I push the wheelbarrow down the hill, through the gate and along the path to my allotment, my allocated piece of land. The soil is dark brown, rich and damp, bare to the sun’s rays. The spring light is bright but a sharp northerly wind whisks away any heat. I crouch and place my hands, palms down, on top of the soil. For a brief moment, I close my eyes, release a breath. I feel the stresses of the week flow off my shoulders.
The elderly gentleman from a neighbouring plot greets me and I stand to converse about tomato seeds and courgette transplanting. After an hour of weeding, my back’s aching, so I sit on a tumble of old bricks and sip tea from my flask. I gaze out across the valley with the rows of houses and bisecting lines of roads. A buzzard soars over the opposite hill top, rising, circling, up into the blue sky.
My phone beeps, breaking the peace. I’m tempted to ignore it but I only manage to restrain my hand for a minute. I draw the device out of my pocket, scroll through the messages, the demands drawing me back out into the urban labyrinth, away from the green haven of my allotment. I shove the phone back in my pocket.
I use the side of my hand to drag a furrow in a clear patch of soil and haphazardly scatter in some seeds; a few beans, a couple of squash, a handful of beetroot. I don’t have time to be more careful. My time is up, I have to go, yet I need the food that my allotment provides, I need to get the seeds in the ground now.
I push the wheelbarrow down the hill, the big clouds overhead spilling cool shade and bright sunshine over me alternatively. When I reach my allotment, I crouch down and place my hands on the dark, bare soil underneath the tomato plants. I take a brief moment to close my eyes and draw in a deep breath. I feel a blaze of sun hot on my shoulders and the tense muscles unclench, ease out with my breath.
The pregnant lady from a neighbouring plot greets me and we talk about organic mulch and strawberry jam recipes. After an hour of weeding, my back’s aching so I sit and take a sip of lemonade from my flask. I look out over the valley at the cars crawling along the main road and watch a kestrel hover over the far corner of the allotments. For a brief moment, I allow a sense of peace to wash over me.
Then my phone beeps. I don’t even look at it, I know my time here is short. I pick a handful of tomatoes, a tub full of strawberries and a few mangetouts. That will do nicely for dinner and I’m grateful because there’s little else in the cupboard.
I wave to the man with dreadlocks as I push out through the gate then scramble to answer my phone before it stops ringing.
I push the wheelbarrow down the hill, the brim of my hat pulled low against the drizzle. There’s only one other person, bent over their allotment over the far side. When I reach my plot, I bend down to place my hands on the wet soil next to the flourishing courgette plant. I can already feel the water seeping through my old anorak into my sweatshirt. I hunch my shoulders against the chill breeze and yet that sacred touch of palms to soil still manages to ease some tightness in my chest, to lighten some uncomfortable weight which burdened me.
I work quickly, harvesting a mass of runner beans, a few courgettes, a tub of raspberries, some radishes, spring onions and rocket. I’m grateful for every item, no matter how odd the shape, how blemished, how muddy. I know that every single item of food will help to fill my stomach, to nourish me. I know that it’s my hands that have tended the soil, my effort that has planted the seeds, my determination that has kept the area free of weeds, my strength which has carried me here each week.
I take a brief moment to squint across the valley, the top of the opposite hill lost in the low cloud. I feel grateful for the soft rain which means I don’t have to lug the watering can repeatedly between tap and plot. However, I shiver as the water soaks all the way through my not waterproof coat. I push the wheelbarrow back up the hill, back home with my treasures.
I push the wheelbarrow down the hill, through the gate, into the allotments. High clouds veil the sky in pale grey, the waning sun haloed in rainbow light. When I place my hands against the soil, brown leaves crunch against my skin. I draw in a deep breath of the crisp autumn air.
The lady with pink gloves and an expensive hair-do greets me and we discuss winter crops and local politics. I pull out the dead tomato plants and take them to the compost heap. I dig up the last of the potatoes, a few beetroots and carrots. When my back starts to ache, I sit on a pile of bricks and sip tea from my flask. I gaze out across the valley, thinking about the turning of the seasons, of the unrelenting wheel of change. I think back to the start of the year, of placing those tiny seeds in the ground and how they’ve grown and borne fruit and then faded back into the ground.
There’s a melancholy to autumn which balances the optimism of spring. Everything has its time, its place and I find comfort in the thought that I am exactly where I should be. I accept where I am, although I do not necessarily like it or want to stay here. I know that all things change. I am where I am meant to be for now. That too will change and I am glad.
My phone beeps. I gather my harvest and walk back up the hill, pushing the wheelbarrow.