A good deal of outdoorsness this week, including a day on Allotment Major, planting tatties and onions and sowing broad beans, parsley, radishes, scallions, leeks, chard and beetroot, with my blessings on all of them and hopes for a good growing season. Planting tatties always makes me think of the anecdote in Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which she tells of a year spent trying to be self-sufficient. A food writer acquaintance in New York phoned her to ask how things were going, and BK said that the potatoes were starting to sprout. A moment's puzzled silence, and then the food writer said 'Ah, what bit of a potato sprouts, exactly?'.
Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to spend a while on my own with a pond in the sunshine. It was a busy pond: three brown frogs stumbled on the earthy base, occasionally blundering through weeds and giving up, disheartened. Pond skaters and water boatmen plied their trade across the surface, while below sticklebacks, from the tiny to the two inch, cast tantalising shadows on the clumsy frogs. In a net of stringy black weed, a family of newts fussed and fidgeted, then one would go absolutely still and sink slowly to the bottom before scurrying off again. A chaffinch bathed nearby in the shallows, and in the midst of the weed a large toad lurked, waiting, before finally the moment was right and she pushed down to lay a cloud of spawn amongst the newts' black weed. Damsel flies, oblivious to this momentous event, flittered in the sunshine.
Where I am lucky enough to sit for half an hour or so on a Saturday morning, I'm on a level with a chimney at the back of a Victorian church. Two custard-yellow chimney pots stick up from it like a pair of abandoned artificial legs, but they are those chimney pots with little diagonal vents near the base, two sloping clay tubes on each pot. Here for the second year that I've seen, jackdaws are making their nests: it's a surprise the first time you see them shooting out of the holes like children in a flume, appearing so fast it seems like magic, then perching quite calmly on the chimney stack before flying off. You'd swear they were clearing their throats and checking to see that no one is laughing at them. Then it's back, a quick inspection, and hop back up into the tube and vanish.