Heaven scent moments

At the farm in Catalonia where Martin Kirby began a new life with his family, the majesty of midsummer brings serene moments and small disasters.

June stood astride the green and the dry. Evenings melted to dreams, filtered through wild oats. Even the bells counting the village hour seemed to echo more slowly.

In a dip in the hardening earth, between house and hammock, there are chicken and Michelin tracks in the mud pool that is watered from a spidery leak in the siphon pipe that snakes to the peppers, tomatoes, rocket, melon and disobliging beetroot.

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The sunflower seeds Joe and I have doted upon, in pots and in two plots, have no will to surpass a few inches growth. Yet those we left to their own devices along the fringe of the vegetables crave light so much they stand as high as a 10 year-old.

Yes, Joe is into double figures as of June 18, and I am bent double having spent the night with him beside the plum trees in his new tent. Oh the call of the wild.

On the summer solstice, the celebration of St Juan, John The Baptist's Day, we went down to a fishing port called Cambrils, smaller neighbour of Salou. All evening and into the early hours, fireworks rocketed out over the water in a disorganised and somewhat scary muddle of private dusk-until-dawn parties.

Ella turned 15 on June 11 and has been in England, visiting family and friends with her Catalan friend Pilar. It is no time at all in my mind since I took the photograph that stands on my desk – a five year-old is sitting on our bed holding a five month-old baby brother. It was taken a few days before we left for Catalonia at the onset of the millennium.

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Now, exams passed, school is out until distant September (oh boy) and there is just one more year before she begins an arts-based baccalaureate, most probably down the mountain in the

city of Reus.

Around the farm some flavours are coming to fruition. The birds have feasted on the small self-set cherries, but we have netted and cropped our main tree beside the cottage where bursts of rain have enthused all livings things. Earwigs tumble from the weighted boughs as we pick, while jays, blackbirds, goldfinches and others watch, hoping the wind will rise again and offer an opening.

This being the International Year of Biodiversity we count the types of grasses and consider wild flowers on our crowded farm, among them camomile, calendula and cornflowers from the gardens of Roman herbalists.

"Biodiversity is life. Biodiversity is our life" – that is the United Nation's accurate, but I fear forlorn, attempt to wrestle the unseeing, desensitised, materialistically preoccupied world out of its bubble

of indifference.

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I walked the land and checked again how many wild grasses I could find before re-reading what exactly Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had to say on survival. It helped. "Our lives depend on biological diversity. Species and eco systems are disappearing at an unsustainable rate. We humans are the cause. The consequences will be profound."

But what can we do as individuals? The UN website www.cbd.int/2010 gives guidance. Look at it, persevere, participate, push through the bureaucratic bindweed. Do as they ask and support nature charities and groups in Yorkshire, because this will only ever begin at home, and the language is so much simpler and more relevant. But do me a favour also and bombard the UN with messages, artwork, stories and videos which they pledge to share with the world.

I have signed up for the (take a deep breath) Aichi-Nagoya International E-Conference on the Post 2010 Biodiversity Target. Yes, you read that correctly. That drew me into the 155-page long report Spanish Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity. Catchy. How I would love to address the UN General Assembly.

Our garden furniture continues to move and multiply. On two crystal June beginnings our old pine kitchen table first made its way to stand beside the cloud of wild vine near the woodpile. Then it was moved into the lower olive grove as Maggie floated flowers on glass bowls brimming with spring water that shone with the refracted morning light. Peaceful, enriching, beautiful moments.

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Maggie has been making vine and olive flower essences for Creature Comforters UK. We have known the founder, Jane Stevenson, for years and trust in her flower essence blends for people and animals and will now make them for ourselves.

As for chairs, they abound. There are two by the balsa where we face east at sundown and watch the peregrines descend at a rate of knots to their mountain lodgings.

Swifts swirl on the fringes of sight, swallows skim the water (how utterly spellbinding is the split second when they fold back their wings and dip their beaks). All manner of finches, warblers and indistinguishably rapid birds fill the air with life and song.

Four more comfortable perches sit outside our front door. Two of them are decaying armchairs whose last legs are enduring, and the others are Frenchly-ornate, swirling flaky-white metal ones for whom rust not woodworm will be their undoing.

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So be it. There are always more where they came from. Five newly acquired wicker-seated beauties follow our larger garden table around, from the shade of the fig to the lee of the plums, depending on the direction of the breeze and the angle of warmth.

There are crude beam benches, too, one beside the middle vegetable patch, another up the land between the vineyards. A third is beside the blooming stone circles on the turf behind the house where our much missed hounds, English springers Charlie and Megan, rest.

You may recall the tale of the new chicken house with a picture of Joe in the run. Beside him was an old chair, pretty patterned, that caught an English chair-making friend's eye. He wrote to ask where it came from (the back slats were unusual).

The answer was easy, but maybe not the one he was looking for.

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What all the chairs that people this farm have in common is their source. It's that rich vein of furniture and free timber, the rubbish dump. We sat beneath the fig canopy supping tea with Mac and Conxita, as birds above us dined on the wild cherries. The stones bounced occasionally off the table, then poo splattered on to Maggie's arm. Seconds later another dollop squidged on to the table between us so we withdrew, feeling fortunate.

Above, four peregrines, possibly adults with young, screeched and whirled. Behind the house swallows swirled bravely around our woodchat shrike that has been a summer feature on the phone wire for years. Would that we had been blessed with good fortune regarding the sparrow brood.

Where the track to the top vineyard is at its bumpiest and the dog rose and alfalfa harmonise, there is hollow in an olive tree. The puppies clawed at it and then snatched the mother bird as she emerged. The hole was deep, but we could just make out featherless chicks. We waited and watched for a couple of days to see if the other parent might care, but no. The chicks had stopped calling. Joe reasoned we should try to do something. So, after due warnings of heartbreak, we allowed him to delve with his small hand and he tenderly extracted eight frail chicks.

He made a nest in a box, carried them to his room and tried in vain to make them feed on a paste we made of hen chick feed. They were all but gone. Then, slowly, they took food. A week later and they were boisterous fledglings and we were emailing RSPB friends and surfing for

any guidance.

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But no. We made a crude but adequate aviary with box in the woods close to the nest while we trailed back and forth to ensure they were fed and watered. We did our utmost, yet one by one they died.

However positive realities are never far away. The two-month old blue-black chickens that we have reared from day-olds continue to thrive and are working on their pecking order. It appears we have six cockerels and 11 hens, but my chicken-sexing skills still leave considerable scope for error despite seven years of getting my eye in.

The old hens fan out across the farm for a few hours every afternoon. We nearly had roast chicken after one opted for a dust-bath in the still hot ash of the garden fire. What a squawk.

Meanwhile, at irregular hours depending on thirst, our untroubled honey bees circuit from hives to wash-pool-turned-fish-pond beside the back door, where recycled Polystyrene rafts of seedlings mysteriously move and hum with happiness.

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Does the name Martin Kirby ring a bell? Not me, but the son of Janet and Elmo who lived in Penistone. I pass on the best wishes of Yorkshire Post reader Joan Smith who taught Martin the piano.

See www.mothersgarden.org

YP MAG 10/7/10

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