Did you ever notice the stunning amount of different greens that exist in nature? Colour, light and nature are incredible things, I am sitting looking out of my window at a patch of young stinging nettles, not only are they vibrant and tender, they express several different shades of green, I love nettles partly because they continue to grow new shoots right into the autumn, so while the leaves are turning from green to yellow and brown on the trees nettles can still display the freshness of spring. This makes me very happy because the promise of summer brings me the most joy, I long for summer and when it comes I wish it would carry on and on.
I think it is the light that I love about the summer, the brightness lifts my spirit in a way I don’t experience at any other time of year, of course I enjoy the heat but I don’t so much mind the cold. I find autumn heart stoppingly beautiful, I often marvel at the people who leave this green Isle at this time of year, they miss the incredible show put on for us by Mother Nature, as the leaves turn through greens and reds, oranges and yellows and finally to brown, as they fall from the trees making huge piles of rustling crunching delight I fill my eyes and my heart with this sight, and at the same time I feel the sadness that the summer is gone and a little more than slight dread for the winter to come.
Some years its almost as if Monty Python has been in charge of the autumn, one night I have gone to bed and the leaves have all been on the trees and the next morning they have all dropped at once as if on command! Other years the leaves seem to cling to the trees almost until the spring has almost sprung.
The wind blows out the autumn and in sneaks the winter with its icy fingers climbing up my back, I wish that I could love the winter; perhaps if I were a hedgehog it would be so. I could hibernate in a cosy nest awaiting the spring, but winter is a time for creating for me, in the past I have written a great deal of music in that cold grey time, it inspires a need for newness in me that is sometimes satisfied by new songs and tunes, it can feel like a sort of creative hibernation. I am hoping this winter will be one such time, I will be spending more time alone than I have done for some time, and sometimes the nights are so long, already the days have got shorter, its getting dark at half past eight and is not light until around six fifteen.
The kind of winter that I can love is one where the days are very cold; if it is going to be winter it may as well be a definite and sure one, I love those days when the sun shines brightly but the frost remains on the trees covering them in glittering sparkles like crystal chandeliers, when the cold snaps at your toes and you have to wrap up warm, but the sun smiles down from above in a cloudless sky. On days like these I like to go out into the fields and woods in search of spider webs delicately decorated by Jack Frost in gleaming twinkling orbs of frozen light. I like to wear lots of lovely warm jumpers and a big sheepskin coat, big boots and thick socks and to come home and get warm by a fire with a lovely cup of steaming body-warming tea.
But for now it is the autumn, a time for berries and nuts, time to go in search of the trees I know to be laden with chestnuts, hazelnuts and walnuts, my children and I love to gather these, and to sit at home cracking them and eating them together as the dark evenings set in. One of our favourite things to gather is beechnuts, it does seem to be rare to find a tree which has enough of these to collect, I know that squirrels love them too and maybe they just get there first, but one year we found thousands beneath a giant of a tree, it must have been what is known as a mast year for that tree. There were so many that we swept them up in great handfuls and brought them home and sat peeling and eating them for hours. Beech nuts are like little tricorns waiting to be opened, it took me a while to work out which are the ones with nuts in as many are often empty, a friend of mine said he once watched a squirrel eating beechnuts and every case it opened had a nut in! How did it know? Because the ones with nuts in bulge slightly and the empties are somewhat concave and are a lighter colour, and this year we have already started gathering it seems to be a mast year for some of the trees.
This is the time for gathering blackberries! We go out into the fields and pick as many as we can find, my favourite way to eat blackberries is to gather big handfuls and put the whole lot into my mouth at once, it’s an explosion of flavour, it makes my mouth water just to think of it, and we rarely make it home with any at all.
Food for free is a magical thing, and is as it should be, we are at home on the Earth and it doesn’t make any sense that we mostly only have access to food that has been planted by humans. The nutritional value of wild food far surpasses that of shop bought produce, and the fun in finding it is unquestionable.
Two autumns ago my children and I went into town to the park and there we found that the sycamore trees were in mast; that is they had dropped millions of seeds. The ground was so thick with seeds that there was not a bare patch to be seen, seeds sat in great brown heaps like little crunchy snowdrifts and we gathered armfuls of them and climbed up onto the climbing frame and threw them up up into the air to watch them spiralling down like tiny helicopters. The air was thick with them and my children ran back and forth in them as they cascaded back to Earth over and over again. It was so much fun and ever since we have not been able to pass sycamore seeds without gathering at least a handful to throw into the air.
In autumn we often go in search of piles of dry dead leaves, there is a place not far from here where the trees grow in an avenue and the leaves are trapped between them, the resulting heaps are huge! First we run and walk back and forth along the avenue enjoying the sound of the leaves crunching beneath our feet, then we kick them high into the air, or throw them up so that they catch the wind and drift back down, and then we make the biggest heaps we can and dive onto and into them until we have had enough!
Phew, there are so many reasons to love the autumn! Have you ever looked down on an autumnal woodland from a distance? There you can see the amazing display of colours, it always amazes me the way different species of trees turn different colours before the leaves fall, whole trees become a striking red or yellow, while others are still green or have turned a rust coloured brown. It makes me wish I were a painter; I would probably paint nothing but autumnal landscapes (at least until the spring seduced me!) I once bought a three-foot by four foot painting on a bit of board of an autumnal woodland, then I gathered autumn leaves and fixed them all around the edges of the painting so that it looked as if autumn was climbing right out of the painting. That painting hung on my wall for years and each autumn I went to gather new leaves for the edges. I think that that is what I will do today, in our little bus we have a small painting called ‘The Piper of Dreams’ at the foot of a great tree in an autumnal woodland sits a person playing a pipe and woodland spirits play around. I have been meaning for a while to open up the frame and decorate it with leaves and now is the time!
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