Friday, 22 April 2011

Time when trees bloom...

It was the time when trees bloom,
When bushes leaf
Fields grow green,
And every bird singing in Latin
Sweetly greets the morning
And all nature is aflame with joy
That the son of the widow dame
Of the lonely wild forest
Arises and saddles his nag...

Thus opens the epic poem of Chretien de Troyes (around 1185), Perceval --- or the story of the Grail. The boy enters the woods, encounters knights whom he mistakes for angels, and decides he wants to become one. And so to his adventures.

At Cottarton the birds have been singing in Latin for almost two months. We’ve barely seen any rain. Each morning Amber and I look out at a blue sky and say, “Here’s another sunny day in southern California.” It’s warm --- possibly the warmest April on record. Evenings we eat dinner at our outdoor patio, something that in past years was a rare treat.

The locals are also mystified. And a little bothered by the endless summer. Technically it's barely springtime. Shopkeepers wag their heads.

“Beautiful day,” I say when I reach the till.
“Aye,” says the shopkeeper. “But we’ll be paying for it.”

Things aren’t supposed to be this good. This is after all Scotland. This time last year we were under at least a foot of snow. Now that's the way it is.

A boon for the garden? Not exactly. It’s true that the cold frame is already bursting with plants, large enough to be planted outside. The greenhouse is emptying of seedlings. Tomatoes and zucchini are too big for their pots. But very little that I’ve sown or planted outside is growing. The ground is dusty. Parched. Without water from the skies, things aren’t about to move. Only buttercups, unfazed by the drought and delighted by the lack of competition, are making hay.

So, a Texan will tell me --- turn on the hose! If my plants start struggling for life, it may come to that. But at present I prefer to leave the plants alone. By not watering, I encourage them to send their roots deeper in search of damp layers farther down. Also, there are the slugs --- mollusks that just love the water. Every year we do battle with the buggers. Whenever I watered outside, they would come out at night for a drink, and then have their midnight snack on my broccoli plants. They eat everything except for buttercups. By not watering, I don’t let them know that there are tasty snacks out there.

The onion and garlic crop.
Lovage in the foreground.

Here at Cottarton we hardly have any water pressure. Our water is sourced from a well, gets pumped into a water tank in the attic, and that’s all the water head you have. Not enough for a sprinkler. At best, I fill up watering can with our Evian water, walk out to my field and stand there stupidly, looking like a bloke out of the TV program, “The Good Life.”

What’s going on? Where is our Scottish weather? Curiously this long spring is a mirror image of the dreadful winter we had a year ago, and an equally nasty December 2010. The North Atlantic Jet Stream has tied itself into a loop that takes it far to our west. The high pressure system that normally covers most of Europe now extends over the UK. As I hoped, when we experienced a continental winter, we’re being compensated by a continental spring. That means, long, dry and hot.

It’s time to get out the bull-roarer and perform a Scottish rain dance.

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