It may be that the summer has brought an exceptionally bursting autumn

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I have never known an autumn like this before. It has seemed so energetically beautiful, and almost bizarrely fruitful. It might have been the long hot summer which has given us an appetite for every other sort of weather. Downpours, drizzle, the sharpness of evening sun against massed black clouds: these are all now welcomed as old friends, long absent. The other day, I walked, joyously coatless in old-fashioned drenching rain, watching the dog's mahogany-coloured hair part along his spine as it got soaked. And then home to toast white sliced and spread it with damson jam from a neighbour's tree.

It may be that the summer has brought an exceptionally bursting autumn. For weeks round here, cider orchard people have been talking about how the apples are early this year. They have certainly looked stunning. A neighbour with gnarled old Cox's orange pippins in her garden orchard says that they have excelled themselves.

One oak tree on my daily walk has thrown down an awesome carpet of seed. It lies on the edge of a copse in a very secret fold of land where I often come across a fox, which suns itself into such a stupor that it hardly notices my approach and can hardly be bothered to disappear among the trees when it does.

The oak tree's acorns lie, surprisingly large and torpedo-like, on the dark red, newly-ploughed earth where the wheat is already sprouting. I have never seen crops do that so fast, and it looks as though the ground has been storing up baked nutrients, just waiting for rain to set the energy free.

I have filled my pockets with Hereford acorns, and am determined to grow them into oaks, alongside others which I brought home from a wood near the vines in which I used to work in Aquitaine. They will join some chestnuts from the beige dirt of the Tuilleries gardens, others rescued from the gutter near the cathedral in Bordeaux, and some beech brought home from a castle mound in Bavaria. God help me, we will have an ecologically- incorrect little Euro-wood, if I can persuade the village chairman to fence-off an area in one of his fields.

I am working on him to back a scheme to see if the village might buy one of the few orchards which has not been grubbed up for housing. I fancy that we could graze pigs under the decrepit trees, and plant some new ones. Our local organic farmer has taken to keeping pigs, and I rather hope we can prevail on him to use our acre or two as a pleasing holiday camp for the best-behaved of his porkers.

It would be something, one autumn soon, to have apple-flavoured ham to serve with the ceps, field mushrooms, parasols and puff-balls which have also thrived this year. I was struck by the pinkish gills of one handful of mushrooms: one could riffle them under one's fingers, as though flicking the pages of a very supple vellum book.

The housemartins have gone, leaving the skies to the ceaseless aerial combat between the crows and the buzzards. This morning, which dawned and stayed absolutely clear and bright, the buzzards seemed more determined than ever to display themselves. A friend and I went out quite early, and from the vantage point of the hill behind the village, the birds were often flying at eye level, their underwings the palest beige, white almost, and so close that one fancied one could hear their wing-beat. It's a week or so since I saw geese honking towards new grazing: but for several evenings they filled the horizon like waves of bombers.

Has all this always gone on so richly, and something stopped me exalting as much as I have this year? There is an element of that, I think. Perhaps my age, and perhaps the fact that I have now lived here for nearly six years, has opened me up, left me freer to enjoy. But it has been an exceptional year and nature really was agog to tip out into this terrain a most extraordinarily gawdy and dazzling jewel-case.