Towards the End

Dear Readers, you might remember that, during the past few years, I’ve been making regular visits to Somerset to visit my husband’s aunt H. I had a great fondness for the country lanes around her cottage (which could always be guaranteed to produce a Wednesday Weed) and for her garden, awash in spring with wild primroses, tiny cyclamen and bluebells. You can read about it here and here and here. But last year, aged 92, H had a fall, and decided that the time was right to decamp to a care home. A few weeks ago she had another fall, fracturing her pelvis. A liver scan has shown that she also has liver cancer.

We went to see H yesterday. Her care home is (rightly) locked down, but visitors are able to meet residents in a marquee outside for half an hour. When we saw H she looked a little pale and frail, but was mostly concerned with the fact that she hadn’t been able to have a hair cut. She was always a most pragmatic woman and she seems able to face what is to come with equanimity. She has a strong faith and her life has been one of service to her community, both facts that I think will help her through the difficult months to come.

For us mere mortals though, it’s very hard. Although H is far from being at death’s (immediate) door, the pandemic has made us all aware of how suddenly things can change. We talked about the clearing and selling of the house, and the possibility that someone might knock it down and build on the site. It makes me so sad to think of the garden gone and concreted over, the plants surviving only in my photographs. We talked about the people that H still wanted to contact, whether she has a do not resuscitate order, what her thoughts are about pain relief. What we can’t do is give H a hug, of course. But we said what needed to be said, and moved the practicalities on, and that at least is something, and more than some people have had the time to do during this awful time.

When we get back to Taunton station, I go for a little trot up the platform to look at the plants, as usual. The space between the rails can be a fascinating place, with a wide variety of microhabitats, but I think what I really wanted to do was to try to ground myself again. As regular readers will know, I have lost both my Mum and my Dad in the past eighteen months, and in fact my Dad’s ashes will finally be interred with Mums on Saturday. We are in the middle of a pandemic. Sometimes it feels as if death and loss is everywhere. But those ‘weeds’ are the best example of resilience that I can think of.

When I look along the rails of Platform 6, it’s easy to see how important light is: the variety and size of the weeds increases on what I’m sure would be a steady curve as we get towards the sunlight.

As we get to the edge of the light, there are a selection of plantains, sow thistles and dandelions.

In full sun there are even some rather stunted evening primroses, in full flower.

On the platform itself there is a mass of herb robert turning red, and some Canadian fleabane with its flowerheads just turning fluffy with seeds.

On the opposite platform, much used by express trains, practically nothing grows between the rails, but there is some fine Oxford ragwort growing in the middle.

I take such comfort from weeds. In a world where nothing is certain, they always seem to be there. They take advantage of wherever they happen to find themselves. They are the little-noticed backdrop to our lives, but they are worth noticing, because the yellow flowers of an evening primrose, the fluffy seeds of fleabane, the crimson foliage of herb robert are all minor miracles of the everyday. We are not separate from this world, however much we like to think we’re special: we are just little naked animals with huge egos and a mistaken belief that we can control what happens. There is something very humbling about remembering that weeds will defeat us over time in any battle. We might as well enjoy them.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Das_große_Rasenstück,_1503 (from the Albertina Museum in Vienna)


6 thoughts on “Towards the End

  1. Anne

    We had dear friends who lived in Taunton – sadly both have passed away now – so I have a picture of it in my mind. I enjoy your attitude towards weeds and our association with them: an unusual perspective you have shown us today – a worthy one too!

    1. FEARN

      I’ve just been reading about Oxford ragwort escaping Oxford. Druce’s Flora of Oxfordshire (1886) identifies the railway as the means of transport. The railway’s clinker beds “furnished the plant with a replica of the lava-soils of its native home in Sicily”. He has also described a mode of transport: “I have seen them (achenes – think dandelion clock filaments) enter a railway-carriage window near Oxford and remain suspended in the air in the compartment until they found an exit at Tilehurst”. (near Reading). Means motive and opportunity – case solved!

  2. Liz Norbury

    So sorry to hear about H, and the uncertain future of her lovely garden. I sat in the sun at Taunton Station for nearly an hour on Saturday, waiting for a train to Bristol. I should have paid more attention to the weeds, instead of burying my head in a book the whole time!

  3. Andrea Stephenson

    Very sorry to hear about Aunt H, but it sounds like you had a good visit in the circumstances. I always like to see what grows beside the Metro tracks, there’s always a profusion of wildflowers. I was inspired to write a short story a while ago, by the weeds that grew up in the bomb sites after the war.


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