It is a small death, the end of summer

Country Life Every Week - - From The Fields -

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

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