SFN Journal – Autumn Almanac: Nature never holds still for long

July 7th 2017 – Nature never holds still for long

The TV tennis coverage is proving intense, but beyond the kitchen door the balcony is dappled with shade by the soft weeps of the birch whose triangular leaves always remind me of bunting in the summer breeze. Now and then a formation of swifts cuts the sky, all stiff-winged thrill, screaming shiver, arrow flight. Gravity doesn’t touch them; stranger forces are at work here. Other-world-bird.

A bumblebee comes droning around the skylight, seemingly disorientated in the bright vastness of the hot weather.

The cut flowers I brought home from the allotment plot last weekend have faded; a sudden confetti drop of petals is a startling movement breaking the stupor of the day.

I am aware of the sound of a football being bounced along the pavement outside; the children of the estate are returning from school, ears tuned for the ice-cream vans’ jangling chords.


This is summer. The heat is peaking at highs of over 30*c in the southeast, and, for Sussex at least, rain is a rare feature on the forecast. Predictions are being made for the hottest July on record. We have already felt the warmest June day in 40 years. Very soon, the children that now drag their feet in straggling parties along the street, bags on shoulder or dumped in heaps on the grass for an impromptu kick around, will be breaking up for the long holidays. This weekend the beaches will be packed as families seek the relief of coastal breezes and seawater.

The surf and sand hold no lure for me, I will return to the coast when the waders and winds do, to walk along the breakwater with only whistling oystercatchers and shimmering flocks of sanderlings for company. Now, I prefer the shade of the horse chestnut or willow tree, or the village gardens where sparrows squabble in their loose gangs. For a few weeks longer the house martins will flicker against the blue sky from their mud nests glued to the stonework of the church tower. The simple petals of the wild rose that scrambles in the hedgerow along the lane, kissing the sky with a pink blush, are far removed from their voluptuous cousins that tumble beside the garden gate, eager to great the visitor, or the white blossomed rambler that shades the flint of the old vicarage wall.

At the farmyard, the bull-pen stands empty. A wagtail perches for a moment on the topmost metal bar, tilting. A sharp call, and it flies, banking away over the low barn roof. I’ll see her again down by the river, citron yellow underside shocking in contrast to a demure grey back and wings. The waterside is her natural home; she bobs to and fro in rhythm with the ripples, flashing in and out of light and shade. Aside from the wagtail’s fly-catching darts, life around the riverside is slowed, lulled by the drowsiness of summer. Shadowy forms of fish hang in the flow, bullet-heads fixed upstream, occasionally shifting, readjusting in the sluggish current.

Sloe berries hidden in the hedgerow

But nature never holds still for long. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the haws have already set in the thorn, where the white May blossom adorned the hedgerow in those unpredictable days of spring. The blackthorn is hiding a secret too; sloes are swelling amongst its dark vicious branches, whilst above in the softer broad-leafed green of the hazel the cobnuts are forming. The squirrels will gorge on those long before autumn truly arrives. It feels odd, carrying this private knowledge of nature’s secrete desire to forge ahead into autumn, whilst all around me are basking in summer’s glory. But I know nature can wait, she has time on her side; for now days are long, the sun high, and the swifts still shiver-scream across the sky.

Ripening blackberries with honeysuckle flowers in background

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