The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space



Photo: Brick path

Photo: Brick path

I love the light in a lot of Carel Weight’s paintings. He often favours dusk – the time the French call day for night – the brief drift of minutes when everything seems to shimmer in a strange somnolent way.

I often think of his paintings these days as I tend to work in the garden between three and four thirty. I choose the vegetables for supper quite early and they wait in a little trug on top of the feedbins until I return indoors.

When long arrows of flying ducks or geese fill the sky I know that dusk is approaching. It’s a magical time. The birds are still calling but the sun has vanished leaving a darkening sky. I walk through the kitchen garden absorbed by this change from light to dark. The Brassicas stand stately in their beds and, at their feet, a row of tiny pak choi seedlings look so vulnerable and fresh under the birthday cloches.

I can hear the soft sound of our flock of chickens settling down to roost as I check the greenhouse door is closed and make sure the fleece is secure on the three homemade giant cloches. Visibility is usually diminshed by gathering darkness as I put the tools back to bed on their hooks in the little elfin dark green gardening shed.

When the baby owls in Anne Mary’s wood begin to call and the first bats start flying, I grab the vegetable trug and walk back to the cottage, under the brick paved rose arch and past the big silent pond where water lilies are still flowering. The lights have been turned on in the cottage. The windows are little welcoming golden squares of light in the dumpy cottage walls.

At the back door I turn for one last look at the herbaceous borders. Then I kick off my Wellingtons and step into the kitchen to light the wood burning stove and think about supper.

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  1. Jo@LittleFfarm Dairy

    You’re so lucky –

    we’ve suffered nothing but storms, gales &/or torrential rain for days & days now. Saturday was the worst: I was supposed to be helping out at the official opening of a friend’s farm shop, but got beaten back by the weather on the road across the mountains, it was horrendous to the point of seriously dangerous.

    And it was extremely lucky I returned when I did; because the road was already rapidly flooding in several places as the rivers burst their banks, I’d never have got home if I’d stayed out & was lucky to limp the car home, as it was.

    On the little bridge which marks the beginning of our land I was checking the river levels with increasing alarm when the rain literally flooded from the sky; the water was deluging down the road with such force it was up to my ankles.

    But at the top of our half-mile-long drive I received an even nastier shock…the water was pouring down the hill in such a foaming, muddly torrent it had caused a landslide, removing the majority of the road’s surface; which we’d only replaced two years previously & at great expense. It took me half an hour to pick my way back down to rescue the goats from their now-flooded accommodation…& that was in a 4×4.

    So far I reckon the storms have inflicted at least ten thousand pounds’ worth of damage on our little ffarm…& there’s yet more on the way with another severe weather warning for tomorrow.

    After torrential rain overnight & this morning the skies are at least relatively clear this afternoon, however it’s blowing a gale out there (yet again) & I’m not sure how much more some of the older buildings can take. Several senior residents locally have said they’ve never seen such horrendous conditions.

    The Poultry Barn where the hens’ overnight accommodation is located, is a mixture of flood water & sticky, slippery mud (thank goodness the hens free-range in & out of Arks….!!) & it the nerve-centre of our computerised Milking Parlour has flooded in twice in the past few days, showering the electrics & all the equipment with rainwater.

    It seems that if there’s not a howling gale we get torrential rain instead – or as an especial treat, both simulataneously. I am constantly cold, wet, tired & thoroughly Fed Up. Daylight (well a weirdly constant twilight) is spent wading through water, worries & mud; whilst my restless nights are spent huddled in bed with the cats, listening to the wind ripping at the roof & roaring around the walls like an angry beast offering no solace of sleep through the fear of what new horrors daylight might reveal.

    So – any chance you can send me some of that calm tranquility, please? Badly in need of it, here!

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joanna

    Thank you.

    Hi TA

    It’s a lovely time of year here in the garden.

    Thank you Paula. I enjoy writing these posts.

    Oh Pamela

    You will have your own patch one day – I feel it in my bones.

    Hi MC

    I love checking the hens at night. Although I feel so sorry for Baby who sleeps alone in the ark so he always gets a special cuddle.

    Yes I’m really valuing this quiet time at home.

    Hello Chris

    Thank you so much for leaving a comment 🙂

    Hi Pammie

    That poem is wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

    Hello Wendy

    I’m so pleased that you liked the post. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Beautifully descriptive piece. I loved the bit about the arrows of flying ducks or geese in the sky. x

  4. Dusk is such a magical time a time between the worlds. Dawn is the same.
    Here is a poem I love by Rumi

    The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

    Don’t go back to sleep.

    You must ask for what you really want.

    Don’t go back to sleep.

    People are going back and forth across the doorsill

    where the two worlds touch.

    The door is round and open.

    Don’t go back to sleep.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

  6. magic cochin

    What a perfect description of the fading light in your garden.

    I’ve just shut the hen house and said goodnight to the hens – I think this is a special moment, I check whether their crops are full of corn and make sure they are all settled on the perches. It helps to reinforce their trust in me.

    Then I picked herbs to flavour our supper, on my way back to the kitchen.

    You really get to know the turn of the seasons if you are out at dusk every day of the year.

    Hope the gentle rhythm of life is helping to make you feel better.

  7. What a lovely picture you painted. It’s that time of evening when you know the time is drawing near to go back indoors, but having been outside you are loathe to give up the quiet and fresh, cool, slightly damp air for the harsh lights, noise and dry air indoors. When I am in the garden at that time at my Mum’s or my sister’s, that is when I really miss a garden of my own.

  8. Nice post, Fiona. I felt like I was there with you.

  9. Toffeeapple

    Ahh, such a lovely image. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Lovely! :o)

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