I like digging. Odd maybe, but as soon as we acquired our first garden I knew where my strengths lay – not for me the fancy-dan designer stuff and certainly not the intimate knowledge of plants species – I have as much of a blind spot to plant names as I do to the parents of my children’s old classmates.
How many times have I bumped into that familiar-faced individual who greets me with a cheery ‘Geoff, how are you? And [blah -inset child name]?’ To which I mumble a cheesy response and desperately search for clues as to (a) their name (b) the name of their child. This situation is made infinitely worse if I am with someone who doesn’t know them. But decades of these embarrassing interactions have let me develop a whole host of strategies: ‘Do you two know each other?’ accompanied by a relaxed raising of an eyebrow that offers the two to either admit they do (and perhaps say a name to help me) or, if that fails, I will add: ‘This is [blah – add name of person I am with, assuming I can actually remember that].” Not foolproof but works seven out of ten.
Anyway, back on digging, getting sweaty and focused on some grinding physical work clears my head like nothing else. And the pinnacle of this digging fixation is the redoubtable tree root. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love trees and the gratuitous removal of a tree is a thing of pain and regret. But there are times when a tree has to go and then there’s the root.
In my time I’ve dug out a fair few, some with surprising ease and some which have defied me for days. But the victory is always mine and the challenge is something I do revel in. It’s like a tough crossword or intransigent splinter; when you dig out the answer/piece of wood it’s with both relief and a degree of satisfaction.
Which, when you contextualise it, makes the walk I took the other day, along the Suffolk coast near a small hamlet of Covehithe, just a few miles north of Southwold, all the more poignant. This coast is, mostly, the subject of some violent and devastating erosion – longshore drift, I believe – that is eradicating a significant part of the county. There are parts where the land is growing as a result of this drift – less than twenty miles south the shingle bar of Orford Ness – a cuspate, technically – continues to grow at a pretty considerable rate.
But here the cliffs are falling with a tedious and painful regularity and with them come trees, dead sentinels of a past healthy life and as sad a sight as any.
It’s the curious juxtaposition that makes this walk so poignant. The light, colours, lack of crowds, all add to the positives. Dog loves a good beach too. And the roots, brittle bleached bones, create a pictorial scene that the camera can’t always do justice too.
I spent a bit of time staring at the cliff, at the next victim waiting for the moment when the sea and the wind and the rain undermines its tenacious yet tenuous hold on its place in the scene. I thought of other roots whose resistance had been hard and determined and felt sad that these had no chance in this fight. Why did it feel insidious and unfair? I don’t know but it did.
Like life sometimes. Whatever you do, however hard you try, and through not fault of your own, you’re just n the wrong place at the wrong moment and as a result you slip down the cliff. You’d fight if you could, but here, you’re not given that chance. Bum.
As we circled back to the car, we came across this.
Looks like a tropical rain forest from a drone. In fact it’s a field of parsley. In England. Outdoors. In December. I wasn’t expecting that. Sort of cheered me up a bit. I can still be surprised, see. And that’s good. Life’s good when it surprises you. A hope, after all, is an anticipated surprise, and we all need hope.
Cue final pictures of cute Dog…
Merry Christmas everyone….