If you want to taste truly gorgeous gourmet food, don’t book a posh restaurant, head for your nearest wood, or better yet trek for miles and climb a long, steep hill; spread a blanket on the moor, then sit and eat your fill. Never mind the mizzle or the fierce, gusting wind, this is where Michelin-starred dining truly begins. Replace fine wines with flasks of well brewed tea; make the menu sliced spiced cake smeared in rich toffee. What is the science behind the supremacy of outside food? Is it working up an appetite that makes it taste this good? Is it some kind of reaction with plain old fresh air that creates culinary triumphs out of ordinary fare? The best fish and chips are always eaten on the beach, go ahead, keep testing this philosophy I preach. I dare you to try and find something that tastes better inside than outside, even in inclement weather. So go on, treat yourself, dine out in your woolies, crown yourself the connoisseur, king of all the foodies.
Stacking and packing logs out in the cold, picturing weeks of warming fires as I pick and hold each chunk of potential in my grateful hands, recognising wood-piling helps me better understand the cost of the heat my winter body seeks, the gift that is held in each piece of tree. There is a kind of grounding, connecting education that builds as I build the stack in tessellation. And as I mindfully take each log out from the bag, what do you know? One smiles back.
I will stand under the beech tree as the west wind blows and dance among its whirling, twirling gold leaf snow. I will gaze up at its burnished clouds that scatter gilded birds and let myself rest from trying to find the perfect words to capture, to conjure, to hold the moment tight, to pin it to paper before it’s lost to time’s wild flight. I will stand under the beech tree as the west wind blows and spin and laugh, rejoicing in its rustling, radiant glow.
Little, lost, lonely sun, where has all your lustre gone? All your shine’s shone out and fallen, every charred quartz treasure stolen. Dazzling show reduced to husk, lights turned off, day made dusk. Do you remember when your bright head beamed spotlights of shade across the ground beneath? Do you mourn all you used to be, towering tall and blazing free? Little, lost, lonely sun, don’t despair, you are not done. You will rise again – at least a thousand fold – dawning brand new stars of beautiful, burning gold.
If I could, I’d spend all of Autumn’s precious days chasing the changing up the country’s motorways. I’d drink deep colour all the way from coast to coast, moving on before it faded to brown so I could boast the biggest dose of blazing leaves one person ever saw, a greater drenching in acorn rain than anyone had before. I would gather vast bouquets of perfect poppy heads and make giant installations of all the beautiful living dead. I would feast on fruit from every corner of the isle and stir great batches of sticky jam all the while. I would absorb the abundance, immersed in every vivid sensation till there was no time left for that feeling of consternation that creeps and persists as the grey also builds, and paints a counterpoint of gloom to all that glorious gild. This is how I’d choose to celebrate all that Autumn has to give and rise above the dampening bleak to truly, fully live.
A butterfly in the house is a strangely magical thing, like a fairy painting over ordinary with whimsical wings. All that fluttering motion against the stasis of four walls whispers to the freedom deep within that eagerly calls back to childhood, to wonder, and to lingering play, to chasing fleeting colours on bright Summers’ days. I seek to guide them out, though their leaving is loss, but today’s snoozy Tortoiseshell won’t accept me as boss. It’s determined to move in for winter’s full duration, folding up its wings to suspend in hibernation. We’ve coaxed it from the stairs and the shelves in the hall but it won’t budge from the conservatory roof at all. No matter, now it’s safe, it’s very welcome to stay where the heating can’t confuse it that it might be May. It’s a very special guest I’m delighted we can keep – a still-winged sprite taking an enchanted beauty sleep.
Whenever the waysides fill with seed heads and teasels, I half expect to come across paint pots and easels, so strong is their connection to lessons in art and a succession of teachers trying to impart the beautiful way they display texture and shape, the perfect still life subjects their arrangements make. The hours went slow trying to echo them on paper, and I spent most of the time talking to my neighbour. I still can’t capture Autumn’s emblems in charcoaled lines but I have learned to recognise them as treasured finds. I bring them indoors and group their stems in jars with flair, enjoying their finery now, and remembering then and there.
The first mornings of September feel just like that, with clear blue skies, low golden light, and crisp air that smells of fresh beginnings, carrying with it the always remembered expectation of brand new exercise books and shiny, sharpened pencils. The dew is so heavy it glimmers like frost and even though it’s decades since my terms began, I still feel I must be back to school soon. Focus and purpose pervade the day, the chilling air forcing a final goodbye to summer, and a growing acceptance that as the students return, so the swallows must leave again too.
Goodnight gorgeous gloaming, you perfect evening lantern show. Thanks for flooding my bedroom with your magic golden glow. My west window’s a portal to time between times’ shine, to somewhere more than sunset I ache to capture, keep as mine. It feels wrong to close my curtains in the presence of such light but despite summer’s solstice, I need it to be night. So goodnight gorgeous gloaming with your halcyon hints of glory, return soon so I can climb the stairs and retrace my steps into story.
There is a fragrant type of rose I don’t often see, it grows in Irene’s garden, its name’s not known to me. But two years now in June when she’s come round for tea, she’s brought us its flowers in a little gift posy. This year when she left, I remembered its story, how all that beauty and perfume found a second round of glory. And though I knew from last time the recipe would come through, it still felt girlish make-believe to mix a petal strewn pink stew! But when sugared water plays with rose, perfect scent transcends its sense, and magic liquid Turkish delight pours out delicious decadence.
A rustle in the leaves nestled near the track then suddenly we see him, almost lost in brown on brown. A mini mountain climber hauling up his hill, crawling rhythmic, almost vertical till suddenly he’s still. Pace and progress all forgotten when he senses us loom large, he freezes, hoping hard to merge with deep rich soil. We recommence our walk so he can reach his peak but remember him all day, the woodland toad we chanced to meet.
High up in my valley lies a secret second dale, its river is a beck, its hills mere bank sides steep. Gladed and shaded and overrun with moss, every inch of it fairied green as if time itself got lost. This is where I climb to walk my thoughts all out. I leave them in the rock pools that break the water as it falls.
My warren watching on the field side track is rudely interrupted by the sudden blur and buzz of a little orange helicopter darting through the tree canopy, like a tiny drunken pilot is testing out his moves. Unexpected colour, iridescent in the sun, demands my attention rises above hillside hopping fun. Spot it if you can, before it speeds away, the first dragonfly of summer dived across my path today.
This is how you know a fern is not bracken, its leaves flow from the ground in an emerald fountain. Everything unfurling from each single one was squeezed into its frond before the stretching was begun. I too will seek to trust this inside out becoming, leave behind sideways growth, sprawling wide and running.
What miracle magic is this to take a black spiked bug and transform crawling ignominy into something like fairy dust? The jewel patterned Peacock takes wing, fluttering with finesse and spin. Does its memory, however faint, remember the days before paint transformed jet black to vibrant hue and lifted it bodily to bird’s eye view?
Strung across the sycamore stump and among holly and hawthorn hedge, are bunches of pale fairy lights bobbing and twinkling between the green. Almost always just out of my reach, but determined to follow its climb, I stand on tiptoe beneath, a seeker of perfect highs. Gently bending a string towards me, sweet intoxication is mine, all at once, delicately hushed, in the garden, posh hand creams and candles fill my mind. I wonder if I’ll ever find myself rewilded quite nearly enough for nature’s purest pleasures to stop reminding me of man-made stuff. It’s a beautiful, layered sensation, all that luxury echoing round, but it leaves me quietly curious can true honeysuckle highs still be found?
This grass heart of unmown lawn left to meadow is a little love song calling to every bumbling bee. Linger among my wildflower petals, feast on their pollen sweet, hover and buzz all around me, you’re welcome to gather and greet.
The river path by us winds narrow and gnarly, so watch your step as well as the wild – especially where, among silt and stone, tree toes cross the path like splayed little crow claws, moving at wood stretching slow towards – not beside – the water. For I can’t help but think, even mighty oaks wince when careless booted walkers tread and trample on their feet!
Headed towards the river path through a field of unremarkable grass, I am on my way to somewhere when here transcends just route to pass. One step I’m not paying any attention, the next stops me as if at destination, compelled to pause, to better drink the scent of summer cordial fizzing in the air. Moving forward it fades, as quickly as it arrested, just like the sudden felt enchantment of beautiful new ideas, fragrances whispering “write me”, lost to the wind if not caught.
If strength is in numbers, today I learned Britain doesn’t belong to us, but to the tiny field voles who live beneath the grass. Many millions of mini mammals, an army of blackberry hunters, mining underground networks, predating kings and conquerors. I wonder what they make of us giant ground shakers above? I wonder if Victorious Voletannia is our island’s true nation state?
The performance starts two days late, but oh, when it comes, it astounds. Tumultuous timpani rolls open, then the plucking of rain begins; each staccato strike bouncing high from every newly made instrument with echoing, ringing springs. Now the wind roars in, the gutters squeak, and hail smacks the windows hard. And here inside, we listen in awe to virtuoso weather as constant crescendo serenades the valley and drowns out all domesticity.
A serendipitous moment, when something in nature mirrors another, familiar shape and all at once takes on all its meaning and metaphors. This time it’s a forgotten fragment, just a piece of discarded rose, easy to miss in bank-side bramble, but plucked out in triumph by you. “It’s a perfect heart!” you say, and I think to myself as you hold it – this is like my heart, petal, cup it gently, but safely secure for it’s a fleeting, fragile-edged thing, more flower than flame after all. Cherish its lingering fragrance, keep company with its translucent beauty, I trust you with it completely for as long as its bloom remains.
The first time I saw one for real, it perched on my shoulder. I was transfixed. Enraptured. So proud. The photo still projects that inner moment out and makes me smile a mirror image back to my smaller self some three decades on. It felt so wild, I remember the thrill, even though now I know the same engineered touch as tame. But all the more special, my history here, when I come less close, but seem more close, in those wondrous moments of chance encounter. A penetrating stare, a back garden pass, a maybe glimpse in the field. Low flight in moor’s dusk light as I drive by in twilight, soft landing on ruined tree. I’ll never see them enough to get over their singular rush every time they grace my world.
Who choreographs this wild wind dance to secret, silent score? Their seemingly effortless dramatics in synchronised floating acrobatics deserve a standing ovation. The near misses, the close crosses, the warp, the weft, the scatter. The duets, the trios, the whole troupe in full flow, the joy, the high jinx, the wonder. From premiere in May to September’s curtain call day, you’ll find me here, sat in awe. Lingering to watch, night after night, this dazzling aerial ballet.
It’s the zing of childhood glee in pure nostalgic taste. Last year’s shared crop was eaten like candy and candied to jams of deep purple red and frog spawn green. But this year, this year the gift has grown. It’s smaller for now but rooted and rising… a tantalising taste of what’s to come – an old fashioned sweet shop on my own back lawn! Already now, a leafy hand opens, offering me its enticing treat, the first, fine, plump little gooseberry, a glorious, gorgeous gobstopper fruit.
I think I’d get indigestion if I ate my muesli while swinging rapidly, dramatically, always to and fro. But the bird on my neighbours’ feeder is an extreme sport kind of eater. He munches unperturbed, seemingly undisturbed, as if it causes him no commotion to be flung in ocean like motion. But I suppose if you’re already good at drilling your head into wood, your view of a breakfast swing is a much more causal thing. So rock on woody, rock on, enjoy your fly-through brunch, I’ll see you again for peekaboo round the silver birch over lunch.
Newly planted, there’s no hint yet of tall tiered colour and carousels of bright, bold bonnets. But long before ruby-red carmine, nestled among the still-green, a perfectly centred aqua jewel – sun-polished to reflect sky’s blue – turns a humble multi-pointed leaf-star to a fleeting new shape of flower power before silently, secretly, stealing full away.
You’re right I should be protected, it’s overdue time for some serious alarm, but let me remind you I’m more easily adapted, than fatally, finally harmed. I’ll still find my ways of growing, despite your UPVC, I’ll break through your concrete with petals, you’ll struggle to ever tame me. You’ll find me when least expected, asserting myself in new ways, remember I was here before you, I’ve weathered countless days. I’m not suggesting complacent inaction, but I am reminding you to hope, my true present and potential future are way beyond your scope!
Dappled light plays on the path, casting spots, shining shifting beams. First a robin glows in the limelight, now holly leaves gleam newly mossy-bright. December reflections are conjured in June with subtle tricks of light, the now merging with yesterdays and tomorrows as yet unknown. The path’s such a threadbare metaphor, light breaking through such a tired idea, yet they’re inescapably, effervescently embodied on a day, on a walk, like today’s. I am moving through sunlight in shadow, following hope as illumined green. I am breathing the sweet scents of journey, I am here and not where I have been.
Double, double toil and trouble, notice stagnant drain bubble. Amphibious limbs stirring the stew can’t leap out or break through plastic pipe to find relief from impending, final sleep, till… suddenly lowered in kindly stoop a ladle comes, full size of the soup. Deus ex machina! Not a moment to soon, frog soars to safety on flying spoon.
Seven seconds of moment if that at eight fifty five one Wednesday evening. Right time, right place, thank the neighbours, he’s suddenly there, tucked right in close to the bank. Twitching nose up, on high alert to whole river, then gone in ripple of wiggle and shimmer.
Striding over hills, gliding over trees, the carnival arrives as we drink our morning tea. Dragons in our vista, giants tumbling by, a magic, mystery pageant in an English country sky. Early morning adventures while breakfasting in bed, enacting wisest nonsense, six impossibilities in my head.
She wiggles her wings like fluttering eyelashes, all at once playing coy and coquette. He lindy-hops round in eager reply, to the rhythm of silent sound. Choreography rehearsed again the very next day as if this were the right-on hip spot. Dunnocks dance! Come on down! Dazzle us dizzy with your lively jive! Who says you’re just dull, drear brown?
There’s no appointment in the diary. But here he is on a Thursday morning, marching across the top of my screen demanding top spot on my task list. I squint to better assess his identity, but he comes from some tiny, alien outside world and I have never seen his orange hue or diminutive shape before. He is clearly here on long distance reconnaissance, a miniature discoverer bent on conquering Inside. Nose close, I see him lift his tiny front legs to his face, washing, or feeding, perhaps even waving, who’s to say? When I next look up from my words he’s gone, presumably finished with living room circumnavigation, maybe he’s now bravely claiming the hall.
It’s back again, pressing pause on life al fresco, putting a dampener on day three of thirty appointed wild.
Cats and dogs, drizzle and mizzle – we need the whole soggy symphony of words to shower down when we’re so often left bemoaning it in fifty flinty tones of exasperated grey!
Drat that smudger of pictures, the infamous drowner of parties. Blast that endless wet-wiper-outer of best laid plans!
But today, instead, I grant it absolution; re-name it simply, relief, and secretly, gleefully cheer it on: “rain, rain don’t go away don’t wait until another day”
Go on, join the song…
Clap as it waters the garden! Welcome the softening of hard, hard ground! Enjoy it diluting mercury risen and remaining… day after day, in a most un-English way!
Cherish shutting the doors and love living your inside life, set free from the burning compulsion to bask in every moment of rare British sun. Admit you share our natural, national condition – you were actually also quite missing the rain!
All is spring and going, growing gradual fruit… till stop! A sudden surprise shouts bright. What’s this traffic light change among the leaves? Two plump pioneers of summer gleam among the green, scarlet beacons of a nearly season nigh. And quickly June tastes like July; zesty, sweet and juicy red ripe. With one sight, and just one irresistible, little bite, here comes all that flavour zinging and singing – exploding the promise of picnics, parties, schools-out and pimms, of bunting and beaches, and long-lingering evenings, of lanterns, longing and lazy bliss. Here it is all at once now, all together in a rush now – a choice premonition of holiday boldly trespassing my everyday, like the scent of next door’s barbecue or a curlew’s call to the wild.
Hello buttercup, you deserve a closer look. More than cheeky lawn invader or nostalgic chin shine player, you shimmer your own sheen’s song in miniature canary splendour. Now I really see you, little sun, I notice your distinction among your companions as you scatter gladly among the grass in an earthbound constellation. Standing tall, petals splayed fiercely wide and free, you are a five limbed leaper held still in perfect, extended lines. Your head thrown back, abandoned to the sky, as if you had forgotten you were meant to be any sort of cup at all – while each of your neighbours huddles and cuddles her petals close, holding back her own perhaps-dance in reticent, secret possibility.