And everything that’s high class  
And ancient bronzes newly made  
By dealer in Kyoto  

By the year 1900 Japan had re-invented itself and had in many ways learnt and adopted modernity from the major European powers. During this period Russia also had modernised but additionally had been expanding its empire to the East. Their establishment of a military base and port known as Port Arthur in Manchuria (after failing to take Korea in the mid-1890s by the action of the Japanese army) caused much concern in Japan, and this led to the war of 1904/05, the Russian rebellion of 1905, and a switch of thinking in the Russians towards extension in the west and in the Balkans.  

Despite the German Kaiser’s attempts to establish treaty links with Russia, that country in fact fell to the blandishments of France and the UK, and treaties of alliance were signed. Germany was now in a position where politicians and the population felt threatened as did the Austro-Hungarian empire because of Russian movements into the Balkans.  

This is not to say the First World War was caused by the war of 1904/05, but the Schlieffen plan did come into being in1905. (In the interests of transparency there are debates as to whether this plan ever existed). 

A further effect of this overwhelming of the Russians in Port Arthur was a significant shift in Japanese culture, which was displayed in their approach to warfare and the atrocities perpetuated on Koreans, Chinese and Europeans between 1938 and 1945/6.  

But over and above this, the transformation of Japan encouraged activists in the European colonies in that part of the world to start demanding independence.  

In other words, the defeat of the Russians destroyed the belief that the Europeans were invincible.  

How and why the Japanese over the period 1920 to 1936 adopted such an extreme and vile culture is thankfully not appropriate for consideration here, nor why worship of the Emperor resembled worship of the Fuhrer, or why so much seems to have been taken from German thinking. An issue far beyond my capacity to work through, though it is reasonable to draw parallels with the current situation in Burma in that extremist Buddhism was apparently a feature of Japanese culture in the 1930’s. 

I know this all seems rather Zen-like, but illustrates, how even at that time, a ‘twitch’ in one part of the world can have far reaching consequences. 

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