Dust To Dust

“We are stardust. We are golden. And we’ve got to get ourselves. Back to the garden”                                                            – Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

The wind blew in from Africa last week, just as the windflowers – as wood anenomes are prosaically known – arrived shyly in the wedge of ancient woodland here at Hawkwood. And the country was bathed in Saharan dust.

It wasn’t the dust per se, but its mixing in with local petrochemical fumes, that led to the hazy days and air pollution warnings. And, whilst this may be a cry from London’s latter day “pea soupers”, it doesn’t represent a sunny outlook for our atmosphere.

Yet there is something appealing about being able to place your hand on a fragment of iconic desert: a tangible, in your face reminder that we inhabit a joined-up planet; a reminder whistled, to the initiated, by the immigrant swallows and house martins that will not long be returning here on the crest of a current.

Prayers and praises to the wind. These weeks it blows hot then cold, wet and dry, changeably yet irresistibly carrying us into the growing season. Winter’s perm-washed fields have been blow-dried, allowing us to set foot amongst them for essential weeding and sowings, and it seems likely we’ll have some seed potato in the ground by the traditional Good Friday date, always a smashing feeling.

Spring salad planting is well underway, with sorrel, lettuce, rocket, beet leaf and wild rocket all hitting the ground running, and this seasons’ Production team has been assembled: Vi, me, Gary, Aimee, Sofia, Rob and Brandon, all of us backed up by the ranks of trainees, volunteers, learners and project workers that make this place grow. There are thrilling times ahead, though not without challenges: the mild winter’s failure to knock pests back is already showing in the slug levels on the beds of emerging asparagus.

It’s even dried out enough to dig the rotavator out. “The cut worm forgives the plough”, said William Blake, and I still believe that the benefits, for soil and aerial biodiversity, of green manure leys outweighs the damage caused by having to turn them into the earth. But any cultivation, especially one as aggressive as rotavating, loses soil carbon and nitrogen to the atmosphere. Up there, dust to dust, to a land who knows where. As I followed the machine up and back, pass after pass, I could only hope and trust that they carry with them specks of the Hawkwood spirit of solidarity, like a message in a bottle, like a glow in a smog.

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