I live on the edge of a rural district in Yorkshire, England’s largest county and one of the most beautiful areas in the world.
Across the road from my house are several fields in which dairy cows regularly graze; horses are kept in a field up the road and riders regularly trot right past the fence at the front of my garden; a kestrel hovers frequently over the small nature reserve which lies further back in the fields, and I often see it flicking and flashing in the sky there from my bedroom window. At nighttime, eerie sounds of wild bird calls echo across the dark hillsides. In winter, as we are the first house to be struck by the snowy storms from the moors, our garden gates are often half-buried under snow and our gables hang with icicles like shining swords.
This close proximity with nature brings with it the capacity to observe the interaction of human farmers with it. In some seasons, we see the gathering of hay and silage in the fields opposite; at other times, the herding of cows from one field to another, right in front of our garden. We see farmers repairing the ancient drystone walls and preparing new fields for use in the forthcoming year. We get a glimpse of how they marshal their resources to take advantage of the weather and the availability of large machinery.
In short we are not only blessed - this is by far the best location I have ever lived in - but also privileged to get a glimpse of another way of life entirely, governed by different rhythms and patterns. Here, right on the cusp of the natural world, the farmer cannot afford the self-indulgence of setting his or her own schedule - life is ruled by forces way beyond human control.
On a walk with my young daughter a couple of years ago, we strolled by a farmhouse in which one of her classmates lived. We were invited in to see lambing season in full sway: the whole family were in the barn, measuring and marking newly born lambs, recording them, checking their health and guiding them along to the next step. It was full-on, backbreaking work which had to be done in that narrow window of time - it could not be put off; it could not even be made much easier for anyone physically. It simply had to be accomplished. It would have been thus had there been torrential rain or even snow - luckily it was a mild day.
Nature, and its animals and crops, cannot be ignored or suspended or prevaricated with. It is what it is, in all its joyous, messy complexity. And to convert any of it into human comforts requires the farmer, like a daily pioneer, to venture into it and emerge with products produced and tasks finished, regardless of resistance, opposition or distraction.
There’s another way in which all this is an analogy of what a writer does, or should do. For a writer, the equivalent of the farmer’s ‘Nature’ is that wild and misty hinterland that we call the imagination.
An act of ‘creative writing', brings the writer into close proximity with this ‘other nature’. A writer who confronts the task of crafting a master work of fiction knows that a significant part of that consists of gathering words and images, of moving around scenes and characters, of repairing passages and preparing new vistas for the coming years. Watching a professional writer, we get a glimpse of how multi-faceted resources are marshalled, taking advantage of availability and time.
A master author’s work is, like a farmer’s, ruled by different rhythms and patterns. On the cusp of the imaginative world, the professional writer puts aside self-indulgence and observes and makes the most of what he or she finds there.
Imagination, with its wellsprings and horizons, should not be ignored or suspended or prevaricated with just as Nature should not. In its joyous, messy complexity it promises wonders which will engender stories as yet unenvisaged. To convert any of it into human measures requires the writer, like the farmer, to venture into it and emerge with products produced and tasks finished.