Although I grew up understanding that the cowslip was a relatively rare find in Cornwall, here in France the coucou appears to be just as common as its cousin, the wild primrose. Rowing along the canal the other day, I was therefore not too surprised to notice tufts of both plants running down the sloped banks. However, they do seem to have a lucky escape since all the rugged, overgrown bushes, branches, brambles and general folliage that offered the canal route a cloak of wilderness and mystery have been stripped away, to reveal the reality of a very industrial landscape.
The greenery has gone, but its sudden disappearence seems to underline a few deeply-ingrained cultural differences. Whilst I gasped in dismay at the sight of this newly-scalped water course, my fellow rowers - all French - were eagerly exclaiming that this was a vast improvement on the previous arrangement and eagerly remarked that "Ca fait plus propre comme ça!" Hmmm.... Neat and tidy, spick and span indeed! When it comes to anything green and growing, I prefer all that is rambling, rolling and irregular over the rational, regulated row-upon-row approach. Luckily, undergrowth has the tendency to grow back, so hopefully the autumn and winter months will be graced with the majestic cowparsley plants, rising along the banks, through the early-morning mist.
The timeless quality of much of our natural world always strikes me. The beauty of the humble cowslips around the boathouse, is the same captured by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) centuries ago, While we live worlds apart on every conceivable level, the wonder to be found in a simple flowering plant has remained intact. It seems to create the strangest bridge across Time and Space, just as observing a full moon is the same for anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Finally, the only instrument that should be used in land management. This is one of a pair of donkeys - Capucine and Emmy - living next to the present rowing club. They often bray vigorously for attention, frequently catching the uninitiated off-guard, but are often sent out to lend their services to gardens in need of a trim. You can see from the stance that Capucine means business!
The Donkey By G.K. Chesterton
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
Source: The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (Dodd Mead & Company, 1927)