SFN Journal – Autumn Almanac: Return to Autumn

IMG_2365I popped to my Mums house, to exchange a couple of bits of shopping we’d picked up for each other. It is just a 5 minute walk around the corner, but I found myself amazed by the complete image of early autumn offered to me by the remnant hedgerows and woodland edges that soften my route. It has been raining seemingly almost non-stop since we landed back in the UK following our holiday, and the roads and pavements are decoupaged with leaves and scattered with twigs and other tree debris including acorns that crunch beneath my feet. I was wearing my wellington boots, and jumped in a puddle simply for the childish pleasure of seeing the light scatter as the water splashed. A blustery wind was blowing in the wake of the clouds, dislodging a strand of hair from beneath my headscarf which had to repeatedly be tucked back behind my ear, and I wished I’d waited an extra half hour before coming out. I could’ve brought the wet bedding currently churning around in the belly of the washing machine and pegged it out on the line in my Mum’s garden where it could billow-dry and freshen, rather than hanging limp and damp in the living-room of our flat.

Despite being home from our trip to Canada for just over a week, I have yet to get out and about for any longer than five minutes here and there; a hurried lunchtime walk between showers, a nip into the allotment plot on the way home to check all is safe and secure and that overhanging trees are still standing.
Jet-lag thwarted any activity for the initial few days, and a cold (or ‘long haul flu’ as we called it) picked up most likely from the crowds of travellers at the airport, slowed down my return to normal for the rest of the week. In spite of my plans to return from our adventures renewed and invigorated, ready to dive into autumn and its delights, I found it frustratingly difficult to reconnect and to kick start my ‘get up and go’. I was a little overwhelmed by how the season had raced on, oblivious to my absence, and I felt isolated, unable to find my way back into the positive mental position I occupied pre-holiday. “Mild and murky” was how the tv weather reporter described the day over breakfast one morning this week, and my mood matched it. I decided to allow myself a few extra days; it was ok that I needed a little more time to re-adjust and re-find my direction after a busy and monumental summer.

It was an unexpectedly minor moment that lifted my spirits from post-holiday blues. Not the evocative sight of a flock of migrating geese, or the soaring of a kite in golden sunshine, but a small and overlooked dung beetle, trundling across my path on a damp Wednesday lunch time. I’m not sure what it was about this unglamorous but contented creature determinedly making it’s own way across the woodland floor that cheered me up, but I was pleased to meet it. Trying not to step on any other beetles that may have been pottering about amongst the leaf litter (and I saw at least two more), gave me a reason to look closely at the woodland floor and the colours and textures around me. Nature has a way a seeping in and getting around any defences.

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It is clear from the condition of the trees and plants that I have seen in my snippets of time spent outside, that the season has made significant progress whilst I have been away. In Canada it was still summer with temperatures regularly reaching plus 30*c by early afternoon, but by the end of our stay the clear skies were allowing night time temperatures to drop off sharply, and a few nights touching below 5*c had begun to trigger the trees to change colour. Autumn (or “fall’ as it is called in that region of the world), would be short, and our hosts will soon see snow. I have never before been away from the UK for so long, and it seemed odd to have left in mid-August but then find it was already September when we awoke the morning after our flight. What had I missed in the last two weeks of the month?

The 2004 diary that inspired this ‘Autumn Almanac’ series of blog posts speaks of noisy green woodpeckers and squabbling magpies. A visit to Petworth Park one day, and a trip to Bentley Motor Museum on another were obviously thought up to while away the remainder of the summer holidays. Butterflies including both common and holly blues were still on the wing during week 3 of August, and the harvest including grain cutting and lettuce picking was underway in the fields. On one page I refer to the floods in the Cornish village of Boscastle that featured heavily in the news with pictures of devastation caused by rushing waters, then go on to describe all the berries, hips and haws that filled the hedgerow on a walk to Fishbourne Creek on the coast near Chichester.

A lengthy list of downland flowers is included in the account of a walk at Chanctonbury Ring on one of the last days of the month. It seems that summer, at least in terms of flora and insects, lasted marginally longer in 2004, and I suspect that after these heavy rains we would find significantly less blooming if we replicated that walk this year.

September 2004 started with swarms of house martins, and encounters with green bush crickets in the garden. I am most interested however to read that the conkers from the local horse chestnut trees were apparently “blowing down too soon as the cases are still quite green and the nuts very tiny”. I was talking with a friend this week who commented that her children had been out collecting conkers on Monday; clearly, 2017 is a much better and earlier conker year than 2004.

It is certainly a good year for berries. The blackberries were ripe before we left for our holiday, and the hawthorn bushes I pass on my lunchtime strolls are heavily laden with bright red haws.

Whilst I have been writing this post, the rain has returned and is battering heavily on the skylight window. It has become gloomy enough for me to be considering turning the lights on despite it only just being four in the afternoon, and to be entertaining a craving for classic comfort food; warm rice pudding with a dollop of strawberry jam.

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