Just Doing

This topic contains 3 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  jbell 4 years, 7 months ago.

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  • October 23, 2013 at 12:52 pm #1470


    Just over a year ago I decided to study horticulture, with a view of making ‘the growing of things’ my profession. Quite a leap from being a choreographer and dance teacher but perhaps it’s in my genes: my mother was a passionate gardener, in love with old roses and dahlias and her parents, my grandfather and grandmother, retired early and bought a small house surrounded by a huge garden and sloping woodland in the sunny, southern part of Switzerland. There they grew an abundance of vegetables: beans, courgettes and plum tomatoes and soft fruit too, never ending supplies of raspberries (which we children were allowed to pick and eat whenever we liked), yellow gooseberries and figs from an old tree generously offering it’s branches to little hands below.
    A lasting image is of my grandfather coming back from the garden with bowls of freshly picked fruit for the breakfast table – while we had only just begun the day he’d already been up for hours, labouring contentedly amongst the beans and redcurrant bushes, watching the swifts dart across the surface of the little pond as they snatched insects and a morning drink of water.

    But back to the present day. With my horticultural interest ignited, my husband Trevor and I became tenants of a full 10 pole allotment plot last November. The aim was clear: to find out whether we could be self-sufficient in vegetables for as much of the year as possible. Without digging too deeply into the ideological back-story of our mission it is fair to say that we had been finding ourselves alienated by supermarket culture for some time. The grabbing off the shelf of brightly packaged produce driven in from far away (even UK grown produce – why buy carrots grown in Lancashire?) became a questionable habit we didn’t want to feed an longer.
    What would it take to grow our own food?

    The answer is, judging from the experiences of our first season on the allotment: more than we’d anticipated!

    It took up a lot of our time: we decided to try the labour-intensive method of sowing seeds into small pots at home and then planting out established young plants, as opposed to sowing directly into the soil where there’s considerable risk of emerging seedlings being eaten by slugs or otherwise decimated by pests.

    Then the dreaded weeding: ever burgeoning nature brought forth an astonishing volume of unwanted vegetation on our plot. Couch grass and bindweed stealthily extended their underground tendrils and sent up vigorous new shoots amongst the carrots and beetroot, poised to take over the land if we had let it.
    In a hot summer like the one just passed, watering too became a serious commitment: no slacking, no ‘let’s just leave it until the weekend.’

    Before this starts to sound like a litany of overstretched gardener’s woe, I need to add the good bit. During the many hours spent outside, with dirty hands from planting and digging and the sun warming our backs there emerged a real satisfaction of doing, of ordinary doing. We started to feel closer to a sense of physical engagement with life, the kind of engagement that was the order of the day not many decades ago. (I’ve just finished reading my aunt’s recollections of her childhood for the second time. This time, reading through much more sharply focused glasses, environmentally and horticulturally, the poignancy of her memories struck deeper. She tells of holidays spent at her maternal grandparent’s farm, where haymaking was hard manual labour but also a time for the community of the wider family to gather together, all having travelled to the farm to help out with this essential task. There are beautifully observed tales of cold nights without heating in the bedrooms, the only warmth emanating from bags filled with cherrystones warmed in the oven just before bedtime, tales of thrift and considerable skills in self-sufficiency. What comes across strongly in my aunt’s writing is that despite the often hard manual work nothing was missing, that people in that particular farming village were content and accepted their place as custodians and beneficiaries of nature’s bounty.)

    So what’s happened to us since then (the stories date from a period between about 1942-50)? Looking at the evidence all around me, we humans seem to be hell-bent on fleeing from physical engagement with reality into a lofty realm of digital ideas and artificial constructs…. and talking, endless talking and lobbying others about what they should be doing instead of.. just doing.

    Well, I’m currently getting quite a kick out of ordinary doing – whilst shamefully bowing my head to those millions of people who have no other option than to physically toil for meagre incomes, undoubtedly most of them engaged in some business for our, the West’s, my benefit. I will do my best to learn to do things for myself again, instead of letting others toil on my behalf. This will necessarily go hand in hand with learning how to do without, getting rid of unnecessary habits of having and acquiring.

    And the veggie self sufficiency? Well, it’s worked out so far, we haven’t bought any vegetables since the beginning of June. How far our produce will last into the infamous ‘hungry gap’ I’m not sure but however it turns out this time, we’ll have learnt valuable lessons for next year. In my wilder dreams I can see chickens, goats, home grown wheat and barley….bring it on!

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    October 23, 2013 at 2:15 pm #1472


    nice writing bettina – are you going to get this published in your Berkhamsted or berko living or some such – would be good to reach more local people xx

    October 23, 2013 at 7:49 pm #1473


    Dear Bettina,
    Your story is just lovely and inspires me to write my life story which I have been wanting to do for a long time but hesitating because it would divert me from just living.
    I agree with Wendy, it is beautiful and deserves to be published.
    Your Berkhamsted would be a good place.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by  ttbnews.
    October 23, 2013 at 9:34 pm #1475


    Reminds me of a quote in an article that Paul de Hoest shared recently:

    “We are all part of this healthy web of life maintained by soil. The Latin word humus means soil. The words human, humility and humus all come from the same root. When humans lose contact with soil, they are no longer humans.”

    Completed my interview and CRB check to volunteer at Sunnyside earlier today. Maybe I’ll be able to help out in the polytunnel as well? I need to get through my own allotment as well, though – a lot of doing to be done.

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