Candlemas, and we are given a little candle each as we enter the 12th century church. ‘This,’ says the priest, ‘is a turn in the year, a moment to choose to turn away from darkness and towards the light.’ I think I might cry.
There has been a lot of darkness over the last few years, as well as the existential crises of the pandemic, climate change and another financial crash. Multiple bereavements have taken the much-beloved away on the tide. In their place, the waves have brought me oppression, hostility, a loss of sanctuary and a feeling of being adrift.
The idea of turning away from this, of not giving it my attention just for a little pause, is appealing. I turn my booted feet towards the church’s stained-glass window. It’s just a small movement, but I’m turning towards the light.
My heart is full of big questions: what is my purpose now that the people I cared for are dead? What will constitute my days? Can it be something other than a to-do list? Will I ever feel happy again?
Existential questions somehow don’t need an answer at a church where people lived through 500 years of plague. Moving my feet might just be enough.
So, as the weather is playing ball, I move them to the allotment, which has either been too wet or too cold for the last two months. It too is at a turn in the year, a point where it is replenished for the season ahead. I pull out a few sorry-looking remaining plants and turn over the soil. Worms tumble to the surface, almost in every size and variety. When I took on the allotment four years ago, there was just one worm in rock-hard soil. But, I’ve worked hard at improving the soil, adding compost, manure and leaf litter each winter and things are improving.
Worms are critical for soil health and therefore, crop production. However, a report out just before Christmas showed that the number of earthworms in the UK has fallen by about a third in the past 25 years.
As ever, it’s easy to see where responsibility for this lies: land drainage, pesticide use and the use of inorganic fertilisers. I’d like to live to see these three things be as socially unacceptable as not wearing a seatbelt or smoking in the office, both the norm in my youth. How to do that? Shop differently. Enquire of our supermarkets if the farms they support carry out these practices, then enquire of the farms themselves. What is done in the dark cannot stand the light of public attention.
I mulch a couple of vegetable beds and the asparagus bed with a mix of compost and rotten woodchip from a tree felled in my garden, before heavy drizzle sets in and it’s time to return to the sofa. But, the soil is being restored, and slowly, so am I.