In The Nature Of Spring Thoughts

A Proustian blossoming

May is the month of hawthorn, the eponymous mayflower, whose small, white and pink buds erupt along country hedgerows and abandoned railway lines, in corners of allotments, in city and suburban parks and gardens. When multiplied by the thousand, its unpretentious, five-petalled flowers become foaming clouds and banks of blossom, bringing “a quickening hope, a freshening glee”, as William Wordsworth writes in ‘Ode Composed on a May Morning’.

Hawthorn is a shapeshifter; a shrub, a tree, a hedge, the marker of a boundary or enclosure giving form and pattern to fields and landscape. There’s a hawthorn in Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury and it is one of the three commonest trees in Manchester.

Tough and ubiquitous, hawthorn also has its queerer, more subversive aspects. It fascinated Marcel Proust, who celebrates the hawthorn in its “parure de fête”, or party finery, in À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Even if the 3,000-plus pages of the work are a literary challenge too far, the hawthorn section in the first volume, Du côté de chez Swann, is a poetic tour de force worth reading on its own. You may never again walk past a hawthorn in bloom without stopping to examine, to listen, and to smell.

Although Proust remembers seeing hawthorn laid on the altar of the Virgin Mary “au mois de Marie” (in the month of Mary) in the church in Combray, his worship of hawthorn had pagan roots. Its flowers are linked to virgins and brides – it was carried by young women and embroidered on wedding trains and veils. In France, young men might declare their desire by leaving a branch of hawthorn on the windowsill, or by the door, of the houses of unmarried girls.

Hawthorn is also linked with death, as Proust knew. The smell is the clue. He describes it as the “odeur amère et douce d’amandes” (“the bittersweet odour of almonds”), rather like frangipane. This unmistakeable and powerful scent (think of Copydex glue) is due to the presence of trimethylamine, a chemical which is produced by corpses and is present in sexual fluids.

The young Marcel is entranced by the “suite de chapelles” (series of chapels) formed by the hawthorns that line the path by Swann’s estate. Stopping to examine the blossom, he becomes aware of the “bourdonnement” or buzzing of the hedges, which are charged with sexual activity and electricity, vibrating with throbbing bees collecting pollen from the flowers’ obvious stamens. The hedges are alive with sex, something Hockney (a lifelong reader of Proust) captures in the huge paintings of hawthorn hedges in Yorkshire he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 2012 with their almost indecent phallic wavings. It is no coincidence that Marcel encounters hawthorn at the moment he is becoming aware of his sexual desires; it is in this setting that he meets Gilberte for the first time, the fillette or young girl who captures his heart.

À la recherche is a paean to many kinds of flowers and blossom. But only the hawthorn can stir so much Proustian passion and embody the two primary subjects of his masterpiece: sex and death.

Jane Brocket is the author of books on a variety of creative and cultural subjects. She has an MA in Victorian Art and Culture from Royal Holloway, University of London, and her most recent book is How to Look at Stained Glass (2017). More recently she has been writing the weekly yarnstorm newsletter on Substack which allows her to consider a wide range of favourite subjects including rag rugs, smocking, tulips, bookbinding, Proust, allotments, and domesticity. Her photos can be found on her Instagram account.

Text copyright © Jane Brocket, 2023.

In The Nature Of Spring Thoughts

Make me ready


They leave by detachment
one by one and in clusters, layering. 
A seeming fragility.
Pollen grains and their microspores 
are one of the most resistant substances 
in the plant world.
Under anoxic conditions, they linger 
in ponds and fens for thousands 
to millions of years.
They mirror the past in the future. 
A story of earlier vegetation 
and climate status. 

Pollens waft through me.  
They intersect my white 
the mesmerising orange-blue flight 
of the kingfisher and the bee-eater 
on the Bacchiglione. 
Absence wafts through us. 
Our persistent morphology 
gradually degraded. 
Walls and apertures 
to indicate our structure.
Lie down on the ground 
with me like a layer. 

The woolly soil teasels 
the substratum and the soles. 
Moisture wets palms 
holding the leash.
It’s so windy lately.
Make Me Ready

Make me ready 
for the arrival of the rain
which is expected heavy 
but needed.

Show me 
what I can get rid of
pruning shrubs 
along the fluvial corridor.

And if we must leave 
the fourth industrial revolution behind
this augmented social reality 
to repair our notion of mortality

help me not to falter.
We may remain one day
one last day.
Red Giants

What if this is the time 
the non-negotiable self, the sacred.
The line we already crossed.

Nothing is more real than the wind 
in the winter when it cracks the skin and
clenches the throat, when it forces 
each frequency. On the riverbank, it lashes 
the floodplains and then it pauses.

You told me about these years
the fatigue, and I do nothing
but ponder over our presence.

Where were we? What are we 
bringing along? History is
a tale within a tale 
a series of omissions, hypotheses
and mitigations. 

And we may desecrate remembrance
and contaminate our becoming
but the urge to outlast the death
of the sun slams us. 

Entrenched in the anxiety to get lost 
evolving away from the main sequence 
like red giants.  

A few decades down the line
we will meet, I will sit down 
across from you and 
I’ll ask once more
do you know my name? 

Ilaria Boffa: How I write

My artistic work is mainly based on observation, research, experimentation and language “contamination”.

For me, observing subjects and objects, living and non-living beings, means to pay attention, listen, care, and look with an open mind, compassion, tolerance and curiosity. This entails asking questions and raising doubts about the Anthropocene era.

I write in Italian and English. My sono-poetry combines poetry and field recordings of natural and human-produced sounds that I take with a zoom H6 recorder during trips around the world, or in the Euganean Hills in Italy where I live.

pic taken in the Euganean Hills (Italy), 2020, by Ilaria Boffa

Ilaria Boffa is an Italian poet and sound recordist. She writes bilingual poetry and has published three poetry collections to date. She is one of eight authors included in NeMLA Writing in a Different Language Vol XL 2018. Her sono-poems, which combine poetry and field recording, have been broadcast on Radiophrenia Glasgow radio art festival and Clyde Built Radio Glasgow. Three of her collaborative audio-video installations have been exhibited at Mahalla Festival Murmuration 2021 in Turkey, Nature&Culture Poetry Film Festival 2021 in Sweden, !Flick! International Film Festival 2023 in the US and MK Architektur Exhibition 2023 in Germany.

LinkTree,  IG , SoundCloud , FB )

Header image

All images, text and recording copyright © Ilaria Boffa, 2023. Images taken taken in the Euganean Hills (Italy) by Ilaria Boffa.

Spring Thoughts

Standing in a pool of daylight

I am to be found outside, where I love to be. Half of my life is spent as a carpenter, working with hand tools on timber I have felled, cut and seasoned. I fell trees in the winter and mill in the spring, so that the sap is down in the roots when the tree comes down and the wood dries in the gentle warmth, avoiding damp winter moulds or harsh summer heat. It’s a seasonal activity, driven by the reality of biology. In this way the weather, the landscape and life are all bound together in rural craftwork.

The Turning Year

She, the giant,
limbs deep-set in geology,
folded in landscapes ridge-wooded,
cranes her neck unmovable, 
turns her mind unknowable
to catch the view.
He, the golden sun,
tugs the earth
and slowly,
they turn the year round.

I do most of my woodwork outside in the open air, rather than inside a workshop. I don’t like headphones or ear defenders. I don’t listen to the radio or podcasts and I avoid power tools, cordless or otherwise. Instead, I let my hands get on with the job (they know what to do) and allow my eyes and ears to take note of the world. Birds abound now after the dark and stillness of winter: birdsong and bird chatter are everywhere at this time of year. There’s a lone song thrush atop the tallest oak, facing west in afternoon sunshine, and blue tits darting among the shrubs, busy with nest-making.


Some small 
aimlessly circling feather,
picked up by a bird, 
transferred to its legs,
held fast in its nest, 
with an eye to the weather,
cheery chit-chatting,
thinking of eggs.

My experiences are powered by natural light; for working, but also emotionally. The quality of daylight and the colour of sunlight changes in so many ways during a day. With it, animals and plants come and go in as if in beautifully rehearsed choreography. Heraclitus said: ‘You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.’ The same could be said of standing in a pool of daylight. When Imbolc arrived a few weeks ago, I began to feel the warmth of the sunshine on my hands and cheeks. Very gentle, very subtle. It’s not like June, September, or any other time of the year. I love the soft, milky light of late February and early March. It is beguiling and fragile – and then the wind picks up and everything changes.

March by Robert Somerville
‘March’, watercolour by Robert Somerville.

March is a month that sometimes goes backwards,
It’s in with a flurry, then flat as a flan. 
Seedlings are bursting as hard as they can, 
then buffeting winds, reversing the plan.
The sun’s gentle warmth like milk in the pan,
yet late frosts nip off the high hopes of man.
If it’s in like a lion, it’s out like a lamb.

Working closely with natural materials, aware of other forms of life all around me and being governed by the weather is tough at times. But this sort of co-existence is a visceral participation with the living world. I feel not so much connected to nature as participating in it. There are so many moments in the day when something catches my eye as I work, like the brilliance of light on a tree on an early winter morning, or the discovery of a wren’s nest in spring. So much is fleeting, on the move, sometimes funny. You just need to be there, outside, observing.

Robert Somerville

Robert Somerville lives with his wife Lydia and their daughter in a self-built eco-house on a smallholding in Hertfordshire.

After studying engineering and architecture at Cambridge University, Somerville ran a design and building business, utilizing local wood, stone and earth. He now works with local woodland owners and foresters to source local elm timber and hand-build timber frames with the help of a group of volunteers known as the Barn Club, dedicated to rural crafts. You can watch a video of them raising a traditional elm framed barn here.


Words and images copyright © Robert Somerville, 2023. Header image is ‘February’ by Robert Somerville, watercolour on paper.

In The Nature Of Spring Thoughts

Birth of a foal

I had been walking for several hours on the high moor with my collie Moss when I found the mare. She was alone, and very heavily in foal. I recognised her immediately – it was Pear, one of more than 70 pedigree Exmoor ponies that graze the open acres of Dunkery hill above Porlock.

I often walk more than 20 miles a day to check the ponies, observing quietly from a distance.

Over the years I have got to know their characters well – and they have become used to my presence. Usually, I watch for a while and then move on, but this day was different. I sat down to rest in the heather with my dog a little way off and Pear grazed her way towards me. It was a peaceful spring day and the loudest sound was the gentle, soporific munch as she cropped young shoots of whortleberry.

When she was about 20 feet away, Pear sighed, laid down, and went to sleep. It’s an immense privilege and honour to be trusted in this way by a free-living, unhandled pony. By allowing me to keep watch, she showed she accepted my presence.

While she slept, I kept vigil, my thoughts vanishing in a sense of connection with her and my surroundings.

After about a quarter of an hour, Pear stood up, looked directly at me, sighed heavily once again and turned her rear towards me. I expected her to wander off as she’d had her nap and there would be more things she wanted to nibble. But then she lifted her tail – and revealed a tiny, protruding hoof.

Pear seemed content for me to keep watch over her, a role that usually falls to another mare during foaling. The timing was unusual, these mares generally give birth in the hours of darkness and not in bright sunlight. I kept very still as she laid down once again on her side.

I could see the immense yet silent effort going into the birth. Mares in labour make no sound because that could draw a predator’s attention when they are most vulnerable.

I sat in silence with her, following her every breath. Within three minutes the foal was born, shrouded in the cloudy membrane of her foetal sac.

Exmoor pony mare giving birth to foal. Photo by Tricia Gibson

Seven minutes later the foal’s head and shoulders were free of the caul. Pear stood up, tumbling the foal out of the remainder of the sac and severing the umbilical cord in the process.

It was quite a while before the foal started to attempt to stand. With no control of her spindly legs, she kept falling flat. It was heart-in-mouth time for me watching.

I glimpsed the soft “feathers” covering her sharp hooves; these protect the mother and ensure the sac isn’t breached too early. They shrivel and disappear almost immediately a foal is born.

Exmoor pony foal and mare soon after birth. Photo by Tricia Gibson

What I hadn’t expected was the terror the filly showed when her mother approached and started to lick her. Her instinctive reaction was to move away backwards in crab-fashion, crumpling onto the ground. Pear kept nuzzling and licking, absorbing her scent and cleaning her. As the foal’s coat dried, the fur began to show its lovely rich, warm brown colours.

About an hour and a half later, Pear lay down to rest, and the little foal put her nose to her mother’s nostrils, absorbing her mother’s scent, and breathing in her breath: all was well. When I eventually walked away, the little filly was beginning to suckle, and Pear was on her feet grazing. That year’s foals all had plant names beginning with C, so we called her Ceanothus.

Exmoor pony mare and foal a few hours after birth. Photo by Tricia Gibson

I was given a great gift that day. I’ve seen other foals born since, but never in such proximity. Ceanothus is an adult now – here she is with her own filly foal, Gentian (below).

Exmoor pony mare and her first foal. Photo by Tricia Gibson

On my pony-checking walks I make full records of which ones I see where, who they are with, when the foals are born and which sex they are. Come the autumn inspection when the ponies are gathered from the moor and taken to the farm, my role is to say which foal belongs to which mare, which is easy when I’ve watched them growing up through the spring and summer.

It’s physically hard work walking the moor, especially in harsh weather, with my rucksack packed with camera, water and flapjacks to keep me fuelled. I used to wear a pair of tightly-laced walking boots, but have recently discovered fell runners’ hybrid boots, which are much lighter and grippier. Walking fast between groups of ponies keeps me warm and fit on the rugged moorland ground. And once I’m among the ponies, I’m oblivious to all else.

Exmoor pony stallion on Exmoor. Photo by Tricia Gibson

Tricia Gibson with her yearling stallion at a show

Tricia Gibson is retired and lives on Exmoor. She spends much time walking and taking photographs. Over a decade ago she entered the world of Exmoor ponies when a young mare and new-born foal came close to her. That day led to her owning and showing Exmoor ponies in-hand (led not ridden). The picture shows Tricia with her then yearling colt Westwilmer Euphorbia when he won the youngstock cup at Hawkridge Revels in 2019. He is now a mature stallion – that’s him on the moor in the last photo above.

All photographs © Tricia Gibson, 2023.