Monday, 4 March 2013

Slack and other Fields

Ironically, the inland houses are more likely to be flooded than those on the seawall. Their cellars wash out every few years. All the land round here is reclaimed, dyked; the reedbed long since cut down for grazing cattle. Over a couple of square miles lie ten or so farms, some of which, no longer farming, have been divvied up into two or three houses. Fields grow on or just above the water table. The sea wall, alternatively, is butressed, raised a little higher.

This is most obvious after heavy rain when the fields gleam with huge swashes of water, and  curlews, especially, crowd the mud, pecking for whatever has been lifted by the wet. Shallow pools stretch where the old dykes were, dividing the smaller fields. Swans spread across two fields this year, with maybe as many as fifty in each most days. I like the sight of them and sheep sharing the land. It adds a surreal quality to my notion of 'coast': more blurred than otherwise. Transitory.

As are the fields themselves. I saw a map of local fields. Each had a name, given for its soil type or relative location. The field opposite us is called Slack Field, where slack is used to mean a "soft wet area of low-lying land that sinks underfoot, poor drainage, soil is unfit for cultivation but can be cut and dried and used for fuel".

Other names: Dead Man’s Butts, Chapel Hill, Salt Coat Piece, Long Greet, Lower Greasy Pike, Higher Greasy Pike, Little Barn Field, Mill Pasture Meadow, Little Rough Mill Pasture, Further Moss Field.

The map is obsolete. These fields have been dyked together but these names conjure small histories. In less than a square mile were over seventy named fields. The map is undated, but is from before the lighthouse was built in 1847.

Naming something is a peculiar habit that both connects and distances us from it. Connects by the thought process of defining a thing’s quality. And distances us in the way language (code of the intellect) does from physical entity. Either way, and both, what had been fairly nondescript fields become containers of history from when the Abbey was a vital part of the landscape, pre 1534.

Everything shifts round here, more so than many places. The bay's turf and channels have swung in patterns for the past centuries, and its people have never been too worried about this, knowing it's ‘twenty yard one way, twenty yards another’. But now everything is unknown. In a recent, wonderful piece on the weather Richard Mabey calls British weather whimsical and claims climate change will increase this 'whimsy'. Just as meteorologists can't forecast exactly what change will occur, nor can oceanographers. Sea levels will rise, obviously in some places, surprisingly in others. Coastal erosion around here could mean the deepening of dykes, the loss of still-working farms, equally it could mean the silting up of localised coves. Ultimately, nothing is known.

1 comment:

jane eagland said...

Just catching up after a busy not-keeping-up-online period and am thoroughly enjoying these pieces about where you live. Great stuff!