The smoke’s smell, too

‘The smoke’s smell, too 
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns

from Edward Thomas, Digging

The builder is ill, so the wall-mending must wait, and I have the chance to burn that mighty pile of prunings. Whoosh! A couple of mild, dry days coupled with a great deal of dead wood made for a rather spectacular conflagration. The pile which had taken three weeks to amass burnt in an hour or so, aided by a brisk and chilly northwesterly wind. The wind not only fanned the flames, but also kept the smoke – not that there was a lot, as the fire burned so hot and fierce – away from any open windows. Even at the end of the day the embers were still glowing hot and white, certainly hot enough to cook a sausage or two had I thought to bring some.

The crackle and spit of the fire also took on a slightly melancholy and sinister air. Thoughts of the stake – of martyrs both Protestant and Catholic – perhaps prompted by ‘Wolf Hall’ and a consequently heightened awareness of the 16th century – were in the air.

Whereas my bonfire a few week ago felt like the end of the old year, this one, on a bright blue March morning, felt quite different. Cathartic (it has been a difficult few days away from the garden), and also full of promise for the new season to come. Edward Thomas’s poem, although ‘about’ the autumn – and ending with the beautiful line about the robin’s ‘sad song of Autumn mirth’ – was written in April, and the stanza I quote captures perfectly my feeling of today. There were plenty of robins singing too, though with the boldness of spring in their voices.

As does J.W Inchbold’s glorious Pre-Raphaelite landscape variously known as ‘A Study, March’ or ‘In Early Spring’. This painting hangs in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which is where I first saw it 35 years ago. It has stayed with me ever since, and on a day like today it is the touchstone for my response to the light and the colour of spring.

A halcyon day it was – calm and clear – a flash of Kingfisher on the river, and a Red Kite – my first seen at The Farm, and so close to the centre of Salisbury – soaring over as I started work.

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