On Walking: Thursday 18th September

Today, walking down the Banbury Road, I notice the leaves on the limes are curling and starting to drop. The heavy green boskiness of late summer is beginning to lighten; the trees are beginning to draw into themselves. The banked lushness of comfrey has withered, the plants collapsing inwards, and the nettles have never been more beautiful. The smaller, higher leaves are a splotched bright green; the larger leaves are a peachy-pink, their veins and edges black, as if  inked in by a child.

Nettles

I can see through the verge now, to the secrets held in the wide, sandy-earthed ditch behind. The orange pixie-posts of Lords and Ladies stand beside the re-emerging crowns of primulas. Puff ball fungi swells in the dampest hollows beneath the trees.

It’s hot; the Indian summer warmth has amplified the smells of Autumn; leaf-litter, sheep-shit, elderberries, tarmac. I practically skip down the Banbury Road, it makes me so happy.

By the road bridge, I turn right, into the fields below the dryer. The margins have been cut, and the fields look at once bigger and smaller. They are roughly brown, stubble poking through at odd angles, and I wonder what’s been planted, what will soon start to grow. Pants circles off in search of deer, and Dora inspects and pees upon every single black mound of fox poo.

I reach the bridge to Emma’s meadow and eye the cows. They eye me back, barely ten yards from where I’m standing. I whistle the dogs, and turn left, down to Bra Corner. The closely-cut margins make for blissfully easy walking.

I haven’t walked here since the start of summer, but it’s like rediscovering something precious; the heap of stricken alder, covered in thick moss (must remember, for Christmas and the mistletoe ball), the rioting cricket willow. Pants still growls at the upturned roots of a tree, its bark rotted and its wood bleached dirty white, like giant bones.

The Sor Brook is quiet, unhurried. It’s loud for most of the Winter and Spring, foam trembles in its rushing tea-brown eddies. Now though, it’s palest amber in the sun-dampled shallows, darkly green in its depths. It slides slowly past, almost silent; serene.

Oak gall
An oak gall

Dead dry thistles and hogweed straws rustle beneath my boots. I walk on beneath old friends; the sweet chestnut with its glossy, scissor-cut leaves, the alder with its golden grace. Then to one of my favourites, an oak beneath which narcissus grow in the Spring.  It has hardly any acorns this year, the gall wasp has turned them all to odd round, dry, marble-type things.

I go on, and the secret passage is in front of me, strapped with brambles, prickling with blackthorn. I look at the defences consideringly, and eat a blackberry.
The dogs go through but I turn and walk up beside the hedge. Autumn needs to do its work here, then the deer will return. I pinch another blackberry, walking with my face to the sun. Some secrets, I decide, can be saved for another day.

On Walking: Thursday 11th September

God, I love September.

Hawthorn berries, rosehips and honeysuckle in North Oxon
Hawthorn berries, rosehips and honeysuckle

The dogs and I are over Bramshill, listening to the ducks telling each other off on the carp ponds. I’m sat on the stile, and I can smell great wafts of wild honeysuckle and sweet grass. I’m eating sun-warmed elderberries, pips and all, and watching a small brown bird inspect the rash of berries on the hawthorn bushes.

It’s almost six in the evening, golden time, and I’ve abandoned the washing up from the children’s tea to run away, up the hill.

As I watch, a fat Bumble Bee arrives to harvest the honeysuckle, and I creep up to take a photograph. Pants comes to see what I’m doing, then barks hysterically at the bee.

 

I laugh and  the bee retracts and reverses, louder than ever. Pants jumps away, then sits down as if in great trouble. The bee visits another flower, and the silly dog sits and trembles.

‘Silly Silky Pair,’ I tell him. ‘Silly boy.’

Bumble bee on wild September honeysuckle

Dora arrives to see what the fuss is about, then regards him with disgust.

We walk on, through the spinney and up through the stubble field, and I wonder about bees, and whether it’s true that their pollen can support our production of white blood cells. How does that work though? How do you get the pollen from the bee before it seals it into a comb? I really hope it happens without involving the death of the bee.

At the top of the hill, I pause, looking over one of my favourite views. Everything’s tipped with gold in the evening light; even the fields that have been drilled have a richness to the brown of their earth.

We walk on, Dora at my heels, Pants running away from his shadow ahead. I climb the stile leading to Clump, and notice the sloes – the most I’ve ever seen in this spot. I think joyous thoughts of gin, and hurry-up hurry-up to the first cold snap.

As I turn for home I remember the pasta pans and chopping boards from the  children’s tea. The ironing mountain and the bath with the grubby stripe. The new school uniform, still nameless, still heaped on the armchair.

Ripening sloes over Bramshill
Ripening sloes over Bramshill

But then I think of my saved Bombay Sapphire bottles, sat in dusty ranks, just waiting, waiting, for the sloes with that first kiss of  frost.