Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Field of Change

Walking among the plants on this slope in mid summer it would be easy to not notice them at all; simply a sea of grasses we wade through and leave a thin wake where we have brushed them aside. We focus instead on views of mountains and seacoast, or we are preoccupied with inner thoughts. To actually look down at our feet is a big step, to observe that grasses are really but one element in what once was a farmer's field.

In parts of this field with deeper, moister ground the grasses are still tall and of one community, but high on this slope above the sea the moisture is long gone from the thin soil. Specialist plants well adapted to these particular conditions have gathered: plantains with their yellow flowers and white puff balls, Queen Anne's lace, thistles, brambles, daisies, hawthorns. All the plants that do not make good eating and have deep roots and ways of shrivelling up and waiting for rain to return in the Fall.

This assemblage of plant life has taken over once the farmer departed, and it is reassuring somehow that nature has such a range of possibilities once humans stop forcing their opinions about the use of the land. Once over a hundred years ago this would have been deep forest laboriously cleared away for fields and one can now see the trees encroaching once more from the edges, sending lone individuals ahead into the most favourable pockets of soil. How the ground must contain roots pushing into the clearing, how the air must be full of seeds seeking a place to take root. Every living thing relentlessly seeking light , moisture and soil, juggling for a place to live.

We wander on, find a definite path over the hill to the main farm road, and forget about this field. We turn to other things, but here, still plain to see for those that look, is written among the grasses a complicated history of evolution, the continuing story written by the most successful, the most adaptable to change. Thistles, weeds, hardy trees and brambles, holding the soil together until the forest takes it back completely once more.

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