Multi-Faith and Belief Chaplaincy, For All Faiths and None

The Fallow Field

As summer bakes the grass on the Meadows, and poppies sprout from cracks in the pavements, I've found myself idly revisiting a particular place in mind.

Video: Morning Glories by Kitty Wheater
Field and flowers

Three years ago, in the sick swoop of Covid, its lockdown and lockup and locked-away, I found myself walking round a vast fallow field twice a day, wildflower-spotting. The pandemic had taken my freedom and that of my family and friends; it had taken life, and purpose; it had taken me away from Edinburgh, and my new and tender world there. But it had not taken the burnt-to-a-mustardy-crisp summer fields, nor the shady trees and tiny deer-trodden paths that I ducked through to reach them. Nor had it taken the repository of words and pictures stowed away in my head from a childhood of peering and marvelling, before I learned, as children sadly do, to glaze it over. The repository was buried deep, but so much of what was higher up was, at that time, only a source of distress to me, and so I knew that my best chance of getting up each morning was to keep taking myself to the fallow field, and letting its poppies and pimpernel present themselves to my deliberately searching eyes. 

I got through that summer that way, digging underneath the waves of ghastliness to delight in things as simple as hawkweeds and, once or twice, the bounding form of an enormous golden-brown hare. There was an immaculate full bird skeleton in the middle of the field that I stumbled upon, many weeks in, and a pretty pottery fragment sitting large and inexplicable, tossed up by a long-distant plough. Round and round I went, and sometimes I sat on a patch of parched earth for a while to look more closely. I opened myself up in the fallow field in a way I could not elsewhere, perhaps because it seemed as abandoned as I felt, as so many of us did, but perhaps also because its blooming thistles and myriad red-and-black beetles demanded of me a certain lively pleasure, and those moments somehow sat perfectly alongside the truth of our respective abandonments.  

At the end of the summer, when I left and returned to Edinburgh, I wondered if the fallow field would be there much longer. For years developers had threatened to come in and wreak concrete upon it. The chance that it might be gone next time I visited, along with its vetches and foxes and bounding hares, seemed like just another awaiting cruelty. To be able to walk away, I told myself that it had given me what I needed, when I needed, and to be thankful and to give it up to God, or the universe, or whatever bigness that was greater than me would hold it.  

In the years since, I have returned once or twice. The field still lies fallow; dog roses throng its edges, and elderflowers offer sweet scents to lingering noses. But I have somehow lost interest in its realness, its endurance against builders, its literal blackberries in autumn and sizzle of heat in summer; too many ghosts haunt its earthly corners for me to crave a return.

The fallow field that comforts me still is the one I carry with me. It’s the reminder to seek beauty in the midst of ugliness, hope in the stormiest winds; the willingness to haul oneself out of the darkness by one’s very fingertips, bruised and determined, over and over again until dawn comes. It’s the possibility not simply of survival, but of life itself, blossoming and opening to the sunshine from the cracked soil. It is the learning that there are times in life when we lie fallow, not from choice but from the weight of world or past or present pressing in upon us, and that the seeds of what will one day be beautiful are already stirring out of sight. It is the promise of the future, in the moments when all seems lost.  

If you are resting in a fallow field this summer, may you find loveliness within it. Follow the thread back to life itself.