Autumn has arrived in the valley. Despite record high temperatures this week, the season can no longer be denied. Blackberries are ripening exponentially, day after day, spiders’ webs glisten with dew at dawn, and there has been a subtle shift in the spectrum, toward a clarity, a purity of tone which does not exist in summer. The light is as warm as honey on the skin, lucid and amber-tinted, as though the glow of the coming harvest moon has somehow leached into the daylight.
A pheasant struts through the stubble of a harvested cattle bean crop, flashing his burnished breastplate to the rising sun. Fourteen white doves descend to glean the field. Where do they come from? They ramble about, restless and distracted, purring loudly, and fly up with a Trafalgar Square clattering of wings at any disturbance, only to alight again a short distance away, repeating the performance over and over. They are not the only new visitors this week: a small skein of Canada geese fly low up the valley, honking to each other in an incessant call-and-response. They are bound for the wheat fields, again to feed on the stubble, coming from some park pond or reservoir each autumn and recalling a magical week spent on the misty north Norfolk coast, where the pink-footed geese come in great v-formations, in ever greater numbers, belling clamorously overhead at the start and end of each day. If I were hefted there instead of here, I would never tire of the sound; just as here I never tire of hearing the tawny owls, trying out their range of timbres from the oak trees each night. Their calls vary from squeaking gate to wailing banshee, each striving to achieve the long-ranging calls and mellow melodies which will sound out in winter, under the frosty moon, establishing and cementing the territory of each.
By the church the leaves of the lime trees have begun to turn; already a few whisper along in the gutter, twisted and dry. Chestnut trees look sickly under the deprivations of the leaf miner, but it is only the leaves that are suffering, not the trees themselves, which will leaf again as normal with soft green hands of foliage next spring. The hawthorn trees are deep red along the wood’s edge, bringing to mind the old adage that a abundance of berries means a hard winter to come. The bees forage in the golden rod and sedum heads of the autumn garden. Soon they will resort to the ivy flowers. Soon it will be mushrooming time.
The apple orchards see busy-ness again, trailers of new-picked fruit towed by little orchard tractors along the narrow lanes. Compared to the medieval warfare charge and clash of the combines at the grain harvests, there is something small and intimate about apple-picking, even on a commercial scale. It is strangely reassuring that, if apples are for eating or cooking, they must still be picked by hand, as for hundreds of years past. Picking must be quick, but never rushed; the fruit is a precious cargo. Though the great trees are have been supplanted by dwarfing rootstocks and the canvas picking bags and aprons have been replaced with plastic-lined, quick-release buckets, the rhythm, textures and perfume of apple-harvest remain, and Robert Frost’s dream of apples may haunt the pickers, still.
© New Moons For Old 2016