Wild Words: Kirsteen Bell

Bluebells are setting their seeds, retracting into little round cases full of next year’s growth. NO F25 Bluebell plant setting seed_Kirsteen Bell
Bluebells are setting their seeds, retracting into little round cases full of next year’s growth. NO F25 Bluebell plant setting seed_Kirsteen Bell

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Near our house is a birch woodland. From late May until June, its green understory has been flush with the purple-blue hues of bluebells.

Now though, the flowers are setting their seeds, retracting into little round cases full of next year’s growth.

In her poem ‘Reliquary’, Kathleen Jamie suggests the casting of these seedpods is an act of hope:

 

The land we inhabit opens to reveal

the stain of ancient settlements,

plague pits where we’d lay

our fibre-optic cables

 

but witness these brittle August

bluebells casting seed,

like tiny hearts in caskets

tossed onto a battle ground.

I can’t decide if the battle ground in the poem is between humans and bluebells, or between humans and humans in our ever-changing and ongoing use of land. Maybe it’s both. Either way, every year the bluebells return here and, as the petals wane, Jamie’s words bob up out of my memory again. I think about balance.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about a study of native American practices of harvesting sweetgrass.

It showed that some species benefit from a symbiotic human/land relationship. The original research asked if it was better to harvest by pulling the plants up root and all, or to cut the plant, leaving the roots intact.

The scientists left a separate area untouched by human hand, simply as a control to gauge the test sites against.

But it was that control plot that suffered. Unharvested dead vegetation quelled fresh growth. The areas in which harvesting techniques were tested all had a flourishing grass population. Technique aside, the key was to take no more than 50 per cent.

While the sweetgrass study focused on the success of an individual species – not on general land use – I recognise a little of the approach in the way we work with the croft.

The bluebells blossom in the dappled sunlight and shade of the trees. Birch were the pioneer species in ground that was left to seed itself. Occasionally, deer or sheep would pass by, the animals’ hooves digging divots into the earth.

A biologist friend tells me those hoofprints created little safe pockets for birch seeds to land and flourish.

You can see this happening again elsewhere on the croft. One tiny field had pigs in it two years ago, its dark soil churned up by their hungry snouts. And you cannot walk in it now without stepping on a miniature forest.

Hundreds of ankle-height birch that – if left to grow – could create more woodland, thus more opportunity for bluebells to thrive. As it is, another pair of kune kune pigs will be in the enclosure soon. These grazing pigs relish the tree shoots growing amongst the summer grass.

The birchwood and bluebells by the house, though, remain untouched. Woodland here, pasture there: give and take, fifty/fifty. It’s working for us.

CAPTION:

Bluebells are setting their seeds, retracting into little round cases full of next year’s growth. NO F25 Bluebell plant setting seed_Kirsteen Bell

 

BYLINE PIC: NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1

NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1
NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1