Reflections on places where life relaxes to the beat of a different drum
Monica Dart believes in the healing powers of the countryside. The former musician and singer, who has reached a grand old age, had noticed that whenever she travelled on a bus or train, conversation would turn to the solace to be found where there are no houses, roads or traffic.
"I'd get into conversation with people, and it always seemed to be that we ended up talking about the countryside, about how much they appreciated it," says Monica, who lives in Holt in Wiltshire, down a country lane "which children used to walk on their own" to paddle in the local brook.
These days, of course, with fears of "stranger danger" and traffic, there is less freedom for children to wander. Less freedom for adults, too, bound as they are by the daily grind. So many of us are so busy tapping away on our computers that we forget to pause and look out of the window, still less to pull on our wellies and go on a walk.
Perhaps, after turning the pages of this engaging volume of essays and poems, called The Wild Tune, more people will be inspired to do just that.
Contact: 01326 313997
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
Monica asked family and friends in different rural parts of the country to contribute their musings on what makes the countryside special to them. Among those who have contributed are people who love and live in our own very special corner of the world, the Westcountry.
They include orthopaedic surgeon Michael Benson, who describes returning to his weekend home in South Devon after a busy working week in Oxford.
"Even the beer tastes better here and on the way back, noting as we always do that Devon miles seem further than miles elsewhere, the hedgerows are full of blackberries, and swallows wheel around and above us," he writes.
"The light fades and stars appear – later this will be the best night of the year for shooting stars... the world of surgery with its exhilarations, stresses and anxieties is in abeyance: balance and harmony return."
Someone else who knows all about the magic of the Devon countryside is retired farmer Michael Dart, Monica's brother, who lives in Kingsbridge, close to the South Hams countryside where he has spent much of his life.
He writes: "Apart from four years at university, I have lived almost 80 years in the countryside. I have loved every moment: the changing seasons, from glorious May mornings to dripping wet November days: from the oppressive heat and dust of the harvest field, to the dark, frost-bound early mornings, walking to the milking parlour."
His words belie the idea that an environment which is also your workplace would lose its charm over time.
"The closeness to the wonders of our natural world is the real bonus," he adds. "The dawn chorus, the boxing hares in the spring corn, the trees breaking into leaf with all their different shades of green: how could one's heart not be filled with thankfulness?"
Reg Hector, who spent his working life growing willows on the Somerset Levels, is another contributor. Born beside the River Parrett into a family of willow growers, who also fished for eels in the river, Reg has many memories to share, and while ill health has prevented him from writing himself, his daughter has transcribed his thoughts for him.
"I spent my whole life cutting willows for basket-making, during the cold winter months outside in the beds, spending the spring and summer sorting and tying them, and picking up cider apples when they fell," he says.
Another Somerset contributor is Ann Hechle, a professional calligrapher, who credits the natural world for helping her savour the moment. "Every time I look from the window or step outside my door, I perceive things are different; and that sharpens my eye to look for and appreciate the special qualities of the moment."
Meanwhile, estate agent Sandy Davenport sings the virtues of the Taw Valley – also known as Tarka Country – where, after a busy day at work, she likes to unwind by watching wildlife on the river.
"The dog otter swims past the house about 9pm most evenings, just about the time the bats come out to play. The grass snake takes advantage of the river to cool down on a hot afternoon, the kingfishers scream up and down all day long," she writes.
And in Colyton in East Devon, wheelwright and carriage maker Mike Rowland writes about the landscape around him being transformed by snow and ice.
"This year we were blessed with the most wonderful winter scenes, with early snow, and the trees and all other vegetation looking like fairyland with their covering of hoar frost," he writes.
Monica collected essays and poems from some 72 contributors, and has gathered them together in this volume. All proceeds will go, appropriately, to Combat Stress, a charity which helps servicemen and women who suffer mental health problems after active service in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones.
The balm of the countryside is something that Monica is keen to share through her book, which, she says, was not planned in any way, but "just evolved".
And, while Monica herself has not contributed any words, she has put forward a creative work which expresses her love of the countryside, in her painting of the landscape near where she lives, which features on the cover.
"I thought 'I like that scene, so I'll paint it'," she says. "It was only on a bit of sugar paper, but now it is in a frame and people seem to like it."
The Wild Tune, compiled by Monica Dart, is available direct from Monica's non-profitmaking publishing company High Sky Productions, with all proceeds going to the charity Combat Stress. Send a cheque for £6.50 payable to High Sky Productions to: High Sky Productions, 216 The Common, Holt, Trowbridge, Wiltshire BA14 6QN.