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  • Writer's pictureCrone

In the landscape

As I'm in the middle of a deep dive into emotions, which seems to be taking up a lot of neural real estate, I thought I'd offer a brief insight into a different, and very material, landscape.


Last week I went on one of my favourite walks. I wanted to see if the linseed was fully in flower, which it wasn't. Last time I saw two hares. I love hares. As you can tell from my little Avatar. I looked out but didn't see them on this occasion. This walk over recent weeks had involved passing through various fields in which bulls were out with their herds. Indeed, the photograph for the post Once was taken on this walk. This herd were on the other side of a gate - when I'd walked through the large fields where herds were grazing, the cattle were a long way off.


Anyway, I was feeling tired after some late nights at work and as this is a fairly long trek - well, a couple of hours - and as it was mid-morning already, I'd planned to scamper round fairly briskly and relax in the afternoon. It didn't quite work like that.


I passed through a little copse and on the other side met up with a farmer. We started talking and he commented on how his lifestyle offered protection in the pandemic. Sure, he doesn't come into contact with many other people, but more to the point he's active, outside, walking around, doing physical labour. He looked to be in his mid-sixties but was slim and fit. No problems with obesity or diabetes, cardio-vascular disease of lack of Vitamin D.


I mentioned that I'd got interested in human health when I was looking into equine health. The things they needed - more movement, more socialising, less rich food, a more natural life - seemed to be the same things that we need. I said that rye grass was too sugary for horses. He told me that he is relaying his pastures for the cattle with a wild grass mix and that now he does regular soil testing to check the mineral content. I found this fascinating as my brother had become interested in the same thing. One of the cheesemakers he deals with in Devon had noticed that the quality of milk had been declining during his lifetime and he set himself up to understand why. It involved self-study in biology and chemistry, trips around the world and an exploration into the recent demineralisation of soil.


The environmentalist George Monbiot has written about this. A big part of the problem comes from overuse of the land in industrialised agriculture. Plants don't just need sun and water - or just added nitrogen - they require a whole range of different minerals. Adding nitrogen makes them grow bigger, but they become big, watery and sugary - without the essential nutrients that make them healthy. A modern carrot is more like a sugary treat than a source of vitamins. What's more, cutting down trees and removing hedgerows allows rain to flow off the land, taking minerals and the like with it. The soil is just mud rather than the rich source of all that supports life.


Of course, my dear friend Elly will know rather more about this than I do - and perhaps will add a comment...


Anyway, my farmer said that he had started changing his land management when he saw that cattle came out of winter far better from the old established pastures that had not been ploughed and reseeded with rye. Experience, noticing, had shown him what works.


He also told me some local history. The building in the photograph for this post - Shortwood House - was built as a hawking tower. Apparently, it's on one of the highest places in the area and from the tower you can see some tall feature in the town of Boston nearly eighty miles away. The tower has a fireplace surround incongruously positioned in its stonework. This apparently came from the now lost village of Faxton, where the hall was pulled down after the inhabitants left. The reason for the village's desertion is likely to be a plague - but this farmer told me that when he was a boy there were still empty cottages there, with rags of curtains blowing in the open windows. Why would they have been left like that for three centuries? I haven't been able to find out.


I asked him where his bull was and he asked where I was walking. 'No,' he said, 'they'll not be in your way.' I said he seemed a young and gentle bull and he said that was indeed the case. He reminded me that only the cattle's curiosity would be a problem. If they got interested and came over to see the dog, best to let the dog go. I knew this from previous experiences. If the cows are some way off, they tend to ignore you; if they're close, and especially if a herd of bullocks, they'll storm over to see what's happening. And that is not entirely pleasant.


I carried on and saw that the linseed was not flowering fully. You can see the picture on this post. I was two thirds or three quarters of the way round when, at the gate of the field I had to pass through to get to the site of the old village of Faxton (by the way, in the photo for this post you can see the only remaining building), was a herd of cows. And a bull. And many calves. They belonged to another farmer. And they were super interested in me, or rather, in the dog. I went into the field and scratched the head of the nosiest cow. The babies wouldn't let me touch them. The bull was curious, but more interested in either sex or lying down again, he couldn't decide. The dog sat outside the gate and trembled when I suggested we make a run for it.


So, that meant a fairly long and involved detour. I was delayed again on the way back as two small planes were doing loop-the-loops above me. Obviously, I had to watch. The walk took me three hours instead of two, but an adventure is always worth the time.

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maplekey4
Jul 23, 2020

Once upon a time I worked as a technician for a soil scientist. When I made a quip about Martian soil, he replied right away that what's on the surface of Mars is not real soil. I don't remember the exact words but he said that soil here on Earth has organic matter - both alive and dead. It is teeming with huge numbers of small organisms, especially bacteria which eat and break down dead plants and animals into smaller and smaller bits, finally releasing "stuff" at the level of elements. Hence what happens in the soil is part of nutrient cycles such as carbon & nitrogen. Such elements become available, to a more or less degree to feed/ sustain…

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