Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Cemeteries and Gardens

An idea of Norfolk
© Godric Godricson
 This posting is something like a winter letter from Norfolk because we are settling into the colder weather and I dwell on happy recollections of warmer weather. In this time of austerity, I also want to maintain hope in the future of creation at a time when the economic system seems to snatch hope away from us all. I want to say something about the beauty of creation in this amazing county full of ruins,  monuments and cemeteries.  I came across the beauty of Norfolk and East Anglia many years ago by reference to the changing seasons and by walking around the cemeteries and archaeology of the County.

In addition to Norfolk, I also have connections with the Isle of Wight and ‘the North’ as you can see from some of the photographs used in this blog. However, my own private garden and the communal gardens comprised of the cemeteries of Norfolk continues to be a special pleasure. The landscape changes through the year and the leaves are very much now beginning to discolour and fall. The leaves really need to be swept away by the winter winds into the compost bins which will be ready for next year when they become the medium that grows next years salad crops.  We return to the idea of time and tide in this dark season and, again, we notice that seasonality through our lives. Those with an understanding of the cemetery and of history are not upset by this seasonal variation or by a recognition of our ultimate mortality.

In addition to the wider metaphors surrounding the garden and the cemetery, I re-call that that I came across the beauty of creation when walking down a very long lane in the heat of the Norfolk summer.  The lane in question is around 6 miles away from where I live and I encountered this at the end of a long walk.  On this occasion, I took a break in a churchyard and I surveyed the scene around me.  Now, I am no fan of what churches tend to do to their cemeteries especially when I have walked a long way and feel hot and mildly de-hydrated.  This particular parish had decided to turn a rural mediaeval and Georgian cemetery into an urban play park.  Magnificent headstones and monuments had been torn down and piled up at the edge of the cemetery like so much building material.  Resources needed by genealogists were left to decay and weather. You can tell I am no fan of modernism and I dislike what planners do to ancient sites. Regrettably, this cemetery was no different to many others up and down England.

Whilst contemplating the fate of ancient buildings and ancient burial sites in the heat of the day,  I also contemplated the long walk home and the frailty of the human form.  The heat was oppressive in the extreme and, as with many English villages, there was no shop where I could buy refreshment.  I had an insight into the life of the pilgrim and what it feels like when one fails to plan for the return home.  However, I could not have imagined that things would be so positive.  The journey home took me down a very long lane and on either side of the lane, the abundance of the natural world came to the fore and I had a glimpse into the life of our ancestors and into rural Norfolk.  On either side of the lane I could see a whole range of fruit and berries that had not needed mankind’s assistance and which flourished.  I came across the usual apples and greengages whilst also finding sloes and rosehips.  The hedge was utterly comprised of blackberries and elderberries and it was difficult to know where to begin in picking the fruit or a least marking the place where it grew for a return visit. 

© Godric Godricson
A few days later, after I had recovered from my very long walk, I returned to the same cemetery and the lane I had visited earlier.  I am a little ashamed to say I did take my car on this occasion because I knew that I would be burdened by the weight of fruit and the goodness that was so freely surrendered by the Earth.  I picked huge amounts of blackberries and elderberries because I knew that I would turn these into the most delicious jam and preserves.  I want to say at this point that I have never made jam before and when I went home I didn't know how to make it although I had watched older relatives and wanted to emulate their achievements.  I would not make wine because that would be ultimately far too tempting.  I took along the most unlikely receptacles for the blackberries and elderberries.  From the garden,  I had had selections of plastic buckets that had previously held composted chicken manure.  I had washed the buckets well but they looked comical when one compared their original use to the beauty of their contents.

Creation is truly marvellous and on several days I walked down the lane with my plastic buckets picking blackberries and elderberries destined for jam. My home is now full of jars where condensed sunshine has been turned into food and throughout the year I will share in the bounty of nature on a daily basis.  Each time I have my porridge I will stir into the bowl some Blackberry conserve made from fruit gathered both from the lane and in the cemetery. I will remember those days in the sun.  There is nothing so blue as a summer sky in Norfolk and nothing so wonderful as fruit from the hedgerow.  The sky in Norfolk is enormous and unfettered by buildings.  The sky is huge and the wheat fields are golden and it is hard to imagine what this scene really looks like unless one has walked along lanes and looked into the distance towards a distant Church tower.  Rabbits run down the side of the field and partridge and pheasant can be seen in abundance.  On one occasion whilst walking quietly down the lane at the end of the day I came across  a small herd of deer who walked down the side of the field before disappearing into woodland.

As we move into the winter, the blackberry and elderberry have disappeared from the hedgerow.  The fruit became bloated and began to decline as the year turned.  Still, there is no end to the abundance of that area and the hedgerow has a feeling of the supermarket in its season.  If you know where to look you can find all of the fruits that you need for immediate consumption and for preserving.  I am truly humbled by what our ancestors knew and how they managed to use this abundance to their own survival.  This Christmas I will be able to celebrate using sloe gin and I will toast the New Year in traditional fashion and in doing so I will emulate our ancestors and remember the good times.

Norfolk is an amazing county where individuals can see the abundance of nature in  the private garden and the cemetery.  The abundance of the hedgerow and the beauty of the world is something that we often take for granted but in these very simple little jars of jam I see a reflection of eternal creation and hope for the future.  Where is this lane?  Well, that is a secret that I’m keeping to myself.  Somewhere in Norfolk you may come across a person with a bucket looking very self-satisfied as he trudges along.  Look carefully and you may have found me and found where I am the happiest.

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