The day started like any other. Sam decided it was time for me to wake up and began to nudge my head and lick my nose until I stirred. I dressed and we set out for our customary break of day walk. On each these walks, Sam and I will take in the weather, smell the air, look to see the sun rise, listen to bird song and generally marvel at nature, returning to put out the feeders, bring in firewood and let the chickens out before heading back inside. Once inside, I’ll feed Sam, make coffee, turn on Radio 4 and make plans for the day.
It’s basic, reduced down to the bare essentials, and is often the time of the day when I have the clearest thoughts and ideas.
I wonder, did the ancient Greeks start their days with similar routines? Was it such a basic start to the day that gave rise to the inspiration of the four elements? I can’t help but wonder this, because at the end of this day-like-any-other-start-of-the-day, I got a dose of the four elements.
Around 450 BC, the ancient Greeks surmised that all matter was comprised of earth, water, air, fire or some combination. While these theories aren’t in play in modern science, they still contribute to our notion of the states of matter: solid (earth), liquid (water), gas (air) and plasma (fire).
We’ve had recent rains, but on the morning of my four elements discovery, the clouds had lifted and the temperature mild for the time of year. It seemed a good day to address the garden. It might only be January, but early spring is always a mad scramble and it is easier to get a start on things when and where we can.
For a few hours I pulled weeds, cleared spent plants, and harvested produce for dinner. I applied some of our compost onto the garden beds in preparation of our spring planting. To avoid loosing nutrients in the soil, I covered the newly topped and empty beds with cardboard which will break down, meanwhile, the compost underneath will settle into the beds, invite worms, and not get washed away with any of the winter rains.
Just as my work in the vegetable garden was nearing completion, the rain returned, prompting me to run inside and put on my waterproofs.
During the past few weeks, wet and wintry weather has been the norm making the long sunny days of our glorious summer and autumn a distant memory. But water is something we have already in abundance on Dartmoor. There are over 130 miles of rivers, and this does not include all the miles of leats and streams. There is a river by our house and it, like so many others, responds almost instantaneously to rainfall, growing faster, wider and wilder as ground saturation increases.
Because of how wet it can be here, when it rains for days on end, it is essential to regularly clear the drains around the house of silt, leaves, mud, and stones. This keeps the water away from the house as it streams off the moors. Since it is now raining and the water is running off the hillside, I grab a shovel and bucket and begin to clear our channels. An easy enough task, but one that left me covered head to toe in mud!
The rain had returned, so too the wind, and everything was being pulled and shoved to its bidding. Earlier when I had been in the garden, I observed a Kestrel (also aptly known as windhover) working the valley, making use of a gentle breeze to hunt its prey. But the wind and weather on Dartmoor can change like a rip tide at the oceans edge. It is now blowing hard through the forest on the opposite hillside, and howling eerily down the river valley. A quick look and all birds seemed to have headed for shelter, including our chickens.
When I’m dressed for it – or otherwise snuggled in bed under a nice duvet – I enjoy the winds that have helped to carve this landscape. Exposed trees are bent over, sometimes nearly folded in half, yielding to the prevailing southwesterly winds. Who needs a compass?
As the wind whips up a storm, I secure the gates, check on the chickens, put away my garden tools, and hurry to finish a few more outdoor tasks.
Much of the landscape surrounding Crockern was given shape by the powerful forces of wind and water working solo or in tandem over the centuries, moving large amounts of dirt, grit, and rock to tear down and build anew. I take up my shovel and Sam joins me as we make our way down the track to inspect how it is holding up: Any new potholes? Litter left behind from visitors? Any downed branches or missing stones in the walls? In the short time it takes me to do this, the air temperature drops significantly. The North wind packs a visceral bite and it is a challenge to walk back toward the house. Poor Sam is being blown sideways. And, the rain has been transformed into mean, hard, little pellets of ice smacking me in the face.
Hail, Fire and Brimstone!!!
After a tough morning battling with earth, wind, and water in their various manifestations. I change out of my wet and muddy clothing while Roger lights the woodburner so I might warm my bones. I cosy up into my favourite chair, my loyal dog Sam by my feet (not really, he’s taken the other chair, leaving Roger no where to sit), and I let the heat and light from the fire hypnotize me. As the storm rages outside, my mind drifts and jumps randomly:
- If the Earth’s equatorial circumference is greater than its polar circumference, how does this shape compare to some of the eggs our chickens lay?
- How can an inch of rain be equivalent to 15 inches of dry, powdery snow? Is this true?
- Should we try to grow pumpkins this year?
- My waterproof trousers have a leak in the knees and the previous repair is no longer working. It’s time to replace them.
- Just how does Phillip Bailey from Earth, Wind and Fire hit those high falsetto notes in the song, September?