It is a small death, the end of summer
of the Defender. Despite the late hour, wasps are insistent on the flowers of the ivy in the hedge. A hornet, the Provisional wing of the wasp family, scouts the stone walls of the house on some evil enterprise.
Somewhere unseen down in the valley, across the harvested fields with their ziggurats of waiting straw bales, comes the chatter and clink of a drinks party. Distant voices, over excited ambience.
What has really brought on my endof-summertime blues is that the autumn hawkbit, a sort of spindly dandelion, flowered today in the pony paddock. You can tell the seasons by the flowers. If the autumn hawkbit is blooming, it’s autumn on the floral calendar. The flight of the butterflies also marks the passing season; brimstone moths, having freshly emerged from their pupa cabinets, were flitty-fluttering about, Pollocky spots of sulphur yellow, in the paddock’s hazel bushes.
I know, I know. Autumn has its glories. I simply would like summer to continue. No one counts down the winters of their life, only the summers. It is a small death, the end of summer. Some ragged crows fly over, their triple kaah echoing off the crewcut hayfield. The fox drops down from its blackberry picking. Why, you might wonder, is a fox eating hedge fruit? Because it’s starving.
For the animals, August is the hungry month. In summer, the mortality rate for the meat-eating birds and the beasts can be as great as winter. (I am, improbably, an expert: I once spent a year living solely on the wild food that could be shot or foraged on our 40-acre Herefordshire hill farm. Talk about the hunger games.) By August, the predator’s easy kills—the slow, the sick, the babies and the old—have been taken. As a result, the desperate fox diversifies into fruit eating and worm guzzling.
Indeed, the humble Lumbricus terrestris is currently the staple foodstuff for all sorts of animals. Almost every night, the badgers waddle onto the aftermath of the hayfield, to slurp worms, in much the same style that toddlers suck up spaghetti. No less than seven buzzards hopped about on the aftermath last week, gulping the worms that had risen to the surface in the rain. The buzzards’ usual hawkish hauteur was dropped. They had the abandoned dignity of shoppers on Black Friday.
The evening light fades to grey. Our longhorn cows amble up to their night station at the top of the hayfield, where they will lie in a circle guarding against the sabre-tooth tigers of bovine nightmares. Behind them, I can see the trotting shadow of the fox. She stops and paws at the ground, then trots on and paws at the ground again. Trot. Paw. Repeat. Someone opens the side door of the house. Electric light and dogs flood out. The fox scampers off.
I go into the hayfield to see what she’s been digging at. Cowpats. Foxy has been reduced to rootling through bovine faeces for slugs and beetles and creepy crawlies. Such are the joys of an evening in England profonde in August. John Lewis-stempel is the author of the ‘Sunday Times’ bestseller ‘The Running Hare’ and ‘Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field’, which won the 2015 Thwaites Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing