WE make a pretty good job of Easter down here in the woods. From chicks and lambs to daffodils and primroses we have every iconic image of British Springtime on our doorstep and finally after a long winter this little corner of the North East feels like paradise.
The sun hidden from view by surrounding trees finally climbs high enough in the sky to hit the front of the house bathing us all with a cheery warm glow. We have a period between now and late summer, which can be spoiled by midges and other cruel biting insects, when everything is in our favour. Sheltered from the wind, bathed in sunshine, with the river supplying ample water we are rich and fertile and busy as bees.
In the garden it’s a rush to get seeds set away. Blink and you’ll miss the growing season, it’s that short this far north.The greenhouse quickly fills: expectant seed trays; strawberry plants brought in from the cold in the hope of an early crop; even sticks for the fire stacked up to dry.
Fruit bushes burst into bud promising raspberries and blackcurrants in abundance – so long as we can keep off scrumping birds.
The hens settle on clutches of eggs, filled with a maternal instinct which will keep them stationary on their nest for weeks. We like to keep a cockerel with our hens so their patient efforts will not be in vain.
One Easter I was delighted to see a hen emerge clucking busily as she kept a new brood of chicks around her. Just a few hours later however I found them scattered and dying with no idea what had caused the proud mum to abandon them. Whether they had been attacked by some predator or maybe even a jealous fellow hen, the chicks looked beyond hope. You could see veins pulsing through paper-thin skin, their light covering of feathers dissolved into the damp grass.
But as I said, we make a pretty good job of Easter down here – and that includes the miracle of resurrection. The Aga has brought back from the dead quite a number of things over the years. My phone after it was dropped in the bath looked beyond hope until we cooked it gently in the bottom oven and normal service was resumed. A neglected lamb wedged under a fence too weak and cold to move spent just a few hours in front of the open oven before it was gambling around the kitchen. It was then promptly returned to the farm before our dogs lost patience with the intruder.
Thankfully the Aga was able to work another miracle and the lifeless chicks placed in a cardboard box on the warm top were soon up and pecking around and returned to their mum who accepted them back immediately.
The boys assure me they are not too old for a traditional Easter egg hunt – although this year we won’t make the mistake of last when we hid the eggs the night before. In the morning when the boys rushed into the garden in the hope of a chocolate breakfast it turned out their bounty had already been discovered by the families of mice who live in the drystone walls. Bright foil was torn from the chocolate eggs and they were covered in telltale tiny teeth marks.
Easter has been a disappointment in other ways too for my youngest. He is a great football fan and keen player and a few years ago he was playing with a local team in the town. Able to hold his own on the pitch, he was still a country bumpkin at heart and a firm believer in the Easter bunny. Terrified he would be humiliated by his streetwise teammates if he mentioned anything about a giant white rabbit leaving him sweet treats, I decided it was time to break the news. His face crumpled. He burst into tears and with a sudden realisation which clearly hit him like a steam train he cried: “And that means Santa’s not real either. It’s been you and Daddy all along.” At least we got it all over in one go.
One year to help out a local farmer we offered to bottle feed his pet lambs, who didn’t have a mother to look after them. They quickly settled in our barn and the boys loved making up the formula feed and holding the bottle while the hungry lambs sucked on the plastic teat. We certainly saved the farmer some precious time by taking care of three feeds a day. But lambs grow fast and from defenceless little white bundles of joy they quickly turned into marauding teenagers, breaking out of their barn and destroying the garden. After they trampled the fruit beds I’d had enough and phoned the farmer telling him it was time he had them back.
Old enough now to eat grass, they were taken to a field just the other side of the river but for many weeks they bleated and cried and tried every way they could to find a way back here. “They’re hefted to your place, that’s for sure,” the farmer told me with a sigh after another escape attempt. It turns out sheep get attached to an area of land and once hefted they will always consider that their home and will not be happy anywhere else.
Which got me thinking. Am I hefted here too? If we caved in to my sometimes fierce demands to move to a nice modern house with central heating and a tumble dryer, would I be happy? Or would I bleat and cry and want to be back?
Wishing you a lovely Easter, whatever the weather may bring.
Fancy a daily dose of the country life? I’ve taken up social media so now you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter to enjoy a regular ‘thank god it’s not me’ moment from the comfort of your own home.