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{ 71 } 44. PAUSE FOR RAGWORT In sulfured summer, a farming pause. Soon the stutter, and engine roar. It will be the day and the night of the harvester. Once dusty cereal fields swarmed with calling farmworkers, children beating for fleeing rabbit, families all laid in hedgerow for bait of bread and cold tea, perhaps beer and fatty pork. Now above farmyard and village street swallows slide and tear targets from the clean air, the evenings flickering with bats. After a point, there is nothing more to do but wait. The last tawny softly hooted. Oilseed rape was in, fields prickly with lime-green stalk and shard of seedpod by hedge and road. Flocks of pigeon roamed. Next would be barley, later wheat, browbeaten by black mildew. Early harvests from the south were poor. One field in the valley Was dotted with ragged roundels. In crashed storm and warm rain, The combines crept back to dark lairs. Meanwhile, it had been a splendid summer for ragwort. Who would be a farmer? This bright Compositae is related to chamomile and feverfew, medicinal and good plants. Golden ragwort thrives in tired arable fields, neglected meadow, wayside verge. It is a notifiable weed, toxic, a bad plant. The ministry has a Ragwort Code: all landowners, you must cut or spray or pull. All ragwort must go. Myths are many: it is horse slayer, cattle killer, symbol of farming decay. A company selling a removal tool claimed ragwort was annually responsible for six thousand horse deaths. The ministry points to thirteen. In the Netherlands, where Senecio also spreads, a postmortem system has yet to find a case of poisoned horse. Given choice, horses do not consume. It grows untouched in meadows. Official weed or not, preferred extinction creates a problem. It is pollen for butterfly, moth, bee, and beetle. Thirty species of insect depend exclusively on AUGUST { 72 }     The East Country ragwort, another twenty-two eat much in their diet. Thus, kill or leave? Green or dry, it causes fatal cirrhosis of the liver. Put on gloves if you are going to pull it, never let it in hay as animals will eat the lot. Essex Wildlife Trust is a landowner with a plan: ragwort is left for insects, but managed when too common. They cut, spray, pull, and pause. The poet John Clare rambled far, half-maddened by places and plants lost and loved, calling ragwort a humble flower with tattered leaves, littered gold, creating a “sun tanned sward in splendid hues.” 5 45. THE END OF THE ROAD At all times, Suffolk had three seaside habitats: shingle, sand dune, sandstone cliff. The shingles drift, sand dunes accrete, cliffs crumble. To reach the sea, you must travel arterial roads to settlements at the rim. In heavy rain pouring from sou’westerlies , after walking Halvergate’s soggy swamp with marshman Billy Frosdick: there was Covehithe, reeling on cliffs rich with herringbone gravels. In the medieval era, it was a thriving fishing village; all that remains is a lime-washed farm and yard, a stranded pair of cottages, the flinty double church. The narrow lane was hedged with sloe blackthorn, twisted and long-sculpted by racing wind. Bracken fronds shone by purple mallow. The sky was in the puddles. The cloudy veil was low and dark, all the pigs were in their arks. Just as the line on maps disappears into the sea were signs: Danger, No Public Right of Way. And routes off to either side, where walkers stray. To the north, the wheat was in; beyond the church tower loomed high. Far below, yeasty waves grumbled at the shore. Where wheat was sown last autumn, where great machines had roared, the field was tipping over. Lines of crop fell into thin air. There were losses here, land and memory, house and harbor, cottage garden. All under the frothy sea. Five hundred meters have gone this past century. With the saturation of soil, there was likely more falling soon. To the north was Benacre, a single oak trunk standing in the sea, the last tree of Doggerland’s great forest, now under the foaming deeps. To the south, Easton Bavents, once a mile and half to sea, the church and thronging markets gone. Julian Tennyson, great-grandson of the poet, wrote in Suffolk Scene that Easton Broad was “one of the quietest and most deserted places in Suffolk.” It had become so, by the 1930s. But then came the war, and he died in Burma...


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