Patrick Whitefield, 11/2/1949 to 27/2/2015

Blog post March 16 2015

It’s more than a week since Patrick Whitefield’s funeral and it feels like it’s still going on. Yesterday evening, for instance, he made it onto Radio 4’s ‘Last Word’ obituary programme (even though Terry Pratchett did his best to crowd everyone else out). His importance as a permaculture teacher is something that happened during the last phase of his life, and those of us who knew him as one of our community, living in a tipi out at Butleigh, have been taken a little by surprise.

The burial ceremony was exceptionally moving, and for me brought back a host of memories – particularly to do with the White Field. The gathering in the Assembly Rooms during the afternoon included an opportunity for some of us to share memories of Patrick; I felt impelled to tell a story, not about him but that I had somehow failed to ever tell him. I shall repeat it here – just a little bit more polished than it was off-the-cuff at the Assembly Rooms:

About 15 years ago I spent two summers living in a bender in Patricks’ field. It was only at the burial that I realised just how much of a privilege that had been. By then Patrick was mostly away teaching, living with Cathy in their house in Glastonbury, or else in Spain; and it was before he bequeathed the field to the Somerset Wildlife Trust as one of the last few remaining wildflower meadows in the country. I must visit it again quite soon.

When I was there in my bender, I lived, as in any bender, on the floor; furniture didn’t really come into it. I came in one afternoon and there was my bread board and knife, as usual, on the floor. I got on with putting shopping away and lighting the stove, then I looked in astonishment as a small rodent strolled in and started licking honey off the knife. I don’t know exactly what species this was, some sort of mouse or vole with long hind legs (Patrick, I imagine, would probably have known). It was young, and looked like it had been there before licking honey off my spreading knife.

Once it was done it lay down on the sheepskin next to the bread board and went fast asleep. It seemed absolutely sated, even intoxicated. It stayed there all evening. When it was bed time I got my bedding out and needed to move the sheepskins around; I carefully lifted the little thing onto my pillow, where it went back to sleep. It stayed there next to my head. And as if this wasn’t extraordinary enough, it was still there in the morning.

I got up, and next thing there was another creature, this time certainly the mother, running up and down on the back edge of the wood box and clearly very agitated. “What are you doing?” it seemed to be saying. “Don’t you know that it’s dangerous to play with humans? Come back here at once!”

The youngster, awake by now but still not in any hurry, replied with something that looked like “whatever.” It strolled off, in the opposite direction to its mother. I never saw either of them again.

Somehow, this was something that could hardly have happened anywhere else except on Patrick’s field.