Autumn has been long in the coming. The first leaves started falling in mid-July. You don’t notice how early Autumn starts when you live in the city. It’s definitely the season of harvesting.
French people are all ready for Autumn. I saw my first scarf-wearer in the supermarket in the tail-end of August when it was still 27 ° out there. Their logs are all collected and chopped, and I smelled my first wood fire in the air the other evening. Hopefully, they were just testing. Our fire hasn’t been lit since March and I don’t want to light it until September is out. We’ll see, though.
The preparations are underfoot to get all the grapes in (I’m making juice concentrate to freeze this year… a lot of effort went into the wine harvest last year, and to be honest, whilst the wine was potent, it tasted like anti-freeze) and to prepare the garden for Winter. You might laugh. It’s only just September and it was 25 ° yesterday. Steve chainsawed the big beech hedge. I pruned the little bits. The hedges in the garden are now done, the soil has been dug over once – though I’ll do it again and then rotavate it before Winter really gets here. Pots are being emptied, the compost heap is at full capacity and I’m thinking about bonfires. Any wood we prune goes to kindling.
I battled yesterday with the bittersweet nightshade that seems to have sprung up from nowhere in a patch I cleared in April. It’s not quite as toxic as deadly nightshade but it can still give you a good dose of poisoning and is toxic to many animals. If Steve goes missing, you know how I killed him. What amazed me was that the chickens – ever interested in whatever is being dug up – were pecking around, missing the berries and finding the insects. Even they know. I worried about them getting paralysed or hallucinating (not sure how one would know that a chicken was hallucinating though!) but they seem fine and are all present and correct this morning. The Cicely M. Barker Flower Fairies illustration for deadly nightshade was always one of my favourites – he was a Middle Eastern boy with a purple and gold turban – and I think it’s always been instantly recognisable to me because of that drawing.
After I’d reduced the size of the patch quite considerably, I decided it was about time I cycled somewhere. I’ve been so busy it has escaped me. It was early evening by the time I set off and I did a 20km circuit in the most pleasant of circumstances (except the for the bit where I cycled into a cloud of insect and I accidentally ingested some). It was warm and the cornfields smelled like breakfast cereal. The best time for everything smelling like breakfast is in May, when all the wheat and corn are ripe. It’s amazing. It smells like warm cereal – none of the yeasty smell of bread – but it’s gorgeous. There are a couple of innocuous, tiny peach trees about a kilometre from here which I could smell from a good 100 metres away. In fact, I could smell the peaches before I even knew the trees were there. In many other places, the smell of fermenting fruit left to rot is boozy and thick in the air. Pears are the strongest. Then in other places, there’s a grapey, clean smell – hard to explain, but I know precisely which type of grape it is. We have some that smell like that too. And late cow parsley adds to the scented melange.
I cycled past hedgerows almost devoid of blackberries, and some still with fat, huge blackberries waiting for someone to come along and harvest them. The sweet chestnuts are starting to fall, and their lime-green armour litters the floor. Walnuts are everywhere.
As I cycled back, the sun had sunk on the horizon and the sky was all shades – dark blue, indigo, lavender, lilac, soft pink, muted oranges. The moon was up already, ghostly and ephemeral, but it was still warm and the last downhill stretch coming home was delicious.
I guess that’s what I’m living for these days. How I love Autumn.