Many Paths

“A path is little more than a habit that comes with a knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity” – Wendell Berry, The Art Of The Commonplace

Any grower worth their earth salt should make regular inspections of their site: the land, soil, plants, animals, events. This may seem obvious, but in the golden heat of the gardeners’ day there is usually just enough time to fulfill the urgent tasks of the day, before the outside inside world beckons you back. Usually, once a week I manage to “get round”, equipped with one main tool, eyes; and one main aim, renewing acquaintance with the whole, and the particular.

Sketched out, the main paths at Hawkwood resemble the veins of a leaf or the trickles of a watershed, enveloped by the peculiarly human artery of the boundary path. The scratched lines of access paths between raised beds fizz off the broad ways and into the dense neighbourhoodsof cultivation. The wildlife corridor is like a deep lake, Ian’s mown trails are the only bridges across it.

My weekly meander rarely takes an identical route, but follows seasonal patterns punctuated by topical highlights. In the winter I am more likely to beat the bounds, hunting for some sort of perspective that I know will lift once we arrive here, May-time, when attention is drawn into the epicentres of emerging vegetable crops. In recent weeks, the bluebell, apple blossom, stitchwort and asparagus communities have put on their annual shows, well worth going out of your way for.

There was once a notion that we might designate an official “Sit Spot”, a point on site allocated for communal observation and reflection. But no one space does equal justice to the multiplicity of meanings and values of a community market garden, plant nursery, training centre and nature reserve. I have my own favourite points which, throughout the spinning year, give views to live for.

Poets Corner is pressed into our highest, most south-easterly reach, under one of the sites’ majestic, tri-centurion oaks. It’s named in honour of the nineteenth century “peasant poet”, John Clare, a fierce and beautiful critic of the Enclosures, who inhabited Epping Forest shortly before the episode of Hawk Wood’s enclosure. It is likely that at some point during his stay, his own famous wonderings took him through our nook in the forest. Nowadays, from the oakshade you look out over the Lea Valley reservoirs, the glasshouse, and the curving lines of Entrance Field vegetables. Amongst them, you’ll likely see a crow pecking for grubs. Were she to fly due north from you, she’d arrive where three paths meet, at the head of the Old Kitchen Garden.

Here is as close as you get to a panorama at Hawkwood. The wedge of ancient woodland drops off to the Spring Field meadow, then behind the next tree line the high rise blocks of Edmonton remind you where you are, London town. To your right right now if there’s a gentle breeze you’ll note the rippling silver of the bean plants, catch their soft sweet pea scent. On Friday, as the rain let up to finally allow the soil to drain, we were able at last to work the broad beans, relieving them of the tall, rain-swollen goosegrass that was beginning to suffocate them.

We set amongst them, myopically freeing one stem after another, stopping only to take in the markings of a ladybird or the just visible apparition of minute bean pods forming. After so many walkabouts where I could only look over the beans in their multitude, with admiration and mounting concern, this felt like I’d walked home.