On growth

Trees in Western Cliff Wood

Last week I took the boys for a walk across some meadows and down to a river among some trees. Just a fortnight ago the grass had been short and the woodland portion of the path passable if a little twisty. Yesterday the fields were hazardously tall with thistles and scratchy grasses, and the footpath blocked with nettles. Undeterred, we scythed the blighters down with sticks and invented a new game – one point for every sting you take that you don’t complain about – making it to the pretty ford with itchy legs and plenty of points apiece.

But those nettles! Tall and loaded, all of a sudden.

It’s like the snowdrops that were sprinkled overnight like frosting, or the primroses that appeared suddenly in constellations as though clouds had cleared on a night sky, or the crashing wild garlic waves and gentle bluebell tides, or the fireworks of red campion, cow parsley and stitchwort bursting from all the hedgerows.

Or just the leaves, which took ages to appear, but when they did they burst onto the scene in almost autumnal glory, colouring every wood and hedge and garden in a week before ripening into luxuriant green. Now the land is heavy and full. The grass has been cut and baled already.

Everything seems to arrive quickly and in abundance. I should hardly be surprised that things grow, in the country, in spring.

But it’s the rate of change that is unexpected, bringing transformation swiftly after months of little variation. And it’s the impact of that transformation on us humans that catches me out.

It’s not just the visual renewal that affects us – although seeing the skin of the landscape ripple as the wind blows on high grasses and unfurled leaves, and watching the fields ease into colourful patchwork clothing after a drab winter, are both delightful – it’s the way that it changes our travel.

Some footpaths that were lost to deep mud in the wet months are now firm and treadable, yet many are blocked by hostile weeds, others by shoulder-high crops. The width of the lanes has been halved by eager hedgerows and the only way to drive safely is to trace the line of the hedge with your wing mirror, knowing that the light flaying from cow parsley and ferns is keeping your car far enough over. Visibility on roads and paths plummets; there is more shade, less road to see ahead, fewer views to the hills and more road signs buried in foliage. I guess winter brings dangerous conditions for driving but spring offers its fair share. Badgers, rabbits, squirrels and foxes are awake and wandering onto the roads.

What gets me is that everything feels so different. More alive, more hopeful. I’m reminded of nature’s ability not just to renew but to impress with magnanimity, to bestow more new and colourful life than I can possible take in, seemingly overnight, and for free.

I can’t help thinking of the idea that human organisations need to be treated as organic systems not mechanical ones. From what is happening in the country right now, that could mean accepting that growth only happens at certain seasons in the cycle; it comes when the conditions are right, but when it comes, boy will you know about it.