Baked

The last weeks of August sizzle.  Furnace days that pass like treacle.  Hottest days on record, air so close it’s hard to breathe.  Air so hot it’s impossible to get relief.  Sleepless nights.  Sticky, long days of hard brilliance.  August is stuck in amber: it seems it will never end.

But finally the amber cracks.  On the morning of the storm the world is damp with dew and the sun is a blazing orange balloon.  We know the storm is coming, but it isn’t until the hour before midnight that it appears.  Two booms of thunder and a neon flash herald its arrival.  The next crash envelops the house, as though giving birth to it.  Lightning flares every few seconds.  Thunder grumbles.  Rain hammers down.

In the morning the landscape is scoured clean.  Green is greener, more vivid after rain.  There is energy in the air.  In the deluge, autumn’s blooms have blossomed: a bouquet of fungi along the paths.  It has been a good summer for fungi, despite the heat.  There has been a bountiful harvest of field mushrooms in the park and a scattering of fairy rings.

A day after the storm, it is cool enough to walk the wagonway.  The hedgerows bulge with fruits.   Birds nests of wild carrot, fat with lilac seeds.   Horse chestnuts ripe with conkers, still encased in green.  Bushes full of blackberries.  The wind teases willowherb seeds from their stalks so that I walk through drifts of down.  I hear the steam train chug and whistle down the nearby museum track.

The flowers are few now: a clump of willowherbs here, ragworts there, clusters of fleabane and sow thistles.  Insects jostle for space on those blooms that remain: hoverflies, bees and flies, speckled wood butterflies.  Dragonflies dart across the path moving between ponds and patches of damp ground.   There is still little evidence of birds: a couple of wood pigeons, the song of a robin and the twittering of a few hidden blue tits.

In the dene, it already seems like autumn.  The avenue of lindens has released a drift of tawny flower casings that look like heaps of autumn leaves.  August is finally over and the scent of a new season is in the air.

I was introduced to the wonderful book Saxon’s Bane by Geoffrey Gudgion some time ago and I was thrilled to see he was crowdfunding to publish his next novel Draca through Unbound.  The book is about a former Royal Marine haunted by his past and possibly by the old boat left to him by his grandfather.  Half of the profits will go to the veteran’s charity Combat Stress.  Geoff has been offered a great opportunity to promote the book at a festival alongside a ‘household TV name’ if it is published in time.  Pledges are currently at 89% but he only has two weeks to reach 100% if he is to get the opportunity.  That’s only 60 books, so please consider pledging to enjoy what I expect will be a great read and to help out combat veterans too!  You can find out more here.

Potential

I am on a path so overgrown with trees that it is pooled with darkness.  On this equinox, I plan to walk from darkness into light.  For many reasons it has been a challenging winter.  I’m finding it impossible to slough off a melancholy mood.  The move towards spring has been a sluggish one. I find myself wearied by routine, by effort, by restless sleep.  The winds have blown but they haven’t blown my mood away.  I need a symbolic change.  I start my walk on the twilit path with hope ahead of me.  There is a robin singing.  It is always beyond me, distant and mournful, leading me on.

I emerge onto the wide waggonway.  My eyes squint as they take in light.  Not only the light of day, but also the froth of blossom.  Delicate spindly stems and a cornucopia of clotted branches.  It is blackthorn time once more, dark stalks with fierce thorns surging into bloom to herald the true beginning of spring.  Its companion, hawthorn, will not blossom yet for weeks, but the hawthorn is the first tree to burst its pearly green buds into leaf.  They soften the landscape, these sister trees, letting us know that soon the bones of the earth will be clothed.

Spring is a time of hope, yet it is also a time of sorrow.  There is a dark undercurrent to this season of potential.  Only a tiny proportion of seeds ever grow into the plants they were meant to be.  Only a small proportion of birds live beyond their first year.  Many of those seeds will remain in the darkness of the soil, perhaps to bloom years from now, perhaps never to bloom at all.  Many birds will never hatch; many will never have the chance to fulfil their potential and fly.  The conditions must be just right for life to take hold, and for some, those conditions will never be right.  This is the sorrow of spring: all the lives that will not be lived.

The landscape is slowly beginning to yellow with dandelions and coltsfoot.  I saw my first bee last week, a buff-tailed bumblebee on lemon mahonia flowers.  A cloud of pollen beetles swarm my mustard poncho, attracted to the colour because they think it offers nectar.  The goat willows droop with yellow-green catkins like hairy caterpillars.

Someone has hung suet balls from the trees and a flutter of tits crowds them, while a dunnock sweeps up the crumbs beneath.  Ducks fly overhead, already coupled.  The ponds are empty; the water birds have retreated to the undergrowth.  There is a small meadow of butterbur flowers, like miniature purple fir trees.  Later in the year this space will be choked with their monstrous leaves and giant stalks of hogweed.

Spring is chaos.  Spring is joy.  Spring is messy and exuberant, dangerous and thrilling.  To us it is bird song and blossom, light and warmth; to our neighbours it is life and death.

I’m considering giving up on a story.  It’s an idea I’ve had for a long time, after a chance encounter with the elderly man who would be its protagonist.  I rarely give up on a story once I begin.  If I take up an idea and begin to tell the tale, it usually comes to a conclusion, satisfactory or not.  My seeds are ideas and vignettes written in notebooks.  They too wait for the right time and conditions to bloom.  But it seems the time for this story has passed.  It has begun, but I can’t find a way for it to end.  I wonder how many seeds of stories are out there, stories that will never be told for want of the right conditions.  Maybe they will wither and never be born.  Maybe sometime and somewhere they will find their way to creation.

In nature nothing is wasted.  Seeds can live, ungerminated, for hundreds of years, until the time is right.  Those lives lost in the wreckage of eggshells and fledging will help other creatures to reach their potential.  There are two ponies grazing in the country park.  Exmoor ponies that visit to clear the tough vegetation so that the conditions are right for wild flowers to grow.  The ponies clear the way for those flowers to reach their potential, so that they, in turn, can help scores of tiny creatures to reach theirs.

A few days after the equinox, I see my first butterfly, a gaudy peacock fluttering along a path in the dene.  Marsh marigolds light up the burn with luscious yellow and scores of daffodils brighten the grass.  A pair of long-tailed tits flit back and forth across the cascades, digging for insects in the rim of a grimy streetlamp.  Cherry blossom adds its opulent blooms to the blackthorn.  These are the lucky ones, that have become what they were meant to be.  I am still melancholy, but I feel the call to action nevertheless.  This season of potential in nature coincides with a profusion of submission opportunities, so my stories are dispersing once more, perhaps to fulfil their potential, if only the conditions are right.   Where one life ends, another will always blossom.  Where one tale halts, unwritten, there will be another, ready to take its place.

 

On the turn

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The sycamore knows what the other trees still only sense.  It has already turned, leaves ablaze against the green of its elders.  Already, its leaves are scattered on the grass, a fiery mat like a magic circle inside which autumn reigns.  Outside this world between the worlds, summer clings on.

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The insects know.  The last of them are greedy for nectar before the cold season begins.  A painted lady, suckling on the remnants of the knapweed.  A bee guzzling clover on the last meadow.   Wasps at their most clingy hovering over food and drink.  The garden spider squats in her impressive orb in my yard.  She will die with the coming season leaving a clutch of silk-wrapped eggs to hatch in spring.   The last of the swallows still swoops for insects to sustain her on her African odyssey.  Mobs of sparrows and starlings, born earlier this year, squabble in hedgerows and on pavements.   Yet though spring is long over, the piercing call of baby seagulls wanting to be fed is still a common sound.

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The flowers know.  Those few still in blossom are starkly bright, like star performers under spotlights.  Goldenrod and toadflax are reminders of the sun.  The willowherbs offer up a last glimpse of the colour purple.  But the plant life is now overgrown and messy.  It’s the season of seeds and fruit.  The seed heads are dry skeletons and furry tufts – the flowers doing all they can to reproduce before the dying season begins.  Berries take on the mantle of colour now, waxy spheres of crimson, black and orange.

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The weather knows.  Summer is wrestling with autumn for dominion.  It’s difficult to know what to wear for the best.  Put on something warm and the sun will be blazing by the time you come home.  Don’t wear a coat and it will rain.  The mornings are chilly and often misty.  The wind has howled a taste of what is to come.  The days are mostly still bright, but you can feel the change in the dark of early morning.

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And I know.  I can feel the turn in my soul.  I know it when I wake to the dark, cold morning and my body wants to continue sleeping.  I know it when I sense the mist in the air.  I feel it in the craving to wear woollens and to sit before the fire, even though the sun is shining outside.  I feel myself slowing down.  My creative cycle for the year is coming to an end.  There are fewer new ideas sparking.  I don’t have the same urge to fling my work out into the world.  Instead, I’m finishing projects where I can before the harvest.  My thoughts are turning towards reflection and renewal.  Most of all, I’m looking forward to the long, dark dreaming months, during which I can conjure new dreams for the year to come.