Ysella Sims

Letting story speak

Growing notes from the shed

What comes next after the rain?

Yesterday blue fought through the cloud and the sun came out. In the walled garden, the birds sang, a hundred tiny voices making a chorus of good news. A shield bug took off from the white arm of the bench, moving as if he’d woken from sleep and his body hadn’t caught up with him. Furry dandelion faces opened like rays of light across the lawn. 

I could feel the plants growing, unfolding towards the sun and I  stretched and unfolded with them. I thought of the cricket eggs in crevices waiting to hatch and the cinnabar moth pupae under the soil, waiting for the ragwort to grow. Picking a Lamium ( a fancy dead nettle), I found that its purple flowers were heavy, not just with rain and lavishness, but with bees too. Dainty little flies darted and preened and ladybirds, their shiny scarlet shells painted with fairytale black dots, picked their tiny way up stems and across the curve of leaves. I could feel the momentum; there was no going back, spring was out of its box.

Understanding what is

An orange tip butterfly flickered over the garlic mustard that had crept in on the wind and I thought about the BBC explainer of our wet winter and spring I’d heard on the radio. In it, Chris Packham said that wet conditions were dire for emerging pupae, but that species can bounce back as long as the following seasons are ‘normal’ (who knows what that even is anymore, or what comes next?). One of the contributory factors to the festering rain was the warming of the seas  through human activity, the experts said, another was the effects of El Niño. El Niño peaked in December, but not before pushing low pressure weather systems across our skies.

Researchers at Imperial College London have recently published studies supporting this idea, that weather events like a recent deadly heatwave in West Africa and the Sahel are examples  of what happens when human induced global warming meets a freak weather system. They go on to say that the heatwave wouldn’t have been possible without our long term use of coal, oil and gas combined with activities such as deforestation. Meanwhile, Lionel Shriver is doing the media rounds to promote her new book, citing the climate crisis as an example of social hysteria.

Feeling the impacts

During the programme experts talked about the toll of our wet spring on livestock and farmers, telling of a rise in the death rate of lambs in the wet conditions to 30%; about delays in planting spring crops and the knock on effect this will have on food production and prices.  Apart from all this, they said, the cattle are grumpy. Holed up in sheds and costly for farmers to feed, they can smell the grass growing and are eager to get at it.

Earlier I’d been behind a farmer buying lamb feed in the warehouse at the local farm supplies. On Saturdays the car park is filled with land rovers, pickups and wagons, the queues full of people in mud spattered overalls and work boots. The farmer in front of me, a man, looked young and strong, but his weariness was palpable. He was tall, his jeans hanging loosely on a slim frame, his boots weathered. His card payment was declined and I felt his body tense. He shifted between his feet, rootled in a back pocket for another card. When I returned to my car he was loading dozens of sacks of feed into the back of his wagon. I wanted so much to talk to him, to hear his story.

Knowing when to act

A recent Guardian article said that 80% of greenhouse emissions since 2016 when the Paris climate deal was signed have come from 57 companies – all petrochemical- oil, gas, coal, concrete. We hear about sustainable solutions, to wean us off our dependency on fossil fuels, but they remain, like rumours or whispers, out of reach. I talk to a friend working in the environmental sector and she tells me that the sustainable options are all there, but not the capacity or the infrastructure to deliver them. Change takes time, she says, and we are working towards it, however slowly.

From the tree stump where the Holm oak once leered over the house and now the blackbird perches and the grubs make homes in its crevices, you can see down into the courtyard and the back of the house. It is covered in an unruly hydrangea that we have been meaning to prune since autumn, always pushing the job forward to the next season. Just like our pond where the king cups are shining angelic gold and the birds flit from our lockdown native hedge, but which is leaking. Both the pond and the hydrangea needed work months ago. The hydrangea is growing up through the gutter, pushing it out from the house. It is covering the arch window and has reached the chimney. Is it ever too late to manage a situation? Can anything be pulled back from the brink? Can we rescue the wildlife in the pond before it dries up, can we rescue the roof and gutter before the hydrangea swallow both? Is there time? Is there a right time? Is it now?

The tender thread

One evening I found a little crescent moon hanging in the sky above the silver roof of the house. In the orchard the pink buds of apple blossom had unfolded and were glowing in the moon’s light. Up in the fields on the hill I could see the yellow light of the lampers, feel the weight of their bullets catching in the flesh of the night. I sensed the death of their quarry, feeling how suddenly life could be snuffed out. 

Looking at the outline of the trees, the lime and yew, their black shapes against the sky, I felt a part of their shadow, aware of the tender thread between life and death. “Thank you for my life” I said, I don’t know who to, “let me do something useful with it.”

The time is now

At night sometimes, when I go up to shut the hens I trip over hedgehogs in the long grass. I turn over stones while gardening and find slow worms hiding underneath; the garden and eaves and sheds are filled with birds nesting, feeding and bathing, the borders with weeds and wildflowers, with plants for pollinators. While I wait for the big solutions, the joined up strategies to emerge, I am asking myself, “is this enough?” Is this how I can be useful, how I can make peace with the slow-to-change world, and myself? By leaving space for it in all its messy, glorious imperfection, knowing in my heart that the time is now?

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