The Last Onion

The wind gusts past the front window, seeming to shiver its cold breath through the fabric of the building to chill my toes, and freeze my fingers as they hover hesitantly over the keyboard. Its been a while since I published a fresh blog post, a while since I’ve written at all. The spring seems all unsettled, and struggling to get into its stride; my own thoughts just a jumbled and thin as the weather.

The tomatoes and squashes on the windowsill to the right of my desk, have moved out to their positions on the allotment. I suspect however, the tender plants may not weather these gales and rain well, and might end up being replaced with new plants from the local nursery. Peppers, courgette and an experimental melon plant have taken their place on the windowledge, and from here I can peer through their jungle of leaves, out the murky window, across The Green where the grass has recently been cut far too short, and make out a glimpse of white candle-like blooms on the horse chestnut tree by the lane. The Estate are considering planting some new fruit trees on The Green; I’m hoping for damson and crab apple, or pear and rowan, to accompany the apples that I scrump from each autumn. This blustery, showery weather makes me think a lot about autumn. I can’t seem to get on board with spring this year, and as I tuck a blanket around me in my desk chair, summer seems a distant foreign land with its myths of wild orchid meadows and voluptuous rose gardens. When I shut my eyes and think of England, it is always early autumn, just before the swallows leave. When England dreams, it dreams in trees.

Our local path is going to have a temporary closure soon, and we will have to divert to another route, up the hill through the woods perhaps. The closure is to allow for the safe felling and clearance of dangerously infected Ash trees which have been identified as suffering from Ash Dieback. First will come the surveyors, checking for birds nests or other wildlife, then the whine of chainsaws will start, and the crack of branches will punctuate the cacophony from the village school and the drone of tractors in the fields.

My writing flow stalled at the end of a sentence, and I drifted off to stand at the back door watching the wind-and-rain-buffeted garden half listening to the reassuring rumble of the kettle back in the kitchen. I think the blue tits in the nest box above the bathroom window have chicks; they’ve been back and forth for a few weeks now, first with moustaches of Jacob Sheep fluff plucked from briar snags in the meadow, and now with morsels of food. I wonder how they are finding enough caterpillars to sustain their brood, as the undergrowth is washed clean by another downpour. These showers should’ve come a month ago, to stimulate a flush of lush growth, in time to feed an explosion of caterpillars to nourish a boom of baby birds. Instead, April was resolutely dry and cold, and the blue tits timing is out of sync. As I turned away to pour another cup of tea, a blue movement marked the latest dash into the box by one of the adults, hopefully with a beak stuffed with insects.

I tried to concentrate on something practical; going though recipe books for weekend inspiration, a gardening program on the tv for company, but the wind laughs past the window repeatedly setting my spine on edge, and I struggle to settle; restless and distracted. I set about boiling some pasta for my supper, the steam gathering and clouding the window, wrapping me up and obscuring the weather outside; a safety blanket shutting out the storm. It feels more like late October than May, so I draw the curtains early, pick out the very last stored onion from last summer’s bumper harvest. Weighing it thoughtfully in my hand as I cross the kitchen, I am thankful that I don’t have to be at the mercy of the mercurial seasons and weather as my dig-for-victory and farming labourer ancestors would have been, and can simply scribble ‘onions’ on the shopping list to see us through the hungry gap, and beyond if the allotment is less successful this time around.

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