So the year tips, over into the next one. We're in transition, out of the winter tinsel, forging through the wasting months, then beyond, into the beyond. Shedding the past, lurching forward. I can hear a distant rattle. Something's coming down the track.
Despite the casting off of the old, I feel a bit badly about my last post, which hectored about tidying up. Here is my garden in England, where I have been doing some of that, as well as laying bricks and assisting with the laying of the recycled Council slabs.
|In October last year, from one side|
|Now, from the other|
I show this in a spirit of humility, this garden is still only a garden in prospect. Despite nearly a year having passed since I started thinking about the necessary changes , a great deal remains to be done. In any case, it's nothing more than an assemblage of the ends of old building materials gathered up from other gardens over a period of some years. The bricks are overbaked ones, from an old local kiln. They're uneven and twisted, without the soft glow of proper old bricks.
Add to them a motley collection of different sizes and colours of concrete slabs, a number of blue engineering bricks left over from elsewhere, some ends of sleepers which I collected up a few years ago to save them from the dump, and you see that this garden is neither slick nor fine. Unpretentious, that's what I wanted. How fortunate.
We have created a pond and I am pleased to report that the liner will never show, because we have lined it internally with these unattractive bits and pieces. The sleeper ends are to prevent small children and old people hurtling directly into it. as they exit the patio doors.
The song of the day is It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Anyone who knows Dylan will know that it certainly is all over, there is nothing new to be said about this song. I would not dream of trying, not in my current, diffident, mode.
But it captures where we are, caught here on the cusp. For a week or two the past year rears up for the final blast, a ghost of itself, inexorably fading. But the new year is not fully here yet, another wraith rambling towards us, through the mist. The days are still so short, the light still so far away.
There are strange warm storms, and water everywhere, all over Britain. What future we can see looks out of joint. Like all of us though, I push the worries away, clear my forehead and lift my eyes to the next hill. Looking forward, with trepidation.
I have a serious anxiety, related to a loved one's health, which I must carry carefully through the next months. I have global climate worries too, shared with most sensible people. There's little to be idiotically cheerful about and this song perfectly captures the tone, for it is deeply uneasy as it pushes on to the unknown, knowing the past is gone.
Here's a little plant to lighten the gloom, hunkered down against the soil. I have only really learnt to enjoy these in the last few years - before that, I only bothered with cyclamen hederifolium, the autumn flowering species with more rhombus shaped leaves. Now I see that this other kind have more to offer: they are cyclamen coum, the round leaved cyclamen that begins flowering in late December and carries on till nearly the end of March. I have the impression that their flowering fades and strengthens, according to the harshness of the cold weather. That's what we need, plants with flexibility.
Last year I planted these in a large round blue pot for someone else, along with blue anemone blanda. They were cheerful and popular, cleanly bright spots of colour for weeks, smart and harmonious with their interestingly varied leaves, neat, graceful, and just wild enough.
The autumn-flowering cyclamen, hederifolium is still full of leaf as I write, but its flowers pass nearly unnoticed in a busy garden. You would need masses of them to show up, in clear woodland areas under trees, where early bulbs have bloomed and died away, in the droughty shade of summer.
Here in our British gardens, autumns now seem to go on for ever. Herbaceous plants and deciduous shrubs don't know when to call it a day. These cyclamen, also known as ivy-leaved, are squeezed out, flowering unnoticed under everything else They long for more light and space just when there is no chance of that.
I plan to try cyclamen hederifolium under trees in my Italian garden. Remembering however that they may serve as a treat for the boars - presumably the name "sow-bread", under which they also labour, means something. Their huge tubers would make a nice solid sandwich for a porker.
Winter-flowering cyclamen coum are the ones I will go for here in the UK from now on, they more than satisfy me in these dark days. They'll be my emblem of a transition that means nothing and everything, the low point, the turning of the year. Those exquisitely formed upside down petals are where everything starts anew, even before the snowdrops.
I remember seeing a woodland near Rome completely carpeted with another cyclamen many years ago. I never saw anything like it, before or since, the scent was astounding, the flowers seemed so rare and precious, elegantly expensive but just everywhere. I think that was probably repandum, flowering in April or May and I imagine a little tenderer than coum. If I can find them, I'll try them too. Just the thought perks me up.
The version I choose of the song is found on the Bootleg Series vol 4 and is performed live. The singer's voice is terrifyingly fragile, wrung out and strung out, but precise as a stiletto. He captures an intense uneasiness about a necessary ending and a forced beginning, but he's inexorable. His cast of looming, havering characters drift in and out, the sky folds, the carpet moves and we are in the grip of motion sickness, as if the changes we are facing make us nauseous with their stomach-turning abruptness.
Everything collides but you cannot tell if the protagonist is the victim or the perpetrator of the flux of change. That's what it can feel like when something inside you changes, affecting all those around you. The switch-back you ride is the one you inflict, but you cannot choose to get off, it's beyond your control. I don't get those feelings very often any more, they seem to me the property of youth rather than timorous age. Nonetheless I recognise them and am grateful not to be at their mercy. That just leaves the stuff that can happen to you, when you're not looking for it, when, on the whole, you'd prefer the world to continue turning on its axis.
In this song I hear conflicted emotions, ones that echo my own sense of the year turning and the future looming. I hear the future already regretted and a simultaneous cleaving to and fleeing from the present.
Examine with me once more the little cyclamen, the match that is struck for the New Year, and let's take heart. Back to the tidying up, the planting, the sticking together of hard materials to create comfort and structure. What else is there to do? I'll have glinting evergreens in winter, early flowers and verdant upholstery. It's not over yet.