APRIL - An Appreciation And A Confession



An April day in Caithness, travelling down by train and bus to Croy. How magical is this gilded journey? Today began with rain - the gardens and crops in the fields needed that. Now we have sunshine and speeding light fluffy things which I'm reluctant to label "clouds" as that sounds so gloomy and today is just not gloomy at all. This April day dilutes all that leaves a bitter taste. As a nation, we are confused, perhaps even a bit scared but around us a marvellous show is unfolding. The problems won't go away but the power of this glory puts things in some kind of perspective.

   . . . . . whoever wakes in England
   Sees some morning unaware
   That the lowest boughs on the brushwood sheaf
   And the elm tree bole 
   Are in tiny leaf

            (Robert Browning, and I think he would include Scotland if he knew it as I do)

We have some stumps of old trees in our garden. We have some healthy mature trees too. We also have some young doing-very-well-thank-you trees. I love trees. As a child I wanted to live in a wooden house in the middle of a forest. I was sure I could outwit the big bad wolf. 
We're passing trees and more trees right now as we travel through the Flow Country. They are trying to rid themselves of trees here so that the land is able to return to its earlier character. You can't really call it original because if there weren't trees here to start with then how would the wood compress to form the peat? It's peatland they want here - not trees. We're waiting for the train from Inverness to pass us at Forsinard. It's only a few minutes waiting but some passengers are getting a bit tetchy. Not me! I love gazing out at the wide skies and scudding fluffy things - looking for a small movement which will make me look again and - if I'm lucky - spot a deer, a bird I don't see in our garden or a small mammal. There are reptiles and amphibians but you don't see those from the train. There are bog beans and sundews - you don't see those unless you get out. No time! No time! 
Here comes the train for Wick. Dappled light on the table. It is such a good day to enjoy this journey. We have travelled the same journey for over 30 years now. We started when we left Lincolnshire with four children. Then there were five. Then six. Now there are two of us in our party. Instead of feeding and toileting babies and keeping children interested, we sit together - resting and taking in the wonderful views. Keith sees them for what they are. I imagine the people who have lived there and worked there and died there and are buried there. Were they stunned by the gorse in full bloom as I am? Or was it somewhere to leave their washing to dry? Did they sit by the lochs, lochans and rivers, calmly fishing? Or did they worry they might not get a bite and have to go home with no food for the table? 
It is April so the grass is no more than greenish. Soon it will be vivid and the dusty dead stuff will be invisible. April holds so much hope and also presents hard evidence of hope en route to fulfilment. Remember the tiny leaves on the lowest boughs?
There's still an R in the month so the meat eaters out there can continue to enjoy pig-fry for a few more days! Growing up in Lincolnshire we had pig-fry once a week from September through to April. When we moved to Stromness in March, 1986, the local butcher tried to understand but never quite got it. Chopped pork, sliced liver, sliced kidneys all cooked with onions and plenty of pepper, some salt and a very little thyme. Should be cooked slowly and served with Yorkshire pudding. I no longer eat mammals but I still cook meat for the family.
In a few days time, according to the traditions I grew up with, I will ease off cooking with pork - even though we now have refrigeration.
Dappled light again - this time from the trees which line the track as we slip into the next station. I notice the broken twigs and small branches on the ground and am reminded of a poem from Lyrical Ballads (Wordsworth). It tells the story of an elderly woman, Goody Blake, and a landowner, Harry Gill, who won't let her gather kindling from the side of the pathway. She is very cold in her cottage and his cruelty is more than she can bear so she curses him. Subsequently, Harry Gill, no matter how he wraps up, never feels warm again and shivers for the rest of his earthly. He was probably plenty warm enough after that!  What if . . . say . . . Goody Blake is a refugee searching, not for sticks, but for a safe place to be?  What if . . . . say . . . . Harry Gill is an uncaring society which wants all for itself? Just saying.
I now have the sea on my left and banks of gorse and freshening grass to my right. The scrubby bushes which grow alongside the gorse have a golden-green glow about them. Everything to play for - good luck little bushes.
Lambs wobble away as the train passes and buzzards bank up and out from walls and fence posts. They're not in a rush - they know this metal monster will be gone in seconds. There is a haar coming from the water  - or might it be smoke from a heath fire inland and going out to sea? Yet the sun still bounces off glass and shiny steel to my right.
I thought of all manner of things to talk about here - there are so many issues which need to be addressed today but, if we lose sight of the gift which is a bright afternoon in April, we lose our reason. I reckon we are just not sufficiently aware of this stunning scene which is played out in the middle of every Spring. If we were, we wouldn't trash it. Like most families we try to recycle, to consider the environment with every purchase we make and to make do and mend. For almost ten years we have managed with one vehicle between us - this was deliberate - we actually gave away our second car in 2010. However, three of the kids live with us and are functioning adults, each with a job and the need to get around to fulfill other aspects of their individual lives. We have, over the last few years, managed with a combination of car and public transport, but now we have to rejoin the ranks of double-burners. We are sad but, quite honestly, if the children lived away, they would need their own transport then - so I'm trying to dismiss feelings of guilt and be sensible. Interestingly, I have petitioned environmental groups with my "one car per family" thing but none responded. They quite obviously have two! or more!  If you can't beat 'em,  join em!
I suspect this shift for us may mean that we will make fewer journeys by train and bus. I hope we will still make some at least. A greening April in northern Britain should be experienced from a railway carriage. Now we are going "faster than fairies, faster than witches, (past) bridges and houses, hedges and ditches".
 Aphrodite may have given her name to April, but, for me, this little acrostic sets the record straight :

A time of transition
Pointing forward
Rebirth conquers death
In all things there is hope
Love and cherish the goodness 

We're on our way to cuddle our little granddaughter. We love her so. She is the future.

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