Autumn has a sadness to it as days grow short and cold and vegetation dies all around us. Yet it has its own energy and pace; the dying plants are reproducing, new life lying in wait for the spring. Fruits and seeds feed us, feed other animals; more life arising out of death.
I have felt a childlike, secretive excitement this year, anticipating the colours and change of autumn, the season Lincolnshire has yet to show me. And as the days shorten, I feel the world racing towards the solstice, into that darkness from which we emerge into the light once more.
‘Mellow fruitfulness,’ said Keats in his Ode to Autumn. Yes, my autumns are full of fruit. But mellow? My autumns are a busy time, when I dream of jars and preserving pans.
Our new garden has just one apple tree, but the hedgerows are dripping with blackberries, elderberries, rowanberries, rosehips. And house after house has a table outside selling excess apples or plums for next to nothing.
Last autumn, sweating over chutneys in our Manchester kitchen, waiting for the house to sell, allotment produce heaped around me, I imagined this next one would be slower, quieter, with a pace like Keat’s lovely poem.
I hadn’t reckoned with the bounty of the English countryside. Once again I have been sweating, chopping, stirring: stuffing summer into bottles while partner makes wine out of everything.
Back home in the flatlands and out for an evening bike ride on Star Fen: I love this place for its pretty name and for being so quiet and remote, so close to our village.
The photos can’t do justice to the quality of the light at this time of day; nor to the cute and curious alpacas who live on the fen. The bike is my ‘second-best’ one, old but lovely, recently come here to live from my mum’s house and out for her first spin on the fen roads.
A day later I walked with Boston Ramblers on the last of their summertime evening walks. In July we walked until 9pm, but yesterday the light was fading fast when we finished at 8.15. We walked briskly by road and river at South Kyme (see South Kyme by Ferry Lane). I drove home into a dusky sky streaked with pink, watching the lights of combine harvesters on the dark road ahead.
Late summer is deceptive, a time of contrasts; in the still, slow heat plants are racing to reproduce and while some of us laze on bank holiday beaches farmers are working into the night to bring the harvest in.
If you’ve been following for a while, you may remember No longer the dog field about the arrival of sheep in the field at the end of our road, making it a no-go area for our bloodthirsty lurchers.
Yesterday the sheep and their now quite well grown lambs were suddenly gone, leaving only close-cropped sward and the odd hank of fleece behind them. Bob, the very elderly three-legged lurcher, is no longer going for proper walks, but Naughty Doris scampered happily round the field this morning. We went back later on my return from a walk with the Boston Ramblers (a pleasant tramp in lovely evening light at Swineshead, a few miles down the A17).
It was at Swineshead Abbey that King John was supposedly poisoned by a monk in 1216; the village sign depicts the event (click here to see it).
In no time at all the dog field will be out of bounds again when the famous Heckington Show is on. Meanwhile, the view above is what I see when heading back into the village after our walk. For a prettier, though less seasonal picture, see View from the dog field.
This was taken from our bedroom window at about 9.30 pm. We have just moved from the back of the house to the front, seeing if early morning traffic noise (yes, there is some) disturbs us less than the noisy dawn chorus. The front of the house faces almost north, just a little west, so at this point in the year the sun goes down behind the houses across the road. Earlier in the year it was setting in the west, behind the church (see Moonrise and This too shall pass).
Picture below was an attempt to catch the very last little bit of light, at coming up to 11 at night. Looking forward to the longest day/shortest night, though with it comes the sadness of the days slowly beginning to shorten again.
A postscript to yesterday’s notes on travelling from Manchester: here is the ‘little train’ from Nottingham, on which I sat writing my way home. It has just deposited me at Heckington a little after 8 o’clock in the evening.
I’m alone under a luminous evening sky, watching the train pull out of the station. In the photo you can just see the lights of a train coming the other way, from Skegness and Boston.
Tuesday night bell-ringing is in full swing as I arrive home, filling the garden with sound. I try to capture the cheerful clamour with iPad video, though it may make for too strange a blog post – we shall see…
This was the last weekend of the ALTered art events at St Andrews Church; and this picture is of Emily Tracy’s ‘Screen’ (see Modern art in a medieval world) on Saturday evening. As we arrived there were children running in and out of the doorway, looking up at the trees and searching for a mouse lurking somewhere in the picture.
This modern screen stood where there would once have been a wooden rood screen in the past, between the nave and the chancel, separating priest and laity. But this screen invites the visitor into the chancel to play and discover the animals and plants that decorate the medieval church.
I loved the trees ‘growing’ in the centre of the church. In the same way as those who made the exuberant carvings of human, animal and plant life hundreds of years ago, an artist has once more brought the outdoor, living world into this space of stone and light and quietness.
I’m not sure if I have ever read the whole poem before. It is so familiar that it’s hard to read it without being tripped up by famous phrases. But I was struck by the last two lines (see above) and the image of the poet remembering the beauty of the mass of flowers after the event.
It has left me thinking about how, when so many of us lead such indoor lives, we hold on to that lift of the spirits that being outside in nature can give us.
There are two parts of this for me. The first is remembering how good the outdoors, open space and nature are for me, so I remember to spend more time there and not let myself get trapped in the house. And the second, perhaps more challenging, is how to bring the daffodils, the trees and waves back inside with us, keeping the dance and the freedom in our hearts even when we cannot see the light.
Disaster; there are sheep in the dog field. No good for letting lurchers off the lead; the sheep would certainly be worried. Tried the sports ground in the village, where we’re told many people walk their dogs, but Naughty Doris nipped through a gap in the hedgerow and did one of her disappearing acts over huge field (see Spot the Dog post of a while ago). A long wait for partner and much kindly concern from fellow dog-walkers until Doris turned her back on exciting scents of muntjac and fox and came trotting back, ready for the more solid pleasures of breakfast.
Nice woman with collie dog has mentioned walking at Haverholme Park, a little way beyond the village of Ewerby, a couple of miles from Heckington. So off I go on my bike to scout it out.
As I head for home there is heavy cloud above. In the south is a fat stripe of light, a wash of blue, white, pink between the dark land and the dark cloud. I love this landscape for just being itself, unassuming and unromantic, and I love it for being like a piece of abstract art: all blocks and stripes, light and colour, saying so little, containing so much.
And with each turn in the road, I see a church spire against the sky: Asgarby, Ewerby, Heckington. Tiny Howell’s church is ancient and beautiful, but small, so you come upon it almost without warning.
If you walk about a mile out of the village from our house, you find yourself on ‘the fen road’, Littleworth Drove and off this is Star Fen Road. It leads you past farmhouses and smallholdings, most with chickens roaming around, some with pigs, sheep, horses, llamas (yes!). It is very quiet here. When you turn onto footpaths you are on your own, surrounded by ploughed fields as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by drains and hedgerows, and the odd scarecrow.
These are pictures from my walk round Star Fen on Monday (without dogs this time – see Spot the Dog). I hope they give you a tiny idea of the qualities of light and colour you find here, that give me such a buzz. As with previous galleries, click or tap on a picture to see bigger versions that you can scroll through.
Car Dyke, in the bottom left photo, was made by the Romans; that gives me a buzz too.
On Friday I went to a pottery class at The End Room studio, about 20 minutes drive from Heckington. On the way, on a whim, I took a turning off the dull and dangerous A15 (Peterborough to Bourne, Sleaford, Lincoln and the Humber Bridge) and found myself in another world: the tiny village of Aswarby with its lovely church bathed in afternoon sun. But before I could get my camera out, the sun slipped behind a cloud – so you can’t see it in the picture.
I’m getting used to the contrast between A-roads busy with lorries trundling food to the rest of the country and quiet villages just round the corner. Very different from Heckington these, often with no shop, no community building except the church; but so beautiful. There are huge old trees in stretches of greensward, sheep or cattle quietly grazing and, if you’re lucky, golden sunlight over everything.
I left the pottery in the village of Newton after four in the afternoon when the last rays of sun lit up the village church like a spotlight. More beautiful still was the same light falling on grass through a thorn hedge- but I was too slow again, too late to capture it.
‘Too late,’ my mum used to say, throughout my childhood, ‘too late, saddest words in the English language.’ Seems to be a quote from a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, but don’t know if he had it from somewhere before that.
Why so sad? Why so hard to let go of what is past, of things over which we have no control – like the chancy fall of light from one moment to the next?
Was the light any the less because I couldn’t grab it, bring it here to show you? Ho hum, enough musing for a Monday morning!