A Country Diary 88
INSPIRED BY VIRGIL’S GEORGICS, which I have been reading in the excellent Loeb edition, I have written my first ever piece of Latin verse. It is:
Rastris adsiduis glaebas frango
Herba insecto arvaque iuvo
[With unrelenting mattock I break the clods
I harry the weeds and thus improve the soil.]
The mattock appears with great regularity in Latin and Greek texts on husbandry, from Hesiod to Virgil and Columella, and it is a strangely underused tool here in the UK where we prefer a combination of spade, fork and hoe. But with the mattock you can make short work of digging over a patch of land. Last week I took the unrelenting mattock and carved up two of my weedy beds. The appearance of the vegetable garden, though, is still a disgrace. It’s the paths. They are covered in tufts of grass and other weeds. I was advised to put gravel down on them, also wood ash to kill weeds. I have given much thought to both these suggestions at great length, but I have yet to act on them. Now is also the time when I should be manuring, but again I haven’t done it yet. I must act soon.
ON THOSE wonderful hot sunny days of mid-October, I made sure that I went for walks along the cliffs after lunch. One day I took Henry with me, and we walked down to the lower cliff path. We drank from the waterfall, watched buzzards and gazed out to sea form rocks. Henry rightly said that the rocky path reminded him of Lundy. When we arrived home, I saw that we’d been rambling for three hours and must have walked about five miles. which I thought was terrifically impressive for a four year old. And Henry never once whined or complained; on the contrary, he was still gambolling along at the end of our walk.
ON SUNDAY, Brian came round to give us our first ferreting lesson. The basic principle of ferreting, for those who don’t know, is this: you peg little nets over each of the rabbit holes in a warren. Then you slip a few ferrets down the holes. The rabbits, terrified by the ferrets, bolt from their holes and try to escape. The run straight into the nets, which close around them. They are then humanely dispatched and you can take them home for your pot. That is the theory but we didn’t manage to catch any on Sunday. We strolled up to a nearby field with our ferrets, Twister and Whisper, in a cat carrying box, and found a warren in a wall. Brian showed us how to place the nets over the holes. We then let the ferrets out of the box. Brian had brought two: Twister and Whisper’s mother, and one of their sisters. They sniffed around each other. We then picked up the ferrets and slipped them into the rabbit holes, down which they seemed very happy to go, curious creatures that they are. It is a terrible fact, by the way, that it is illegal to use ferrets to hunt rabbits in the US, out of some hypocritcial concern for bunny welfare. Down went the ferrets, and after a terrific rumbling from underground, we saw a rabbit shoot out of the wall about thirty yards away from us, through a hole that clearly we hadn’t spotted. Our job was not an easy one because there were thick layers of gorse everywhere, which hid the holes. Two rabbits also bolted on the other side of the wall. We tried a couple of other spots but could not find a good warren. Then we had one last go at the original spot, but the rabbits had clearly cottoned on to what was happening, and we had completely lost the element of surprise. We did see two rabbits, but they just wandered quite happily in and out of their warren. There was no danger of them bolting into our nets. So no rabbits, but it was a great introduction and the whole experience had made me look at the walls and the fields in a completely new way. They had come alive to me. They were vibrant entities rather than just passive objects of contemplation. I sensed that poaching could connect you with the land in a way I had not previously understood. A hunting expedition also gives a real purpose to a walk. The children enjoyed it very much. And both our ferrets came out of the holes all right. At one point, I worried that we might never see them again. But there they were, with muddy noses, doing their job.