‘When everything else has gone from my brain … what will be left, I believe, is topology: the dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.’
Annie Dillard from An American Writer (Picador, 1989)
We finally leave Rose Cottage a month later than planned. No snow, but we are there for Spring and the arrival of the first swallow. I spend the final weeks at Rose Cottage binge-reading Annie Dillard. She is an exceptional writer of place and I read The Writing Life (twice), An American Childhood (twice) and finally finish Pilgrim at Tinker Creek just before we leave. Her detailed, almost forensic observations of nature and life are absorbing and her extraordinary ability to totally immerse herself in – and evoke – place, is inspiring. In the spirit of Dillard, I resolve to be more particular in my observations and write stuff down!
I take a walk in the orchard. I realise that trees are difficult to identify when they have no leaves, so look at the shape of each tree instead and note that the crown of an apple tree is shaped like the fruit it bears, that a pear is teardrop – or pear-shaped. I note blossom as it appears. Damson and plum trees blossom first, followed by pear which has a lemon-green flower. Finally the apple trees flower in shades of white, pink and red. Beyond the orchard, blackthorn is the first to flower in the hedgerows and wild cherries flourish on the edges of woodland where they get most light.
We pack to the sound of bird song – unseen chiff chaffs chiff-chaff all day long from the treetops, we see and hear a lone green woodpecker calling for a mate, blue tits, finches and long tailed tits chatter in the hedge.
We load the car at the front of the cottage where wildflowers emerge among the daffodils. First the tiny iris reticulata, then purple and white snakeshead fritillaries followed by cowslips and marsh orchids.
Small black spiders hatch under the gravel on the drive and disperse as we walk backwards and forwards with our bags and boxes. Rabbits at the far side of the orchard chase each other in circles – diving into the woodland perimeter when a buzzard mewls overhead.
Postscript: Ten miles up the Wye Valley and 700’ higher, spring is a couple of weeks behind. The blossom on the trees in the orchard on the hillside where we live has only just emerged, but a pair of goldfinches are visiting the feeder, the black birds have stopped moulting and started singing again and the swallows have arrived.
Photographs by Diane Becker, more on Instagram @dot7seven. Drawings and prints by Mark Clements can also be found on Instagram @markjclements.