Remember remember in the dark of November… where did we leave the box of matches for lighting the log burner?!
Home from our mini-honeymoon week in Somerset and glorious north Exmoor, and autumn has fully matured. In fact, it’s starting to feel a little wintery already! (If you’re not feeling quite ready for winter yet, you might find my previous blog helpful, as I share my tips and ideas I’m employing to fortify myself for the long season ahead)
November has a tendency towards the grey, the gloomy, or it can be fantastically crisp and sharp. Either way, this is usually the month we see our first frosts, (somewhat later than more northerly latitudes of our varied country). This is when I plant my garlic.
Harvest season is complete, but there is still work to be done. We write a todo list for the coming winter (it helps to be organised when days get shorter):
– install water butts on allotment shed
– stock up on wild bird feed
– check spring cabbages and sprout tops regularly for pests.
One day when we have more land, this will be the time for planting bare root trees, and for hedge-laying. It is a good month for planting bulbs to give spring flowers.
Since the clocks changed at the end of October, there’s not enough daylight at the end of the working day for a walk, so I try to squeeze one into my lunchbreak. The heath is always a good place to find some decompression, some breathing space. I visit rarely in the high summer, the heat beats me back to the shade of the woods, but now and through the coming season this wild-feeling landscape calls me back to explore its paths and stories. It is when the heath is at its bleakest in the winter, and when it is at its emptiest that I think I like it best.
Heather-wire, woody, rasp-dry,
Leaches cold colour down from mist-thin sky.
But there is no hope there,
the sky is over-washed grey.
A warped pine,
three black crows,
Black as mourners,
One calls, ditto.
Scavenge light from the day.
(from archive post Jan 10 2019)
We have not yet reached that time yet however, the heath still swirls in gusts of gold; there is more year to burn before we reach the darkest days around the solstice next month.
This is November! Month of bonfires and rich stews, scarlet capped fungi and starlit skies. Once we gathered with strangers beneath the branches that cradled the stars, and shared broken bread and fire-cooked food across the table. (Wild Bonfire Feast Nov 10 2018)
As I walk through the woods to the heath, I watch the holly thicket in the middle of the copse for the redwings. They will arrive this month, if they are true to the calendar of the past couple of years. I can often be found on November evenings, standing at my back door with a mug of tea, gazing at the dark garden; I’ll be listening for them passing over head in seeping flocks, contact calls sounding thin as ice glass.
“It is the bright feast of fruit and berries our countryside holds ready for them [the redwings and other migrant thrushes] that they come for, but it is by darkness that they travel. By late winter I bemoan the dark and gloominess by day, longing for the warmth and lift of spring sunshine. But in truth I know that Darkness is one of my favourite things in the colder months – not spooky Halloween dark, but the velvet rich dark, womb dark, earth dark, heart of winter north dark…” (North)
November nights start early, chivvying and harrying us as we finish the working day. I have found myself planning festive food: syrupy mince pies with a shock of icing sugar, crispy roast potatoes that strive to be better even than my mums (but never are), a poachers dish of partridge, baked pears, dark fruity cake.
There is much movement in the woods yet, it will grow quieter and more still when winter grips tight. It’s ironic that it is at the darker time of the year, the sun can penetrate furthest into the heart of this place. Now it angles through the window of beech leaves, illuminating not only the chlorophyll-drained cells, but brightening my heart also.
8th: Remembrance Sunday — 22nd: Stir-up Sunday — 30th: Full moon