02 March 2016

Truckalorry Time

There's that grumbling thunder in the distance again, the grunting roar of another truck rumbling downhill, picking up the speed to make it up the next hill, gears grinding as the driver changes up and up again to goad his vehicle, burdened by its load of clay and soil, up over the crest of the hill and down the next trough of our rollercoaster road. It is just past eight in the morning, and already at least five or six loads have passed by, shaking the house, rattling the windows and filling the air with dust and the stench of diesel. I have lost count, by now. Lost count of how long it's been going on. Weeks, at least. Sometimes it feels like it will never come to an end.
But it will, of course. Even if it is a mountain they're flattening, it must eventually come to an end, mustn't it? I have to wonder, though, what failure of imagination causes an architect or town planner to decide that a hill must be removed. I suppose it is harder work to come up with a prettier and more interesting place to build, a place that lives around the hill, that celebrates its heights and valleys and takes advantage of its slopes and curves. But here it has been decreed: the hill must go. And so it has to go somewhere, and, between the local farmer who owns a piece of land that he little loves, a piece of land too inconveniently remote for him to properly care for and learn the value and meaning of, between him and the town planners, they're moving the hill into a little gulley that runs through his land. What paucity of imagination, what poverty of mind wants to flatten the world in this way? Raze that hill, smooth out that valley, fill in the gaps that wrinkle the world, that give the land its texture and character and meaning, its niches and crannies, that keep it a wonder of hidden mysteries discoverable only when you walk their way, leaving your human mind behind to enter the lively universe.

Another truck rumbles past, engine whining with strain to top the rise, brakes groaning and exhaust chuffing and coughing as the truck slows to take the corner. Then down through the gear changes for the long straight track sloping gently down to the valley where the spoil is being dumped. Sometimes it feels like they're rumbling right through the house as they grumble by every five minutes or so. What happened to the quiet country lane we used to live in, the clean, sweet, pure air breathed out by the forest's trees? Did some maniac look at it and decide, "Those people enjoy more than their fair share of peace and quiet. We must give them a taste of what other people live with day in and day out, a taste of how the real world really is. They must get their fair helping of noise and stink and dusty air like the rest of us. It isn't fair, otherwise." And so, another truck rumbles past, carrying its wedge of hillside down into the sweet, wooded valley.

I wonder what will become of the stream that once flowed down that gulley when it rained. Where will that water go now? Will it find a new path and wend its way twistilly down to the river, or will the farmers and gardeners downstream, ignorant of the valley's demise, wrongly complain, in years to come, that Global Warming must have dried up the rain, that the river never used to run so empty. Or it may not. It may decide to follow the same path down to the sea as it's done for thousands of years. For water is strong stuff, more wily and headstrong than people like to think, so it may just decide to take their stinking and sullen clay along with it, downstream to the river, all the way to the sea. And perhaps the farmers and gardeners will complain amongst themselves that the water is muddy and cloudy and foul, and they'll wonder what happened to the clear, sweet stream of years past.

It looks like we might get some rain next week, and very welcome it will be. If we're lucky it will be the end of this dry spell. Even though it is quite normal, at this time of year, for the weather to run hot and dry, we're anxious to get our Winter crops into the ground and off to a good start before they slow down for their cold, deep, midwinter sleep.

I sowed Barley in the Top Field a few days ago. I hadn't planned to. I bought the Barley for malting, to make beer from it, but some Weevils got in to the bag. I found the little buggers before things got too bad, so most of the grain was still whole, though not good enough to malt any more, so I cast it into the field, in amongst the tall grasses and weeds growing there to grow as a Winter cover crop that will add its bulk to the soil come Springtime. Right now I need to cut all that tall weedy growth down so that it covers the seed, mulching it beneath a protective blanket, sheltering it from the wind and sun and thieving birds, turning slow through the Autumn days into compost to enrich and restore the soil. It would be best if I can get that done before the rains come next week.

This is the third season I've been doing this, reviving the compacted and abused land that I call the Top Field. Sullen, sticky mud during wet times, and hard, grey and hostile in the dry, the field was in very poor shape. Conventional thinking would have me go in there with poisons to kill the weeds, plough and rotary cultivator to break up the soil and store-bought fertilizers to inject some instant nutrition, and I would probably have reaped a crop almost immediately, in that very first season of planting. Then I'd have to repeat all that work and expense again the next season if I were to hope for any sort of crop again. And I would be fighting the weeds and the bugs and the parasites and diseases every step of the way as my crop struggled to grow up on the instant-breakfast diet I'd be feeding it. Instead I opted to live with the wrinkles in the land, its peaks and valleys and slopes and curves, its weaknesses and strengths. I planted a varied and complex mix of pioneers directly into the rank and weedy grasses that were there, then slashed the tall growth down as a mulch, as an in-place compost. And then did it again the next season. Let the roots of the plants open up the soil. Let them burrow their way deep into the ground, creating channels and pathways anew for water and nutrients to follow, hollows and crevices for fungi and bacteria to homestead.

And the land responds. The soil comes back to life as the soil-dwellers return, fed by the organic matter, by the fungi breaking down the plants. It regains a texture and a structure that feeds and supports all the living things that it takes to become a healthy, thriving ecosystem underground. The soil is regaining its spongy texture, the small round crumbs clumping together in a dense, fluffy crumble, reconstituting itself from the sullen, sticky clay smear it was, once again becoming able to absorb and hold water vastly within its depths, safe, away from the thieving Sun and wind. With a little luck I should at last be able to get some useful crops growing there next Spring, and I can begin to expand the area, to bring more of the Top Field back to life.

So we bend and flex with the opportunities, we see the chance of rain on its way and we pounce, taking advantage of its blessing. We twist with the curves, sail with the wind, coast down the slopes of chance and flowing water, and up the next hill, trying at each step to bring life, to bring energy, to nutrify and build up the variety and richness that is thriving nature, to begin to learn how to work with, and not against, the advantages of complexity, the self-healing networks of energy and chemistry that spontaneously erupt into being, feeding, supporting and enhancing one another to foster life, abundant and fecund and healthful. To learn the technologies of life, evolution, resilience and adaptability.

Another truck thunders past, bringing its load of dead and spoiled earth. Brakes wheeze as it turns the corner, and I wonder what sort of wasteland will be left behind where the hill once rose, what sort of gardens will people struggle to make where the living soil, the slopes and the valleys and twisty curves have been bulldozed flat and carted away. Every five minutes or so they come, grinding and farting and roaring down our narrow rollercoaster road. The road is quite broken by now from all those heavy-laden trucks rumbling over it. Steel bangs and clanks against steel as the truck bounces over the holes they've made, holes big enough to swallow a small car or a cow. I wonder if the town planners have any thoughts of rebuilding it when they're done. I doubt it. No hills to flatten, here. No valleys to fill. No fun at all. None of that power drug, no stamp of manly authority over the inanimate and silent Earth. Every five minutes or so for at least three weeks and more, and no sign of an end, though an end must come, sooner or later. An end to the madness.

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