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
‘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