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Sticks and smells (ITWS#13)

For some reason the phrase ‘pick up one end of a stick and you pick up the other’ has stuck in my mind for the last few weeks. I can’ t help thinking of a Confucian sage invoking this profound saying but think that instead it is an American aphorism. Perhaps the intention was to share an observation of pure logic but my assumption is that there was an intention to convey a deeper meaning. I take it to mean that one has to take the rough with the smooth, or perhaps that along with the benefits of any choice we make we need to accept the downsides from, to update the phrase, the shitty end of the stick! What follows starts with a recent example of how this saying played out for us and ends up with a much bigger question relating to a much, much bigger stick!

We have been very lucky during the lock down period to have a garden to work and play in. It has been a sanctuary, a workhouse, a gym, a kitchen, and a dining area at various times over the last few months. It has also been a place to really exercise every one of the senses.

Seeing the trees going from bare stemmed through to fully in leaf has been something that we have been able to pay much more attention to this year and what a change it is. The soundscape has been rich with birds and bees and the susurration of wind through the trees once they were in leaf is both peaceful and deafening! Has there been more to hear or have we just paid it more attention?

It’s a bit early yet for too many crops but we have tasted some salad leaves and the one or two cherries that were left for our use after the birds had their fill! Then there is the sense of touch with experiences across the spectrum from pleasure to pain – the softness of new leaves just erupting from their buds, the vicious spikes of a gooseberry bush coming to painful attention when trying to weed around their base!

Just now the roses have been out for a few weeks and these have been an olfactory sensation that I have not really appreciated before, at least not as much as I have this year. We have a number of varieties with very different scents and spend most evenings with our noses buried in them for a few moments. It’s difficult to beat Gertrude Jeykll, although Roald Dahl is impressive too. I guess that checking our ability to smell is one of the more satisfactory ways of self-diagnosing being free from COVID-19! Fortunately for us we have yet to fail that test.

We have competition for the roses though. The stick we picked up by choice was to move a little while ago to a village location. With it came the garden and the rural vibe. I guess we were aware that the other end of the stick for us might be the damage that the wildlife might do to anything and everything that we try and grow. However, we did not anticipate the complete devastation that was visited on us by a single deer who decided to have a gut busting romp through our vegetable patch and rose bed one fine night. We woke up one morning to see loads of petals on the ground immediately beneath what had been multiple blooms the night before. The round bushes now had a buzz cut that would have made any marine proud!

There was an intake of breath at the sight which was almost expelled with a torrent of profanity, at least from me. As it was about to be unleashed we both spotted the perpetrator, pictured here, standing in amongst a patch of campion, as if rose buds wouldn't melt in his mouth! There was a moment of mentally stripping him back to a rack of venison before anger evaporated. Frankly, as shitty ends of a stick go this one is really not all that bad. Remind me of that when the beans disappear.

It did make me wonder though. If COVID19 is the shitty end of a stick what was so great about the other end that made us want to pick it up? Something to do with the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want it, travelling wherever we want to do it perhaps? I can’t be holier than thou and suggest that I haven’t had that expectation, at least in some areas of my life. The notion of perpetual economic growth has always troubled me. It is based on the expectations that those that have the capability to consume will seek to consume more while those that don’t aspire to become one of those that do. This would be all very well if our planet was an infinitely giving resource. Large and generous it is, infinitely giving it is not.

Actually, another answer the question above is that the clean end of the stick symbolised our belief that we are in control of our environment, in charge of all that we survey. To a great extent we do thrive because of our unique talents as human beings yet we are also supported by an equally unique and delicately balanced myriad of ecosystems which we appear to be intent on destroying. The sub-microscopic members of these ecosystems, including bacteria and viruses, range from providing us with essential support through via being a benign presence through to being threatening to our lives. Their ability to mutate to suit their environment makes them far more masterful of the world than we are with our thoroughly pedestrian evolutionary capability!

Our rose eating deer is really not too unpleasant as a negative consequence of having a garden with roses in it. COVID19 on the other hand has been more than unpleasant, seriously shitty in fact. Yet both are pretty much nailed on as likely consequence of a choice made by either us, in the case of the deer, or humankind, in relation to COVID19. In either case are we in control of all we survey? I don’t think so.

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