Each season has its typical location. Who wouldn’t want to be by the sea in the summer, or standing on a mountain in the refreshing spring breeze? As for winter, where better to be than a metropolis, with the bright lights of the big city bouncing off the wet sidewalks.
But in autumn, the mind inevitably wanders into the countryside: the woods, orchards and lanes of Britain where the trees and shrubs grow heavy with fruit and the rich soil bursts with mushrooms.
There birds sing in the seasons. As the cuckoo heralds spring, so the fieldfare heralds autumn.
While walking through a forest in Herefordshire this week, I heard the raucous cackling of these colorful members of the thrush family as they stocked up on windfall windfalls in a hillside orchard.
Forget politics, enjoy the fall colors: soft dappled light filters through the canopy to illuminate the leaves, tree trunks and forest floor covered with fallen autumn leaves
In the foreground is a small path through the forest, which is also covered with leaves and sunlight. Orange colored leaves cling to a tree in the fall. The big tree is surrounded by conifers and larch
A woman walks through a gap between two large maple trees
And I witnessed autumn in the beginning of its glory, with the leaves of the trees ‘turning’.
Can any human art be compared to the spectacle of the countryside in autumn? When the hedges of the avenues glisten in gold and the wood flickers with all the red flames.
An oak leaf had turned the color of copper and enough leaf had fallen and started to rot to produce that characteristic spicy scent of autumn, a scent reminiscent of frankincense.
A wreath of mist lay low about the trees as a rooster pheasant made its way through the carpet of leaves in the manner of a fastidious bishop leading a procession.
The sky above was that bright, cold blue you get at this time of year, and beneath my feet the fallen acorns of the stately oaks cracked and crackled.
This air of abundance is not limited to my local forest area. Up and down the land, trees groan with fruit, horse chestnut conkers cover the ground, and gardeners report an abundance of everything from plums to walnuts.
This remarkable abundance can be attributed to the bizarre weather we experienced this year: a wet spring followed by summer heat waves.
Drought-affected trees and shrubs are putting all their efforts into producing more seeds to create a new generation.
The oaks in my local wood have worked particularly hard. It is indeed a “fattening year” for acorns — meaning we have a record crop — something that happens every three to five years.
Other British trees have mast years, especially beech. Nature is fickle though, and while there are reports of beech masts all over the UK and Ireland, the Herefordshire Beech which I consider mine – one can be oddly fond of certain trees – only produces a few chaff, and even this one had shriveled grains.
Autumn morning at Tarn Hows in the Lake District National Park, Cumbria
Native wild European hedgehog curled into a ball, preparing for hibernation, is depicted. Front facing in colorful fall or fall leaves
As the light faded on a still autumn afternoon, I saw a jay enjoying the acorn bonanza. It flew down, filling its bill, then took off with its white fuselage blinking, like a light bulb, to add to its cache.
This secret pantry, dug into the forest floor or pecked from the end of a rotten branch, allows the bird to survive the harsh winters.
Elsewhere, a gray squirrel crouched on its haunches, chewing furiously while taking full advantage of nature’s bounty.
My pigs are allowed into the woods at this time of year to stuff their snouts with acorns, an autumn farming ritual known as ‘pannage’.
It once enabled the survival of the pig economy. My mother’s family owned panna dishes in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley until the 1600s, a matter literally worth fighting over, according to court records at the time.
A mother and daughter frolic among the falling leaves in a city park
A red deer roars in the Bushy Park deer park, London. Red deer and fallow deer still roam freely in the park, just like when Henry VIII hunted in the park
Gray Cranes (Grus grus) fly to their resting place at sunset over the lake
But fewer and fewer of us are practicing the old ways, and pannage is a tradition only found in the New Forest today.
There is also excitement in the autumn frosts; the way it anticipates the thrill of winter, without the real drudgery of melting snow or the incessant rain of February.
And it’s the white kiss of frost that sweetens blackthorn, the plum-like fruit of blackthorn and the crucial ingredient of that country Christmas classic, blackthorn gin.
Because in this season we behave just like the birds and animals. Just as the jay prepares his pantry and the squirrel fattens by feeding on acorns, we humans are busy making blackberry jelly and apple chutney and collecting chestnuts to roast over an open fire.
It’s all about collecting what gets you through the winter. There’s something pleasantly prehistoric about plucking hazelnuts from the hedge (if you can beat the squirrels) like our Stone Age ancestors did.
Indeed, until the 1950s, Britain was dependent on collecting the wild foods of autumn. During World War II, when U-boat activity threatened the nation’s supply lines, the Department of Food even produced a pamphlet titled “Hedgerow Harvest” and sent non-combatants to pick nuts and berries.
The men from the Ministry were up to something. One of their top picks of the fall crop was the rosehip, the scarlet fruit of the dog rose, Rosa canina. If you’re worried about the cost of supermarket ‘superfoods’ from exotic jungles in these inflationary days, don’t worry.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a railway viaduct on the West Highland Line in Glenfinnan, Inverness-shire
Sunny weather in the autumn park in the afternoon. The leaves lie on the ground of a deciduous forest of beech trees lit by the sun’s rays
The rose hip contains 426 mg of vitamin C per 100 g. . . the acai berry from the Amazon a meager 9.1 mg.
The dog rose is below the tree line all over Britain, and this year the hips are the biggest I can remember. In the hedge in the avenue they hang seductively like rubies.
The hawthorn trees were also laden with fruit, and the sight of the blood-red berries recalled the venerable Scottish saying ‘Mony haws, mony saws’ – lots of haws, lots of snow.
An old mountain ash, erect in spite of the wind and the years, was adorned with scarlet berries—another omen in folklore of a cold, harsh winter to come.
The sour smell of wild crab apples made my walk so much more enjoyable because I picked enough to make a crab apple jelly. How much more fun to forage than to fight with a cart through the aisles of the supermarket.
Free food and drink, what’s not to like about the generosity of fall? And it didn’t stop at the rosehip. Down in the bronze leaf litter of the forest floor I found the grail of the mushroom pickers: the porcini mushrooms, also called ‘porcini’ by chefs.
The bursting of Boletus edulis through the forest floor is as sure a sign of autumn as the fieldfare landing.
Fall colors are reflected in the water at Buttermere in the Lake District, Cumbria
View towards St. James Park in London during the autumn season with golden trees and sunshine
I cut ten of the porcini mushrooms into existence encouraged by the damp mist, leaving a similar number—one-tenth for nature.
Porcini mushrooms are loved by invertebrates and rodents alike, as well as gastronomes, and while they may be at the top of the menu, 20 other edible mushrooms appear in the fall, which is mold time on these islands.
By this time it was owl light, when darkness fell.
This weekend, the night sky will be dotted with diamond stars and shelled by comets, as an Orionid meteor shower illuminates the October night sky.
As I turned to go home, there was the bark of a fallow deer buck through the chilly air. Then the thump of bone to bone. Two dollars closed an antler. Autumn is the rutting season, the mating season.
It may seem like a period of death and decay—the Americans even call the season “The Fall”—but when you think about it, autumn is also the beginning of things, the beginning of life.