Crisp leaves are beginning to carpet the ground with browns, yellows, and the occasional tinge of burnt orange creating a tapestry of mulch. I adore walking through fallen leaves with their lightness and crunch, but I remain mindful that these same leaves must be cleared from the gutters and drains. When the wind comes from a particular direction, fallen leaves catch upon the electric fencing protecting our chickens, causing it to short out, rendering it ineffective and necessitating some fiddly removal of this fall foliage.
The return of autumn also brings with it morning mist covering the valley until the sun has a chance to burn through. Just out of bed, I put on my wellies and a light fleece over my P.J.’s and Sam and I head out for his first walk of the day. It is now early dawn, and in a few weeks, it will be dark at this hour, but the cool and damp air helps to freshen and awaken me. With the earliest glimmer of light from the sky, the birds respond in elation to the coming day. For Sam, it’s the smells at this hour that seem to bring him joy, and they appear to be different from those on summer walks. Rather than bouncing down the path, Sam begins his charge only to suddenly turn on a dime heading toward a stone, bush, or gap in the dry-stone wall. And there he remains, inhaling with renewed focus, the scents of a nocturnal animal that recently passed by this spot.
With the shortening of days, our encounters with wildlife will change. In the morning, I now see more rabbits and an occasional fox. During autumn, I hope to catch a glimpse, or the sound, of the rutting behaviours of resident deer in the stand of pines across the valley. Meanwhile, Sam follows a sent between some flowering gorse bushes, and I wait for him – they say a dog taking in scents is similar to reading – and look closely to the gorse bushes. With the morning mist, the spider webs covering nearly every surface inch of these prickly bushes are revealed. I never see spiders out here — they seem to live among the nooks and crannies of our house – but the evidence of their webby-work is strong.
A few weeks ago, the last broods of Swallows were chirping in the nests scattered around Crockern. To enter the barn, was to receive a warning chorus before they flew out waiting for us to leave the space they’ve claimed as their own. But in the blink of an eye, the Swallows left and are now making their way back to parts of Africa for winter. With luck, those born this year will return here in spring to their birthplace, to build nests, roost under eaves of the house, inside the barn, chicken coop, and all the sheds, and just about anywhere which feels accessible and protected. They will return to dive-bomb about the house feasting on insects and singing their happy songs. But, as one migratory bird heads away for the cooler months, another arrives: The Fieldfares are starting to make an appearance flying about the gorse bushes and reeds.
One constant remains: the scene of endless activity at our bird feeders with the Sparrows, Tits, Robins, Finches, Nuthatches and Jackdaws taking it in turns to sustain themselves on the seeds we put out daily. As soon as the sun is up, the collection of birds make an appearance at their “local”.
Chillier weather, shorter days, fewer eggs, a lower angle of the sun casting longer shadows, and our daily watch for coming frosts, necessitating a nightly covering of the vegetable beds with fleece, are some of the markers of the autumnal transition. Despite the winding down this time of the year represents, it also is a last big push before winter. In the coming weeks, we must ready our firewood for winter, clean the greenhouse of its last remnants of summer beauty, clear drains, rake leaves, mow the lawn one last time, turn and bag our compost, finish weeding, lay mulch, and straighten the barn. With this list of maintenance, should I consider planting more bulbs?
Last year, I planted 350 and thought that was plenty, until spring rolled around and I longed for even more snowdrops and daffodils to bravely announce a seasonal change. With the new oil tank in position and the Aga Saga chapter finally – and hopefully – closed, I’ve got more flowerbeds to construct. We will shift rocks, create drainage, fill the newly made beds with manure, compost and soil, and finally transfer plants. What an ideal location for more bulbs!
Autumn is a season of transition where our surrounding landscape and we switch from industry and activity to a quieter introspection. In a few weeks, we will begin to spend more time inside by the wood burner. We may take on a few smaller projects inside the house: There are floors we hope to sand, and three more ceilings to repair, among the many projects. Of course, to do any of these will not be straightforward, it never is, as there will be wires and pipes to relocate, blown plaster to repair, and all manner of surprises to address. And, we will need to move furniture out of one room and into another before putting it back again. Then again, we may look more closely to an extended period of introspection.