Mag­gie Mackel­lar: A Day in the Coun­try

MAG­GIE MACKEL­LAR LOOKS PAST THE BREAK­ING OF THE DROUGHT TO NEW HOPE IN A POST-LOCK­DOWN WORLD.

Country Style - - AUGUST 2020 | CONTENTS -

EAR­LIER THIS YEAR, just as the world went into lock­down, the drought broke and we had rain. It felt mirac­u­lous. Overnight the dry, sick coun­try sprung vi­o­lently into life. My vegie gar­den had been dor­mant. Ac­tu­ally dor­mant is too soft a word — it had been bar­ren, as hard as con­crete. Some­how the as­para­gus had hung on, but it was the only thing to have vis­i­bly sur­vived. Into the soft­ened ground I dug sheep ma­nure carted from un­der the shear­ing shed, and in the days that fol­lowed, an army of pars­ley and rocket ‘vol­un­teers’ popped their heads out of the soil. I planted masses of broad bean seeds, leeks, broc­coli, kale and onion seedlings, and in the short­est days I pushed gar­lic into the quiet dirt, but left two plots in grat­i­tude to the self starters. And all through win­ter, as my late sown seedlings grew, I have har­vested this riot of pars­ley and rocket.

The drought is still a trauma I trip over as I pass a pile of whiten­ing bones on a walk. It’s in the short­ened shear­ing as our stock num­bers are at a record low. As the dry tight­ened, pos­sum, wal­laby and even deer came into the gar­den to eat the dy­ing rem­nant of lawn, graze on my gera­ni­ums and what was left of the rose bushes. Cracks ap­peared in the walls of the house. Fence posts col­lapsed. The un­der­growth in the bush died, as did so many of the trees. The dams dis­ap­peared. All the graz­ing an­i­mals be­came small, an out­line of them­selves. Scav­engers thrived, es­pe­cially our in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion of devils, whose meals came easy.

By the end of Fe­bru­ary, a time when I’m usu­ally drown­ing in ap­ples and mul­ber­ries, not a sin­gle fruit could be found.

All were gone be­fore they could ripen, raided by pos­sums and birds. Out of this dev­as­ta­tion, the only tree to have given us a crop was the wal­nut planted right on the banks of the dry creek, its toes reach­ing deep into the wa­ter hid­den be­low.

The bucket of wal­nuts I gath­ered at the end of sum­mer has sat by the stove through au­tumn and win­ter. The nuts, along with the wild abun­dance of self-seeded rocket and pars­ley from the vegie patch, have fed us for months. I have made sal­ads every evening and pesto every week. One mea­sure of wal­nuts to two of greens. How easy it would be to empty a packet of wal­nuts into the blender. In­stead I sub­mit to time swelling, and cel­e­brate the mo­ment it takes to crack each nut and find the ker­nel soft and sweet.

This lack of hurry is some­thing I’m try­ing to ap­ply to the rest of a year where the nor­mal sig­ni­fiers of time pass­ing have been up­ended. I’m look­ing to make small mo­ments into tiny cer­e­monies of grat­i­tude. I’m eager for spring. I’m lis­ten­ing for the lilt­ing call of the grey shrikethru­sh in the gar­den, and when I hear it I’ll stop for a mo­ment and let the sound wash over me. I’m look­ing for­ward to the sight of the first-born lamb, the next gen­er­a­tion suck­ing in the air of a new world. This year, we hope for an abun­dance of grass and lambs. I hope my gar­den will be a tan­gle of new growth.

But it’s not abun­dance I’m think­ing about; rather it’s the grace to ac­cept the rise and fall of the years, to cel­e­brate the song of a bird, the sweet ker­nel of a nut, and to un­der­stand both my in­signif­i­cance and my agency. I’m think­ing, “Slow down and be a wit­ness to the beauty.”

The drought of re­cent years took a ter­ri­ble toll, but Mag­gie is look­ing for­ward to the first blush of spring and the prom­ise it will bring with it.

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