26 April 2021

In a normal year, this would be a moment of glory for my lawn-not-lawn. Even my surprising biodiversity (for which read: weeds) generally looks green and lush at this point in the spring. This year? It’s baked hard underfoot and the thin green around the bald patches has a decidedly mid-August air to it.

April so far has brought us 26mm of rain (av. 73mm*), after March’s record-low 9.5mm (av. 89mm*). After some blue days of pure joy, greyness stretches away into the foreseeable forecast-future now – but what we’re promised is drizzle, not rain. Which really isn’t all that useful. It’s amazing, all things considered, how beautiful everything (except my grass) looks.

How it should be
How it is

All right, while I’m complaining… my wisteria. Oh, my wisteria! That one early-April night of -4°C, whisked in on a northerly gale, must have turned the metal pergola outside the kitchen into a deep-freezer element. My flowers are fried. I’ve read in several places that I shouldn’t touch them, that the plant will expel them and heal in its own time. But it’s painful each time I open the door and see the bedraggled things. Maybe I’ll be rewarded with a bumper summer reflowering. 

And now on to spring positivity. At the end of the very same day I heard my first cuckoo, we fell asleep to the first nightingale-melody. How I love that sound! The lilac has been splendid; the irises stop me dead in my tracks each time I go through the front door. The asparagus are finally going beserk, though really only since I attached the timers and got my watering system going for regular dousing. 

Down in the woods – where we, and especially L, have been spending much time on our path-clearing projects – the flora is spectacular. What a superbly magical world it is down there, with a quiet which is unlike any other, alive with rustling and birdsong that sound like they’re coming from somewhere else. 

We’ve snipped and hacked our way through the brambles and other undergrowth in that valley (dark green on the photo below) across from our house which was wooded even in this 1954 photo (there’s nothing but dense scrubby vegetation now). It’s a very special place. Next up: the rather shorter (pale green) route to the house on the facing hill – one of the very few constructions we can see from our own house and, coincidentally, home to friends. This as-yet-uncleared path was obviously once a farm track wide enough to travel with your horse and cart: you can see this from the trees lined up neatly along what used to be the track-edges. Now it’s well-nigh impenetrable. But one big push and we’ll be through. It’s so satisfying breaking out into the clear.

L has also been pursuing his other mission in these end-of-lockdown (hopefully) days: tree sculpting. The few trees protruding from our field are being made shapely. The old apple tree, liberated and refashioned last autumn, has been heavy with blossom and is looking splendid. Last weekend’s challenge on the other hand were the waving willows which are now so elegant that I shall henceforth describe them as a ‘stand’ rather than a ‘clump’. It sounds more fitting somehow. 

All this as re-opening fever grips the country. Or at least so I’m told, though personally I won’t be rushing out to take advantage of our new (as of today) freedom to cross regional borders. Driving south for a work appointment this morning, L said the roads were packed, like he hadn’t seen them for months. In fact for over a year. But as people who needed to cross borders for work (or medical reasons etc) were never barred from doing so, I’m kind of wondering where all these extra travellers are going. I’m also thinking that it’s a while since L drove south early on a Monday morning, and I’m suspecting that perhaps it has been like that all along – we just haven’t been sharing the road with them and so we haven’t noticed.

As of today we can resume consuming in cafés and bars, though only seated at tables (ie no counter service in bars) and only, for the time being, in the open air. I had an appointment to celebrate this with lunch in town but the date fell through and really (though it would of course have been nice to see those friends) it’s not something I’ve been hankering after so much that I felt the need to dine out at the first opportunity to make up for lost time. I say that slightly guiltily, in that I know that this is a godsend for purveyors of food and beverages who have suffered through some hellish times over the past year.

Pieve Suites

For them – but also for myself – I’m hoping that not everyone shares my lack of enthusiasm for escape from captivity. It’s a challenge, trying to guess how hospitality in all its forms will pan out in the months to come. On the eating- and drinking-out front, there’s no doubt that local hostelries will be heaving. Accommodation is a little harder to predict. Brits seem to be confined to quarters for the foreseeable future with the £5K fine for frivolous border-crossing still in place. But today the EU is muttering about the possibility of allowing vaccinated Americans to visit (also this from The Guardian) once again. (We are still waiting for our jabs, though the campaign has picked up speed remarkably. For the time being we’re keeping a low profile but rather enjoying telling people “us? no! we’re far too young!”) And, like last year, Italians will be dying to flee their cities for some country cocooning. 

So I’m trying to do a little sprucing up at Pieve Suites, painting rusty old iron railings and generally getting the place ready for a season which will probably happen and may burst upon me sooner than I expect. At least, I keep my fingers crossed.

*averages based on my rainfall measurements, over the period from 2013-2020