Autumn inside and out

Reaching the last days of October and Autumn’s grip is keenly felt now. Doors and windows have been left unopened in order to keep out chill winds. Blankets and layers of clothes carefully tucked into each other have been used to prevent the inevitable onset of central heating season. Protected against the elements, I’ve been lost in someone else’s Autumn reflections, an exciting nature writing discovery.

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The Nature of Autumn by Jim Crumley was a library find, recently published and only the second time it had been checked out. As I lost myself in his frankly glorious prose, the list of his many previous books became increasingly exciting. Such a great feeling to discover a new author with so much there to delve back into. His descriptions of the effects of the passing of the Autumn months on the landscape and wildlife were vivid and memorable; sensual, colourful and musical. His travels took to glens, woodland and wetlands, between highland and lowland. The lasting impression for me was the birds and the trees, where the changing of the season was at its most spectacular, arriving and departing respectively.

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He talked of his sunset adventures as duskings, a description that stuck with me, for me widening the focus from the moment of the sun’s departure to the hours around it. With a good evening forecast, the dog and I set off for our own Autumn dusking, choosing to head up, along and back down St Catherine’s Down, a perennial favourite. Along the valley floor, following a stream on a path new to me, beech trees retained enough foliage to let little of the late afternoon light through, and the crunch of the fallen leaves meant we walked alone.

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Little mentioned in Jim’s book, we had to deal with a field of interested sheep and various stiles as we climbed the steep sided downs. More fitting were the ravens taking to wing, announcing their departure for the night, and the robin bouncing through the newly shorn hedgerow before burying himself deeply inside an adjacent hawthorn, the reds of breast and berry drained of their colour by the land’s shadow.

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We reclaimed the light by the oratory, pausing with tea and cake to watch the sun depart behind a low bank of cloud ten minutes before sunset. Soon after it was clear the point of the year had been reached that meant hats and gloves were now backpack essentials. The dark gathered incrementally as we headed back down, through fields, past cottages with wood burners going and down sunken lanes. Reaching our final turn before losing sight of the summit, we turned and saw Venus sitting just off to the right of the the Pepper Pot. Just a few moments later, the rounded form of a barn owl swept from a woodshed, across the path before correcting vertically and into a tree. We crept forward in the hope of another glimpse, but the branches were bare; this stealthy retreat at least went unobserved. I’m trying to appreciate this most glorious of seasons, both cuddled up inside and well wrapped up out.

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