I woke up this morning remembering the peach tree in Ely.
I’ve lived in many places in England over the years but from 1997 to 2003 we lived in a small village in the heart of Norfolk. England is a small country but within it, each area is very distinct and different from each other and Norfolk is famous for a number of things: being totally flat, inbreeding and the Broads. I grew up in East Anglia so the flat landscape has always been a familar one to me. We currently live in a town that is referred to as The Gateway to the Broads and for those who don’t know, the Broads are a watery landscape of slow moving rivers and marshes, very popular with boating holidays and nature lovers. I’ve only ever been on the edges of the Broads; the landscape and the type of holiday it promotes has never appealed to me.
When we lived in Norfolk, the village we lived in was so small there were only about 300 people eligible to vote, our nearest shop was in the next village two miles away and the nearest town was almost seven miles away. It was very peaceful and a good place for my daughter to grow up. Living so far from any sort of civilisation meant that you had to plan shopping and things like dentists and so on, as well as keep a fairly well stocked pantry and freezer. Our nearest town was the little market town of Downham Market and for most things, it sufficed but if you wanted anything a bit more exotic, you had to got further afield to King’s Lynn, Norwich, Swaffham or Ely. Ely was about 20 miles away, all through the Fens and at one time before the draining of the Fens, much of this landscape was waterlogged and impassable for the winter months. The Romans began the draining of the Fens and it continues to this day with a landscape of ditches and dykes cutting across the countryside and making it useful farm land. Once, prehistoric forests covered the land before being swamped and lost; bog oak is hauled up every time some farmers plough and a friend used to use my Landrover to go and collect loads of iron hard ancient wood (like ten thousand and more years old)for her fire, that had been ploughed out and left for anyone who wanted it at the side of the road. It took days to saw into manageable chunks and the wood burned very slowly and gave off both heat and a weird blue light as it burned.
It was a lonely life in some ways. I’d not got into the Internet when we first moved there and indeed, even when we left we were still on dial-up. So a trip to Ely, my favourite of our local towns was a treat we would enjoy and extend beyond whatever business we had. My husband used to take me on his day off, and we’d often have a pub lunch. On Saturday there was a superb Craft market(Thursday was ordinary market day) that meant you could find interesting clothes and so on.
Our favourite pub was quite unpromising until you found the garden. It was just a fairly ordinary pub, about ten minutes walk from the Cathedral and it was only the notice that announced a secluded pub garden that drew us in the first time. This was our summer pub; we went to another in the winter, within a short dash from the Cathedral. The garden was lovely; well tended but not overly manicured and the food was nice standrad pub grub, not expensive and not too fussy.
One of the lovely features of the garden were the trees. Whoever had orignally planted the garden had chosen well; smaller trees that would not shade too much but give dappled shade in the summer heat. One tree attracted me greatly because my own had recently died; a peach tree. Mine had been in a pot, so it could be moved in harsh winters, but it had been attacked by a parasite and had succumbed.
One day in late summer we had lunch at the pub and the peach tree we’d seen bloom so marvellously in the spring was so laden with ripening fruit is seemed impossible. Pound after luscious pound of golden peaches hung from the boughs; the tree seemed to be groaning with the weight of its fruit. It’s rare for a tree like the peach to bear much fruit in our cold and unpredictable climate and I commentd on it to tha landlord.
“Oh yes,” he said. “It’s always been very fruitful, that one.”
He didn’t seem to think anything of it. That was our last visit of the summer and it was mid spring before we were back and I had a shock.
The peach tree had been pruned to almost nothing. Stumps of its branches remained, sprouting leaves but nothing more, I was horrified and I asked about it.
It turned out that the previous year when the tree had been so laden, it had been too heavily laden and the main branches had been beginning to split and break off with the sheer weight of fruit. A tree surgeon had been called in and had recommended drastic action. Amputation of the major branches was the only thing that was going to save the tree from literally splitting itself in two. This had been done and the tree, though looking sorry for itself did seem to be recovering but it would be some years before it would be able to bear fruit again. I’ve not been back since 2003, when we left the area and I do hope the tree has begun to bear again.
Sometimes it’s possible that we bear too much fruit from our creative lives, so much it drains and exhausts us. Perhaps this explains things like burn-out and writer’s and artists’ blocks. We have maybe given too much away and need to draw in our energies and let our strength build for future efforts.
I wrote 8 novels in four years. Maybe it’s time I allowed myself some rest and stopped expecting myself to be able to work like a machine and churn out stories constantly. Maybe it’s time, like the peach tree, I was given the space to recuperate from being so very, very fruitful.