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{ xiii } At that time, long ago, glaciers were in retreat, and meltwaters gushed eastwards. Valleys were scoured, and water exited at the new shores of Suffolk and Essex. One river, the Stour, was the boundary between counties that became famed kingdoms of Angles and Saxons. The valley was a matchless mosaic. It was painted at the silk town, Sudbury, by Gainsborough, by Constable and Munnings at the lower flats and fords, in the middle reaches by John Nash, fashioned by farmers and free-draining sandy loams. We are at the border, on the slopes of one county, in sight of the other. The landscape is both farmed and wild, designated near fifty years for outstanding natural beauty. There are deer and bat, returned otter and rare stag beetle; fields of onion, potato, sugar beet; rippling stands of malt barley and milling wheat; dappled orchard and survivor elm; flowered cottage garden and allotment; longhorn cattle and murmuring sheep, the air hushed with the scent of honeysuckle. Overhead plane buzzards, flocks of jostling jackdaw and rook roaming and roosting together. The vale twice was menaced by dragons, short battles, and long tales, and in a hilltop chapel the country’s crown was placed on a flaxen fifteen-year-old. The churches have their symbols, yet also stone beast, Green Man in roof timber, in one chapel’s stained glass, the green philosopher and composer Hildegard of Bingen. The waters of the river are often crystal clear, cordate lily flowered yellow and white, spear of rush and gossamer grass, shadowy pike in the deeps. There are hidden places, cool glades in woodland, riffles over weirs, silent pools and swirling midges, track of fox, and tall alder, black poplar, bat willow, old oak. There are no mountains in this east country; just sharp hill, tapestry valley, liminal marsh, coastal cliff, mudflat and shingle beach. “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot,” wrote Aldo Leopold in 1949. His desire for a land ethic was infectious. His wooden shack in Wisconsin with the white door and window frames was raised in a wasteland. Now it stands beside mature beech and pine, the tall-grass prairie swaying rich with flowers. PREFACE { xiv }     Preface It might have been five minutes ago, maybe more. I sat on stumps with Aldo’s daughtersNinaandEstella,bothintheirlatewinters.Wetalkedaboutlinkswiththe land. How these could shape the way we think and act, how food systems change, how attentiveness might rescue the planet from overconsumption. We walked by the lazy river pooling at sandbanks, and heard the clangor of crane. They clutched photographs of how the land looked when they were young. Those changes are proof alone that in wildness lies some salvation. Annie Dillard observed that wild places should not be thought of as out of the way; they should be in the way. You just need to go into them and feel. In this patchwork valley, all we see arises from choice: by family farmer, conservation body, gardener, local authority; also the developer. There is food and nature, interwoven, as they always were. Matsuo Bashō walked far and learned to be still, nature always in and out of his short life and writing. The haiku form has an association with a particular season , provoked by a kigo trigger word. There seem to be fewer in English, perhaps becoming rarer as foods have become available year-round, as seasonal ceremonies have been diluted by the timeless modern. Yet strawberries are still associated with flush of summer; bonfire night with mists of autumn. What remains: barbecue signs summer heat, mulled wine only winter evenings. Nightingales sing for spring, swifts mark it with flashing flights, swallows call autumn’s approach huddled on wires. The pause of spring: a cuckoo call. We could all develop long attachments to the local. Being on the land does change us. This bricolage of tales emerged from journeys on the land and coast of the east country, echoing the ebb and flow of seas over seasons. Everything we do is influencing the world: we create the world by experiencing it. It creates us too by our experiences and discoveries. Yet there is darkness also, at the edge of dreams, between shadow and hope, always a dying and a living. It happens just as much in the dim depths of the woods, on lapping marshes, inside crumbled industrial estates hemmed by chain-link. Things are far from safe, beyond the poem, observed the wholesome magician Seamus Heaney. Yet...


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