Summer Lull

It has been that time, that point in high summer, when I tend to drop off the boil, only maintaining a low simmer of online activity. A July and August long lull, that seems to coincide with natures own tendency to hesitate on the peak of the season. Air and water alike seem to stagnate in a soporific haze, my own pools of inspiration included.

I don’t force myself to write here, instead tackle small tasks, little and occasional. Cut back the lemon balm now the flowers have mostly gone over, to promote a fresh flush of growth for use as a refreshing herbal tea. Pull out the loose-rooted enchanter’s nightshade from the shady border outside the back door, before it totally goes to seed. (It’ll come back next year as many of the roots remain, but it keeps it from swamping the shadowy spot where the woodruff grows.) Write lists of ingredients I’ll need to harvest from plot and communal orchard for the chutney I’ll make at the end of the month: marrow, apples, pear, shallot…

This morning however, there was a change in the air. At least for a few hours until the sun regained his mature strength. I woke early, rose at 6am, made a cup of tea and stepped outside. The garden was heavily wet with dew, and the remains of a mist was suggested by a vagueness of light. There was a different scent too; a mellow coolness, summer dust cleansed at least temporarily.

I stood for a long while, slowly sipping tea, slowly drinking in the best of the day.

Noticing things.

The brambles and bindweed had got rather out of control and put on a sneaky growth spurt, and although great wildlife plants in their own ways, the ballance would soon need addressing or risk loosing all precious variety, with equally valuable plants washed away in a sea of prickles and twining vines. The chicory flowers, once so blue, had faded and closed, I’d need to pull them out also before they set seed, just to keep their spread in check. I was early enough to catch the night-flowering catchfly blooms still open, their creamy nocturnal petals reminiscent of a campion bloom to which they are related. The sun began to creep high enough in the overcast sky that promised to be muggy and humid later, to flash over the lilac trees two doors down. Suddenly the buddleia next door switched on, its sweet scent recoiling me back twenty years to my childhood past time of watching butterflies on the giant bush in my family’s back garden. Butterflies come to this bush too, although in common with the rest of the country, in far fewer numbers now; a cause for concern.

I stood a little longer and watched the birds. Blue tits and great tits are regulars on the bird feeders. I’m glad I refilled them yesterday, although I must remember to get some more seed and peanuts delivered soon, (I’m sure sometimes the birds eat better than I do!).

A juvenile robin, yet to gain his red breast, continues to investigate the garden since his first appearance last week. An adult has started venturing in too, still somewhat scruffy, and nervous, subdued by the vulnerability of being in moult.

A marsh tit dropped in, less bothered by my presence than the young blue tits, calmly helping itself to a few morsels of fat ball, it’s back turned to me, before flitting back into the bushes when a larger great tit turned up.

A wren family set up a flurry of coarse, shrill, peeping – the fledglings’ constant begging for insect morsels wearing the adult ragged as it scoured the brambles for unlucky caterpillar or spider.

A scolding call from my right came from a male black cap, visiting to begin the seasonal plunder of my next door neighbour’s elder berries which are just beginning to ripen. He’ll work his way through this crop all autumn. I hope he’ll stay the winter. Blackcaps used to be exclusively summer migrants, heading south through Europe when the winter came. However in the past decade these smart and charismatic birds have been increasingly reported overwintering in the UK, possibly due at least in part to a combination of climate change and access to garden bird feeders.

The black cap gave a brief warble from the top of the elder before retreating back into the scrub. He emerged from time to time, unsure of my proximity but unable to resit the lure of juicy berries. I however, was distracted by another bird; a first for me in this location… a whitethroat. Another warbler, and this time a true summer migrant, I suspect this individual was working its way through the scrub and woodland edge beyond the garden boundary, feeding-up post breeding, and preparing for its migration flight south. Seeing the whitethroat, I realised we will soon be saying ‘goodbye’ to many of our favourite summer visitors – the cuckoos have already long gone, the swifts are less apparent, and even the house martins and swallows seem to be higher, fewer.

My phone jangled in my pocket, my normal wake-up alarm jarring the morning peace. I silenced it, and drained the last mouthful of tea from my mug, feeling as though I had stolen an extra hour from the world. Time to make my move in the war of attrition on the invading undergrowth.

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