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Quicke off the mark

PUBLISHED: 09:00 20 March 2014

Mary Quicke
Photo by Matt Austin

Mary Quicke Photo by Matt Austin


This month our columnist Mary Quicke says she will be making the time to enjoy the season

"I would never forget the heart stopping beauty of a hillside exploding into life"

Sap rising, days lengthening, sun strengthening - we all love the spring. I lived in London on and off for ten years, in my late teens and twenties. I would come back to Devon for weekends, aching, gasping to catch the incredible beauty and excitement of spring. I’d weep to leave it, going back into noise and streets and air that felt it had never blown over open country.

I’d miss whole chunks of spring, in the business of London. I would realise I didn’t know how it was going, and regret what I was missing. I’d go for a walk in the park to see where it had got to, fill in the bits that had passed in my imagination. Missed the oaks flowering? Missed the catkins? The snowdrops are over and I never saw them. Where are the bluebells? Each lost sight felt like a blow to my heart, a gaping lack. I’d resolve to catch the leaves unfurling on trees in the street, knowing that it would be going on all around in Devon, in your face, unmissable. I’d know I was only getting snatches of it, random flashes in the city.

When I came back to Devon to farm, I rejoiced I’d miss nothing. I promised myself I would never forget the heart-stopping beauty of a hillside exploding into life, trees changing so each time you look it’s different, the hedgerows like exquisite lace. The force of growth is so potent it’s almost audible, and if it were it would be a roar, like when you’re next to the sea in a storm.

Now it’s all around, I thought greedily, I’ll get every bit. And the first year I was back, I stopped, mouth open, stilled by the beauty of it, by how fortunate I was. I tramped the woods, found the bluebells, gazed at primroses, examined the weird flowers that trees have. Each stage of the hedgerow flowers I noticed, and rejoiced in. I’m here where I want to be and I’ll have this ecstatic pleasure of spring every year. Farming relies on the renewal of life, so no chance I’d ever miss a moment of spring ever again.

Even then, it lacked the edge and urgency it had when I knew I was leaving for the city a few hours later. I can see it tomorrow, I’m tied up now. Visitors come; I showed a young Irishman now living in the city, who’d come to take some photographs. He gave a paean of praise for the flowers in our hedgerows, the cow parsley, the primroses, the bluebells, and how lucky I was. He said how he missed that from his boyhood in Ireland. I realised I’d not truly taken them in that spring.

Johnny and Trish came to stay a couple of years back, and as they were leaving, Trish gazed at the view and wept to think she’d be leaving to go back to city streets. It reminded me of me all those years ago.My excuse - I’m busy, people to see, things to do, cows to attend to, cheese to make and taste, accounts to puzzle over. Lots of reasons why I forget the wellspring of who I am.

Is the grass growing fast enough? Will there be enough for the cows? How are the crops after the winter? Is it time to plough the ground for maize? Is it too cold, too wet, too windy? Are the weeds growing too fast?

All those glorious processes of spring become practical calculations. No harm in that, they have to be made.Now it’s giving time, making space to be

present to what matters, to what I love. I gave it time then, when I was young, when I knew I would lose it. I give it time when someone who loves it reminds me. And I can enjoy the glory of a Devon spring now, because I can, it’s here and we are so lucky that it’s ours here, right now for free.

This article was first published in the March issue of Devon Life. To get the magazine delivered every month to your home, subscribe at or call 08448484217


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