March is a good time to get to know brambles. From a crofters perspective brambles are a pest. One continuously has to defend the cultivated bits of lands against a number of things, mainly plant species who are persistently creeping from the surroundings towards the center of what is the agricultural land. If one would stop removing them, in just a few years the land would be a thicket of bumbles, bracken- and in places which are deer fenced, willow, hazel and other fast-growing trees would have swallowed the fields completely.
In March the bramble leaves are starting to open. Most other vegetation is still dormant, the grass eaten back to the ground, the bracken from last year has broken down. Just the hazel is flowering, and the bluebells show the tips of their leaves through the forest grounds. In other words: now the bramble bushes are very present and easy to access. Over the last year and winter, they have produced “runners”. Long bows of branches have grown to the outside of the bush and expanded so much that they bow down again at their ends to reach the ground. There, mainly over the winter month, they have secretly and hidden in the barren grass prolonged up to 10 meters, just creeping on the ground away from the original bush into the surroundings. Over winter deer, our cow and other animals have stepped on these runners, separated them from the mother bush by getting trapped and moving on, and the ground was soft and wet so that their hooves have buried then into the ground. That’s their strategy. This animal “help” was what they were waiting for. And now, in March, these runners have started to root and are creating new bushes. Now, the runners are still there the new bush is just about to enfold, often it is still connected with the mother-plant and the ground is still soft, so now they are really easy to pull out. A lot of work. But fairly easy in comparison to pulling them out later. In places with bramble growing I discovered these runners all over the place in all directions, building a chaotic network all over the ground with hundreds of offspring’s in the making. Once a place is covered that way, it’s almost impossible to get rid of the brambles completely. This is a very successful way of spreading- using long continuously growing runners and the moving big animals. So, closed to deer tracks or the routes the cow and the donkey are taking, we have many more brambles growing than in other places.
Last year I cut bracken with the bracken brusher (a fast spinning chain cutting everything in its way) in many places. Brambles among the bracken have been cut down as well. To my surprise, they are not growing back (like the bracken does). It seems, brambles don’t like disturbing. They seem to be more “sensitive” to disruption. They only come back if the intervention was just a single intervention and after that nothing happens again. Bracken grows back and is very difficult to weaken. For years one needs to repeat cutting it down. Brambles are different, one serious attempt to get rid of them is almost enough, the next year one just pulls out the little new shoot with their roots which are still trying to make it and then it disappears.
So, does the bramble tell something? Can it be seen as a mirror? Or can it be seen as statement of the state of the croft?
It really seems a mystery – a wonderful one: Brambles seem to pop up, to appear everywhere where one has lost track of the land. It’s never growing where your attention is. In creeps in where your attention is not. And suddenly it is there and form a thorny thicket.
Which are these places where it appears and becomes a bother?
- Places which were once cultivated but have falling out of use.
- Places where cattle or other livestock are kept in a not very good way (left to roam without grazing management or human attention more or less like wild animals).
- places where earth has been dumped or disturbed because of building work.
- In the garden in borders (or patches) only seldomly used where one did not find enough time of look after (or where one believes they can look after themselves with perennial flowers, herbs etc.).
All these places have in common: they are blind spots, spots not cared about, forgotten, neglected, not put any effort in. Cultivation means: putting culture into place, that is an effort and an achievement. Cultivation is not done like a “job”. One can’t cultivate “blindly” for instance by sitting on a tractor and pulling a plough behind as a contractor. No, cultivation is a deed almost sacred, done with love. It is an action of connecting with what is there! Where one invests this love and care, rambles are not. Brambles are indicators for the opposite of that inner loving attitude. The appears in places as signs for “falling out of love”, the indicate disconnection of the farmer with his land. Such, they are wonderful reminders of where to put attention! They can show you, where you stopped seeing and sensing, loving the land, where you stopped cultivating, where you lost your interest in the land, where you don’t go anymore, not physically, not in your mind. They are a visualization of your carelessness. But more specific, the show you the places of your carelessness, where you stop been responsible. And brambles do that with that amazing creeping, secretive, constantly growing, rambling way, with lots of thorns, wonderful smelling leaves, cute beautiful flowers and very tasty dark fruit. Thanks, brambles, for this lesson in love!