Have you noticed, as the nights draw in, an arachnid invasion also begins? It’s the same every year, around this time, spiders boldly proclaiming ”your house is also mine”. I thought invitations worked the other way, that the owners decided who was welcome to stay. But at least eight legged friends don’t frighten me any more, at least not the little ones, not like they did before. I used to scream for rescue from any creeping long leg, crying out for my dad to clear up every spider mess! Now I have grown adept at sharing the same space without cowering in the corner or shouting down the place. Good job, as they’re clearly making themselves at home, and I have next to no control over where they choose to roam. Oh well, the more the merrier, isn’t that what everyone says? Though I don’t suppose they’re referring to prolonged arachnid stays!
Trudging the high ridged furrows, hoping we’ve found the right track, eyes down on uneven ground, trusting it matches the map. When suddenly our boot vibrations unwittingly disturb a scrape, a Jackrabbit-in-the-box leaps up and hares across the field at pace. We watch its bounding beauty, marvelling at wild sprinting grace, a little, long-eared cheetah winning the British land-speed race. Its form gleams bright in the low light, its movements are sure and bold. In every sense, for me, this mammal claims the gold. The field is transformed to film set, the hike elevated to legend, what a moment ago was chore, I wish would never come to an end. I will the hare to stay with us but of course he is bent on retreat, and the cause of constant freedom that is hard-wired into his feet.
The wasp in my lounge is drunk on sleep and careers into everything with force, at speed. First it’s the ceiling, then it’s the beams, what is it imagining in its dreams? It dive bombs and bounces off almost everything; I am frightened for its life, but also by its sting. It’s hard to relax when a weaponised beast keeps falling from the roof and disturbing the peace. Eventually it crawls into a crevice to rest, such a relief, I don’t know which of us was more stressed!
Down at the beech beach, the leaf-sand glows beyond the reach of the path, where nobody goes. I long to vault the wall and explore this secret stretch, to curl my toes round golden crunch, along the river’s edge. But where no feet have ventured, the shining remains like virgin snow, a glimmering colour cover, gilding the humble browns below. So I’ll stand considering perfection for as long as it can last, committing the beech beach to memory, where its landscape lives on in the past.
If a creature harnesses honeysuckle to use as its trapeze, and swings and leaps with elegance and long practiced ease, you’d think I’d be eager to celebrate its flair, and announce its prowess with a wild word fanfare. But the truth is, this creature, for all of its cunning is classed in a species that we’re constantly shunning. We say we want to cultivate wildlife-friendly spaces but the fact is our welcome isn’t open to all races. And so it seems my poems baulk at serenading rats, downplaying their aerial antics, despite the impressive facts.
Don’t rely on my local rooster for your early morning alarm call, unless you have no intention of keeping any appointments at all. He can hardly be bothered to crow until at least half past eleven, I can only presume he’s still sleeping when he’d be most useful at seven. I call him the teenage cockerel for his lie-ins last legendarily long, and when he does deign to cock-a-doodle, it’s a reluctant, embarrassed type of song. Perhaps he’ll grow into his calling, piercing the dawn with his squawking cries, then of course I’ll regret my complaints and despairingly roll my eyes. I’ll wish for the halcyon days when the village could snooze on in peace. Alas! The bird never wins – there’s no conquering my caprice.
Welcome to the thrill of the night drive, where Little Owls rise, twin-moonlit rabbits dive, and ghostly sheep appear. It’s never quite quiet on the night drive, where stalwart hedgehogs thrive and kamikaze bats collide with the metallic seeker you steer. So always stay alert during the night drive, for this might be the right time to disbelieve your own eyes at the creatures that come near.
Thundering falls turn water to foam, painting wild abstract patterns all over the flow. Ebbing, marbling, drawing leaves into the spin; a dizzying circling, kaleidoscoping everything. Reflection is suspended to mesmerising whirl. I stand stock still, surrendered to the swirl.
Faltering pheasant, this is not the time to dither, I’ve slammed on the brakes but you must move quicker. Don’t get confused now, swerving one way then back, I understand you’re scared but don’t get in a flap. Head for the hedgerow, wherein lies your salvation, you’ll get there safely if you stick to one direction. Faltering pheasant, keep your head together, don’t be feather-brained, move your actual feathers… What a surge of relief now you rise above the lane, but please don’t ever do that to my fragile nerves again.
The mists have returned to their old thieving ways, kidnapping the moors, keeping them captive for days. The tops have been exchanged for a thick damp haze which shrouds out everything but close, cold greys. Mists are lauded by romantics for their air of mystery but their weeping, creeping gloom forces me into retreat. I flick every switch to flood my world with light, hoping for bluer skies tomorrow, or even frost’s first bite. Mischievous murk, please return my upward view, I want to look to the hills rather than only seeing you. Lift! Leave! Evaporate! Unhang your encroaching cloud! Let the sunshine in again. Please. Soon. Somehow.
Standing on tiptoe to reach, twist and pluck fresh from the tree gives you quite a rush. Better than posh piles stacked high in supermarket aisles, one imperfect apple picked yourself is superior by miles. Feeling the rounded weight in your lucky hand next to the tree that gave it helps you understand the worth of what you hold, and the time it took to grow; a brand new revelation of what you already know. Surveying your bounty now, you recognise it as treasure, magnifying the joy of juicy, crunching pleasure. Visit an orchard if you can, meet different varieties, their names will entrance you with their possibilities. The Russet tastes like pear, the Sunset’s sweet as pie, put Blenheim Oranges in crumbles to serve up Autumn highs. Gather them all in October before it is too late, if there’s too many to eat, it’s the perfect excuse to bake! But don’t forget the wonder of seeing them on the tree, grasping them one by one, savouring the moment deliciously.
I didn’t see who did it but I’m on to their kind, though they won’t really care just how much I mind them covering my wood stain with their foul graffiti, spoiling my fresh paint job so utterly brazenly. Hours of work invested to make the wood shed smart, now they’ve sprayed it with their filth, have they absolutely no heart? What’s the point of scrubbing it clean when I know they will return, after all, I put it in their space, when will I ever learn? How are they supposed to know what is tree and what is not? And if they could tell the difference, why would they give a diddly squat? So let this be a lesson to me and to you, you can call it ‘garden furniture’ but they’ll still name it ‘loo’!
Starlings suspended in air, whispering silent conversation, miming complex charades of shapes in ebbing, flowing synchronisation. A shimmering shoal of black rippling with tides of turning wing, a seamless fabric floating dance, an almost mystical thing. I long to join the swarm, to warp and weft with feather in flight, to harness the power of wind to be in the swell, at one with the might; to swirl in a soup of bird, a temporary twister let loose in the clouds, to help cover the tops and fields with extraordinarily beautiful shrouds. But it’s enough to stand below and drink in the awe-inspiring sensation of marvelling at the mirages of a shifting murmuration.
I thought the results would be predictable when I decided to be more hospitable to creatures exhausted by flying and creeping; any minibeast looking for a safe place to sleep in. I established my bug hotel resort with pride, congratulating myself on protecting those inside; a five star shelter offering only the best, a luxury holiday, a first class nest. (I’d followed the experts’ advice to the letter, it would be hard to build anything better.) So imagine my shock when instead of offering rehab, I found I’d unwittingly created a deadly trap. What I had designed as retreat accommodation was commandeered by blue tits seeking feeding stations! All those sleepy residents, enjoying comfort and style had been lamentably lured into somewhere horribly hostile. It just goes to show when you get involved with nature, you’re not always in control, and that is the danger!
Way to go! Ride the flow, see how far you float. Perhaps you’ll see the vast North Sea, little leaf-fall boat. What a thrill ride, surfing wild tides – sailing made extreme. But first you need to balance speed with staying above stream. Down the Nidd now, show the Ouse how, make it all the way. Do a number on the Humber, conquer the leaf boat race. Be a winner, little skimmer, play the game and thrive. Stay right on course, jet ski the force, just remember, do not dive!
Not every Autumn leaf heralds colour and beauty worthy of serenading in song and poetry. Some take on more sinister complexions, inspiring singularly ominous connections. Hostas are case in point, snakes in the grass, mottled scaly skin urging you to walk fast lest they grow into motion and slither after you, yes, hurry on past hostas, whatever you do.
Why are you still here, October Swallow? Your swoop is long gone, how can you follow? Will you try to navigate the currents alone? When did you discover you were all on your own? Were you caught sleeping while the others stole away? Are you pathologically late, or are you just afraid? Is this your first winter? Have you flown the route before? Have you any premonition of what is in store? I see the panic in your flight as you search the empty skies for any other travellers accidentally left behind. Two weeks ago I wished all the swallows had remained, but now I find I’m wishing you were far, far away. I’m willing you to beat impossible odds triumphantly, to fly six thousand miles alone, to arrive miraculously. I don’t know if you can get there, but I’ll hope with all my heart that you’ll make it to Africa if you’re brave enough to start.
This silver birch requests a new valuation, an upgrade, a higher price, a re-estimation. Yes its trunk is silver but its leaves are shining gold, its two-tone precious metal is making it feel bold. This championing fan thinks it should have its way, a re-appraisal, a neo-naming to commemorate its Autumn blaze.
The clamour is circling, parliament begins with dissonant debating in a loud cawing din. No ‘order!’ caller, no mask of civility, every claw is out in a rook committee. “Where should we roost?” “What should we eat?” “If we can’t agree on anything, why do we meet?” Who is in charge? Nobody knows. On and on they squawk, round and round they go. At least that’s how it seems from down on the ground, but perhaps I’m misinterpreting their murderous sound. Maybe they are experts in clear communication, perhaps they should contribute to governing the nation!
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.
If you want to walk in Grassington you need to get up with the lark to be totally sure to guarantee there’ll be enough space to park. Although it’s not always cars of walkers that fill up every space, but large gangs of sheep who think they own the whole place. Good luck finding room if they’ve come out in force, they’re utterly prepared to stop you seeing Linton Falls. They don’t believe in Welcome to Yorkshire’s open philosophy, it’s your departing they are marketing as their top priority! But if you squeeze in somehow and finally get your break, at least they won’t block your way to finding tea and cake.
I have put my roots down here, but they are new and shallow next to yours. Mighty Oak, how many of my lifetimes have you lived here watching settlers walk past, towering over the bankside path as it erodes towards you? I am impressed, yes – with half the world – by your staggering height, your broad shoulders and wide sheltering arms that seem to carry the sky. But your roots captivate me most, exposed by the water to reveal their true power. Fingers of weaving strength sifting, moving the earth, grasping huge boulders, twisting, turning, steadying the ground as much as yourself. Teach me how to root like you, to spread my palms wide in this soil, coil myself back around the real; and have and hold my belonging here, on actual ground.
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.
I’m only now waking to the secret power of the completely ignorable ivy flower. Who could imagine its strange ball ended stems would prove so irresistible to our buzzing friends? But its hedgerow wands are swarming with bees and wasps, sleepily downing pints, then making sudden stark drops. This is the last chance saloon for dosing up on nectar before gracefully retiring from public life for winter. So be careful when you go walking down ivy woven lanes and you hear the soft humming of gentle refrains; respect the spell of binding growth that draws each insect in and marvel at mysterious blooms bewitching flying kin.
Flames dancing the hillside, polished stained glass trees, wild abstract paintings strewn on pavement’s sheen. Deep perpetual sunsets setting on ground and growth, greenery wearing giant gems and bold designer clothes. Bright constellations of hanging sycamore stars, fallen red dwarf suns lying under ruby scars. All in one small corner of October’s gallery, a dazzling show of leaf art in just one stretch of street.
One of the best perks of living in the English countryside is the more unusual chances for pet care that so often arrive. Each year, early in October, we chicken-sit next door’s hens, releasing them, then chasing them back into their pen. They waddle and squabble like living parodies, but there’s nothing like warm, fresh-hatched eggs for free. The house across the road is still up for sale, I really want our new neighbours to have animals as well. I saw a girl in jodhpurs looking round positively, I’m hoping horse-sitting is on the horizon for me!
The first day to bite carries a sting from the north but the dog needs walking, so we must go forth. Here comes the challenge of British inclement weather, the wrapping up in endless layers that seems to take forever. But here comes the joy too of thick woollen clothes, of unearthing your favourite gloves, and pulling your snood over your nose. Here comes the cosy, the comfort and the cuddling, so hug the cold wind close, for without it there’s no huddling.
I know there are other birds still painting our broad, bright skies, but I can’t help seeing emptiness when the swallows have said their goodbyes. I know there are other Springs that will bring them back to me, but I can’t help feeling bereft every time they take their leave. I know there are other people longing for their arriving, but I wish I could keep them near while ensuring Winter thriving. I know it must be a lure, visiting multiple nations, but I wish they’d give up their tours and consider a nice long staycation. I know they deserve acclaim for flying six thousand miles, but I’d be much more impressed if they’d just not go, once in a while. I know they need African sun to warm their artistic wings, but still, I lament their loss as Autumn’s most painful thing.
It’s customary to see clubs of birds perching on a telegraph wire, but not ones including a predator among objects of its own desire. That’s why we didn’t so much look, as openly stand and gawk when a charm of goldfinches sat comfortably – next to a sparrowhawk! What on earth possessed them all to court danger so brazenly; to nestle next to a creature who would regard them as its tea? I know there’s strength in numbers, but did they do it for a dare; goading each other on to seek thrills by precariously staying there? Hearts in mouths, we watched them, waiting for one to call chicken and flee, but they all remained there resolute, standing their ground recklessly. Thankfully they did react when their neighbour took ominous flight, bouncing away delightedly without suffering a single bite!
Did you ever see the wonder of light painting plants before your eyes, like an escapee science experiment in the laboratory of the wild? In primary school we shut beans in the dark to see what they would do, and were amazed to watch the staggering heights to which they desperately grew to find the light they needed to transform white into thriving green, to look again like the healthy shoots we’d previously always seen. This year, inspired by the neighbours, I bought Autumn crocus bulbs, and we’re watching the sun paint them purple as their light-seeking petals unfold. Tucked away in their paper bag, they had already started to flower, but were pure delicate white before feeling the sun’s magic pen power. Now I’m reminded of this colour play, I look for it all around and find creeping veins pumping green into shrubs on shaded ground. But I have to rest my brain after thinking so hard about the biology that conjures such incredible shifts with a touch of illuminosity.