After snowdrops now a lesser celandine – a little ragged and the only to be seen on the lane at the moment. Bright colours which lessen the darkness of winter mornings. Hazel catkins hanging in glorious mustard yellow tails against the darker greens of the woods and a thistle holding as much dew as it can in its open leaves. A bright start to January.
This time of year as the days become quickly shorter and the temperatures fall there is a different beauty. A beauty of change and decay. The lack of warm, sunny days has shocked George the cat who can no longer lounge for long periods in the field, hunting butterflies.
Leaves that a few months ago were green have now turned into deep reds and magentas, oranges and ochres and with rain they contrast with the the brilliant emerald greens of moss and grass. The shapes of the leaves, often the small ones are worth examining closely as their detail is exposed.
The weather has been very mixed here on the lane. We have had warm days with balmy breezes, warm enough to sit out in – in November! Heavy rain which has sent the peat brown water chuntering and growling down the mill stream, almost to overflowing followed by stillness. Short, sharp frosts which leave the fields with an ethereal lightness, as everything is caught in the moment and leaves, browning and decaying are shown in their beauty – the veins and shapes, subtle colours. There is a beauty in this decaying world.
The hedges on the field sides have recently been cut back and now the brambles and the ivy have been cleared away leaving the skeleton hedging looking rather self conscious with just a lace work of ivy holding the hedging together. If there is snow it will easily blow through the trees and hedging onto the lane. There are no bramble and ivy branches to hold it back and confuse it.
George the cat thought that he had ‘sorted out’ the neighbouring fields – tracked the birds and small creatures. Now he is annoyed as the spread of undergrowth has been chopped away. The fields have changed and he has to command order again. It may take him some time…
The light is so bright coming down the lane that it blinds. The low sun forces itself through the trees where leaves are now falling so thick and fast that Rosie the dog is quite disconcerted by them.
Although not raining there is a moistness, a leaf litter scent, grass and leaf fall, and fungi making a natural compost. Dark browns and golds and also vibrant red and orange leaf stalks among the mossy ground with broken rose hips spewing out their seeds.
There is a lot of ivy on the lane: over walls, up walls, around trees and hedging andI it is now in full flower with some flowers beginning the transformation into berries. The flowers are attracting a lot of interest from insects. I had never realised or perhaps had an interest in knowing, that the difference in the shape of ivy leaves related to their age. Now I can see it clearly. The mature ivy has oval or heart shaped leaves while the immature ivy has three lobed leaves. Both are a beautiful glossy green but only the mature plants will bear the flowers.
The sun has that bright harsh light that cuts across the lane and makes me shade my eyes when I meet it. The temperature is lowering and the leaves fall more readily from the trees in the swirling wind. One field in particular is coloured in the soft greens and browns of ferns, bracken and grasses. Although we’ve had some rain the ground is dry and the stone walls still don’t look as though they’ve recovered from the hot weather. The moss covering they normally have is falling back in places, stones have tumbled off and on to the ground and holes have appeared. The small holes however I’m pretty sure are used by small creatures but the mossy shapes still look like faces to my way of thinking.
Elderberries still hang in clusters but are fewer now – and our elderberry wine is fermenting!
It is now Michaelmas and according to tradition blackberries shouldn’t be picked after this date as the Devil has spat on them. He is said to have landed on a blackberry bush as this was his revenge. They are certainly less juicy and attractive.
Some of the less well known trees are now in berry – the guilder rose behind the mill, close to the old water wheel and the spindle trees with their strange pink berries that will eventually show their orange fruit – poisonous. The snowberries or their other name, corpseberries are now full of their ghostly white berries and act as small lanterns lighting up the lane.
Early morning and a blackbird sits on the ivy covered branch. There are still some blackberries left though they are smaller and less attractive looking when it comes to picking them.
In contrast the hedging of the fields are full of bright red rose hips and some of the smaller elderberry trees have branches weighed down with umbrellas of black and ripe berries.
There are several conversations going on in the mill stream this morning. There is the broader rush and flow moving the water across the wider reaches and down the hill and then there are the low sometimes light notes as the water is moved through moss covered rocks and overhanging branches now dipping into the stream. The stream quietens when it is corralled into the small, still pools before it is pushed, noisily, over the many tiny waterfalls, finally merging in the lower levels close to the main road.
The colours on the lane are changing generally as the glossy greens of the holly and ivy predominate. It is clear that we are moving swiftly towards the returning power of the Holly King.
Spiders’ webs catch on the spikes of the holly leaves like small fairy hammocks. The ivy flowers with their intricate structure are full of nectar – a great source for birds and insects at this time of year as can be seen with the wasp.
I know wasps get a bad press and they can be aggressive but they also hunt flies, aphids and caterpillars – all of which I want away from the garden.
While the greens are deep and glossy there are also the subtle, almost ‘unnatural’ colours of magenta on leaves and the bleached white creams. Occasionally there are beautiful combinations on leaves which seem to mimic exotic butterflies. It is all in an Autumn day.
Spider webs woven low across the grasses and plants in the early morning look like a smokey mist in the strangely warm, wet morning. The rain drops are heavy. catching in the skeletal stems and seed heads while the leaves and petals shiver and shake as the drops land.
Sycamore leaves can now be seen covered in black spot. This is the month to notice it. This virus – tar spot – can cause premature leaf fall but not long term damage. It has always reminded me of R.L Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the black spots which were handed out to pirates when a verdict of guilty was pronounced. Something slightly disconcerting about the spots.
Along the path the leaves of the hazel, the ferns, sycamore and brambles are all turning towards the light, some parts of the lane are dark and it is as though they know the seasons are changing and they want to keep the light for as long as they can.
Blackberries are now full and just ready for picking. At home there is now a kilner jar of them mixed with sugar and vodka. By Christmas it will be a very pleasant liqueur! Blackberry muffins have also become another way of using this wild bounty.
I’m working on two paintings at the moment – one, a landscape is full of blues and greens, wild clouds and wind. The second is a portrait of a garden, a walled garden – with animals! Both have some way to go and walking up the lane helps me to work out different ideas for the canvases.
Today on the way back home an unusual creature was lurking in the hedge. George, the cat had been spying on our walk!
The beautifully warm weather continues and we are busily putting up all sorts and sizes of water containers from tiny to dog bowl size to help any insect, bird – or bigger animal have a drink.
There are now some unrip, still green , hazelnuts on the ground which have obviously been opened. Apparently grey squirrels can digest unripe hazelnuts but woodpeckers, magpies and jays also like them – all of which live around here. However given the way the nuts have been cracked open it seems more likely to be squirrels.
Common ragwort is now flowering near the disused mill. It can provide food for bees, moths and other insects and I haven’t seen many plants of it on the lane so far. Lords- and-Ladies or ‘Cuckoo Pint’ now has its poisonous bright red berries on show and the snowberry bushes are beginning to create their snow white berries. It will be a while before they’re fully formed.
From early this morning there has been blue sky and it is beginning to warm up – at last! When it is cooler it is as though the lane is sleeping. Everything is green but it as though it is waiting for the warmth. Plants like the meadowsweet, which are flowering on the top road above the lane are only still in udon the lane.
The sloes are developing on the blackthorn – green at the moment. It will be some time before they change colour.
Figwort is now flowering. It can be easily missed in the hedgerow but it has historically been used in herbal medicine. Its flowers are really amazing to look at because of their complexity.
The sheep grazing in the field seem to be enjoying the open and wooded area that borders the lane nearer the top.
The rain, thunder and lightning has stopped. It has left a freshness in the air and blue sky and fluffy white clouds have begun to reappear. The cattle in the field are not sure what to make of a human who wanders around photographing things! The white roses in the hedge are really bright amongst the green and the leaves of the various plants in the hedgerow look even more vibrant.