I believe that if you love Caithness (not everyone does surprisingly), then you never really leave it. I have already been here long enough to have seen as many friends leave as I did in my days as a faculty wife--a postdoc for two years, a visiting fellow, a trailing spouse who patiently waits her turn and then two or three years spent where she could get a job. After a while it became harder to say hello because a goodbye was embedded in it. I have developed an aversion to goodbye parties. I prefer thinking that my friends may well show up again some day and be folded back into the conversation as if they had never left.
All these thoughts were tumbling around in my mind along with a dollop of homesickness for the gardens I have left behind as I worked in the new garden. A happy accident had left me with rescued plants from a friend now far away--at least physically-- and they needed a special place.
A sturdy little hedge plant--my gardener tells me it is Lonicera
something or other--now sits at the edge of the front garden as a reminder of my friend, her fondness for Caithness and gardens and the story of one little cutting that refused to die. For all those reasons I gave it pride of place in the front garden. The Lonicera
is a part of her still putting down roots in Caithness, shivering in the wind, stretching into the long summer days. If she comes back, we'll have a coffee and walk around the yard and I'll show her all the things that took root here because of her and we'll have a good laugh.
Until then, I carried shovels full of a hard working mole's handiwork to fill the hole around the Lonicera
. It is certainly some fine compost; the Lonicera
will like that. It makes a good contrast with the stony edges of a wall or remnants of the old coaching inn that used to be here. I wanted to give the Lonicera
as good a start as I could --thanks to the mole--but we all have to learn to live with rocks up here.
Before the rain sent me indoors, I cut up plastic drink bottles to make little vole-guards for the Birch trees. Although they look more weed-like than tree-like along the ridge of the front garden, I don't want to lose them to voles. Now we have only the vagaries of wind and salt air and cold and moisture and competition from other plants to contend with. One little step to tip the odds of survival in our favour.
If these Downy birch trees manage to prevail, I will be old by the time they look like proper trees. Even trees who like it here take their time growing. I sometimes look at the senescing sycamores on the edge of the yard and imagine them as arthritic with their twisted trunks. I try to imagine what someone else will think of these birch trees--Will they tear them up to get a better view, wondering to themselves as they do why anyone would ever put trees here? Will they cherish them as valuable wind break and colour early in the season when colour is a bit scarce? Will they think of Robert Frost's poem on birches? Gardening, especially trees, is an act of faith. Between the voles and the senescing of the birches and myself, I can hope for birds and bees and downy buds.