With summer fading away, as autumn sweeps in slowly, there is much to be done – as if there is never ‘much to be done’ on farms across the land whatever the time of year!
For some there is still that last cut of silage to bring in and round bales to do. And there’s the winter wheat and barley to be finished among a myriad tasks dictated by the weather and the season itself. To the sound of tractors toing and froing between the hedgerows, making the most of the day and the waning evenings, harvest has begun.
For many the transformation of the countryside from the still bright colours of summer, to the glorious hues of autumn, is their favourite time of year. For those like me who live in Belfast, or the citizens of other towns and cities, we don’t actually get the full-blown effect of the changing palate of God’s wonderful creation. Except in our gardens, public parks, or the oaks, lime and other trees planted along the pavements.
There is a place close by, however, where the changing of the seasons is very evident. Sandwiched between the Holywood Road and the Belfast to Bangor railway line, with the Sydenham Bypass and city airport beyond, it is a welcome space. With its trails and deep worn paths through uncut small pocket meadows, and tracts of urban woodland to explore, it’s called the Alderman Tommy Patton Memorial Park. In our family we know it affectionately as ‘the TP’ - and this year I discovered its orchids.
Last autumn a fellow dog walker asked if I had seen the orchids that year. I hadn’t (and didn’t even know there were any) but I looked forward to seeking them out come the late spring. It was a long wait, as the seasons transformed the TP before me.
I wasn’t actually sure of what I was looking for, or would find, but amongst the tall grass, clover and buttercups, in white, pale pink and purples, some with spotted and faded mottled leaves - there they were. These simple conical-shaped delicate plants, with their small curvaceous ‘painted’ petals, had begun to appear and would grace the meadow until late July. While they have gone now, I will seek them out a fresh next year.
More precious than orchids
The Apostle John tells us of a religious leader called Nicodemus, who was searching for something far more precious than orchids. To know more about Jesus and His teachings, one night Nicodemus sought Jesus out secretly. Jesus tells him that “‘no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again”’ (John 3:3). Jesus also takes time to explain this spiritual rebirth in a person, with John helping us further in a verse that has become one of the most famous in all the Bible: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
Nicodemus was searching. It was a journey that saw him go on to defend Jesus publically when Our Saviour was put on trial (John 7:51). Hours later he helped take Christ down from the Cross and prepare Him for burial (John 19:38-42). Like Nicodemus, if you too are searching for Jesus, He can still be found this day. Re-read the reality of John 3.16 once more, add your name instead of ‘the world’ - and believe.
Before coming to live in Belfast nearly 40 years ago, Mark Smith grew up in a village in rural Sussex, coming to Northern Ireland in his late teens. He is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s press officer.
His blog appeared in today’s Farming Life, a fortnightly column entitled ‘Good News for the Countryside’, where people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life.
You can look at other blogs in this series here.
Taken at sunset, the main photo is of a meadow in the Tommy Patton Memorial Park in east Belfast and one of the orchids that grows there.
If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI’s Rural Chaplain at email@example.com or call him on 07938 488 372.