Rupert Evershed’s monthly diary of the natural world
- Credit: Archant
There is a lot to love about autumn – and winter for that matter – but only really if you get out in it, savour it, breath it in and experience it. That I have been doing a lot recently as our growing puppy moves from considerable energy to inexhaustible energy!
Walking is the best way of enjoying autumn. The humid haze of the nonchalant last days of summer has been blown away revealing a clear and increasingly crisp new palette of earthy colours.
Each colour tells a story and captures the essence of autumn.
The great green canopy and shrubbery of summer is thinning. With every gust of chill air leaves fly upwards, then downwards, rustling before resting to decay.
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Death and decay are all around as leaves wither, fruit falls and the sap rises no more. But this is not a sorrowful slipping away or shadowed demise.
Instead, everywhere, trees blaze-up in a final firework display of dazzling greens, golds, yellows, reds and even purples.
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It is as if they have heeded the poet Dylan Thomas’ rallying call in the face of death:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
And ‘rage’ and burn they do as the green chlorophyll gives way to the fiery oranges and yellows of carotene and xanthophyll pigments.
And then, as a final flourish, anthocyanin pigments bring pinks, reds and purples to the mix. The purpose of all these pigments is still being uncovered by science, but the point of it all seems clear enough: it’s breathtakingly beautiful!
Stepping away from the woods, ploughed earth greets my feet and part of me want to take off my boots and walk barefoot.
To feel the soil between my toes, on my flesh, is to connect with one of earth’s raw elements.
It is the same impulse I feel stepping onto a sandy beach or turning my face into a breeze.
The connection I feel is one of wholeness and simplicity.
The basic element of sand, wind and now soil releases a child-like urge to be creative not felt when I’m wrapped in the comfort and complexity of materials made by others.
I resist the urge to make mud-pies but sniff the air to take in the smell of the freshly turned soil.
It is a reassuring, timeless smell - the winter’s equivalent of freshly mown grass - recalling our deep involvement with the land and the seasons throughout the centuries.
Ploughed fields are literal turning points in the season as the remnants of the old crop are buried and almost simultaneously a new crop planted. In just a few weeks time, the brown will tint green as new shoots break the surface.
This pattern is repeated across the natural landscape as the ‘plough’ of winter turns the land brown and dormant, ready for new growth in spring.
If the greens and browns of autumn speak of a fading foliage and bare earth then one colour splashes bright across the seasonal canvas: the red of berries!
Wherever I walk in the countryside at the moment, sprays of red berries adorn hawthorn, rowan, yew and dog rose.
Everything about these little bulging red globes shouts ‘food’!
Of course, like so many children growing up, I was told, perhaps wisely, that I mustn’t eat red berries for they could poison me.
However, the message to birds and animals is quite the opposite: “Eat these and you will survive!”
Packed with vital nutrients and goodness the red berries of autumn are all about survival and waves of winter thrushes and sometimes the exotic waxwings from Scandinavia pour into the country, magnetized by this red harvest, to eat their fill.
Indeed there was a time, during World War II when we too turned to the red berries of the hedgerow for survival.
The usual supply lines for imported citrus fruits had been cut off and the nation faced a very real threat in the form of a lack of Vitamin C.
To counter this, the Hedgerow Harvest pamphlet, issued in 1943 by the Ministry of Food, encouraged everyone to go out into the countryside and collect rosehips, among other fruit found naturally.
These could then be used to make jams and syrups providing, particularly in the case of rosehips, the vital Vitamin C otherwise lacking.
Together, the greens, the browns and the reds of autumn are a feast for all the senses, there for the relishing and maybe even the tasting.
So get out on a walk if you can and see for yourself!