Between Abigail and Barney

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 After several days of battering by storm Abigail there is a respite. I step gingerly out into the weak sunshine to survey the damage. I can see flooding in the fields down by the village, but it soon runs away from here – into the fields below! A litter of twigs and small branches are strewn about, but there are no slates off. We have got away lightly. Grounded birds are everywhere: the thin calls of redwings and manic chuckling of fieldfares fill the larches along the drive. A flock of starlings are marching across the field like a ravenous army, chattering and feeding as they go. The small birds on the feeders are frantic, as if they sense this is only a lull.

What strikes me most are the fallen leaves. There must be millions of them, storm-sculpted into brown and gold drifts at edges and low points. Where will they all go? For 30 years we have been barrowing loads of leaves, weeds and rough cuttings on to a heap at the bottom of the garden, and yet it never gets any bigger. It is like some biological conjuring trick.

I heard recently that there are more than a billion species in a handful of soil. These are bacteria, viruses and a multitude of fungi and invertebrate animals. Far from being the soft, inert substance it can seem to us, soil is seething with life. Many of these organisms feed on dead plant material; they will tackle anything from a large tree stump to a single leaf, gradually reducing them to compost. Of course they are not trying to produce soil anymore than soil tries to grow carrots. This multitude of life forms is part of an extraordinarily complex and intentionless ‘system’ of predators and prey, rot and decay, which are completely interdependent one with the other. We are no exception, being equally embedded and interdependent within this ceaseless process; it’s just that we don’t often notice. However that is our great privilege: we can notice – and call it miraculous.

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Ducking the water from an overflowing gutter I go back indoors to batten down the hatches. Barney is on his way and I can only hope he is not as rough as she was.

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