The golden age

Misty or­ange sun­sets stave off the ap­proach­ing chill, hedgerows groan with bounty and the smoke of the first fire curls up into a still sky

Country Life Every Week - - The Four Seasons -

‘As the ther­mome­ter falls, cu­ri­ously, the ar­dour of sheep rises

THE sea­sons need no cal­en­dar. The trees know the date. From the east on me­te­orite nights come gales to strip the trees of their dy­ing leaves and car­pet back lawns in gold and in­cense: the fallen leaves are fu­ture soil for the trees. The same winds bear Scan­di­na­vian field­fares to gorge them­selves on the berries prof­fered by the hawthorn.

Wind is the young­ster’s friend. Au­tumn is a time to bring on the child­ish games: to scuff through leaves, fly a kite, play ‘Ob­bly, ob­bly onker, my first conker’.

Gaz­ing at the au­tumn scene, the Me­ta­phys­i­cal poet John Donne re­marked: ‘No spring nor sum­mer beauty hath such grace,/as I have seen in one Au­tum­nal face.’ Yes, there is the star­tling Klimt-es­que pal­ette of trees ‘on the turn’ and the scar­let of rose­hips against chilled blue sky—per­haps the one per­fect colour con­trast. How­ever, the real beauty of au­tumn is the majesty of Gothic de­cay. Go to the tem­ple of an English copse in late Oc­to­ber, when the leaves are burn­ing or­ange, when black-an­dle­mon wasps (des­per­ate for su­gar) suck at ivy flow­ers, when ink-cap mush­rooms del­i­quesce in their own juices and you will know it.

Look again at the rose­hips. They are blood red. Au­tumn is the time of bac­cha­na­lian bounty, of gluts of black­ber­ries, ap­ples, and hazel­nuts. In the blink of an eye, all fruits go from ripe to rot­ten ripe. The ur­gency with which Tufty squir­rel goes about his eat­ing is partly be­cause he must put on fat be­fore win­ter hi­ber­na­tion, but partly to in­gest the nat­u­ral har­vest at its prime.

In au­tumn, the days cool, so evap­o­ra­tion from the ground is slow, hence the sea­son’s sig­na­ture mists. There’s fog on the Tyne. And the Thames and the Tay.

Cu­ri­ously, as the ther­mome­ter falls, so the ar­dour of sheep rises. The testos­teroned ram, a ‘rad­dle’ crayon at­tached to his chest, leaves a smudgy tell­tale mark on the rump of a ‘cov­ered’ ewe. In the forests and on the hills, the sheep’s close but wild rel­a­tive, the deer, are like­wise rut­ting.

Ev­ery sea­son has its sounds. The sound-track of au­tumn is the bark­ing of the stag, the pit­ter­pat­ter of fall­ing leaves, the whirr of pheas­ants on the wing, the can­non­ing of 12 bores, the squeal of hounds and the hunts­man’s horn.

I love au­tumn, the most in­tense and bar­baric of all the sea­sons, with the se­duc­tive feel of the gun in the hand, the thrill of the stalk.

Au­tumn’s true love is the wood. Here and there, a wild cherry flick­ers crim­son as the mighty beech drops its mast for ‘pan­nage’ pigs to snout out from among the moul­der­ing leaves. Damp am­pli­fies the wood’s mush­room breath. The jay gath­ers acorns to put in an earth larder. A sin­gle jay may bury thou­sands of acorns in a month, many to re­main un­re­trieved. On some mist­shrouded au­tumn morn­ing in me­dieval Eng­land, an ab­sent-minded jay planted the seed of the vic­tory at Trafal­gar: the wood

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