Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The days may be shorter and colder but nature still provides...

The days may be shorter and colder but nature still provides...

AUTUMN is well and truly here. We passed the autumnal equinox way back on September 23 and the days are now noticeably shorter and chillier.

However, I have to say that I will always prefer to live here, with our seasons and the variety that they bring to our landscape and all that lives within, rather than exist in an equatorial “groundhog day” of sunrise at 6am and sundown at 6pm with the odd storm and plague of locusts thrown in.

Many of our trees are already turning colour. Norway maples are among the first, their leaves turning to copper and gold, and silver birch leaves to yellow.

London planes are shedding leaves aplenty, trees of heaven likewise. Oaks, elms, sycamores and field maples are still green, especially the oak. Ash leaves will fall at the first hard frost, green or not.

Hawthorn berries and the hips of the dog-rose are becoming a burnished red, apples acquiring a rosy, shiny hue. Don’t they look tempting?

I have a lovely russet tree that produces rough-skinned but delicious fruit and three other apples that provide some enormous cookers. In some years I have had so many that I had to give loads away.

It always mystifies me to see so many apples rot where they have fallen on the ground, unpicked and unwanted while their owners are happy enough to buy sanitized varieties in Waitrose, abandoning their own to rapidly intoxicated wasps.

After all the recent rain, I decided to pay Henley a visit and take a look at the river. I’m glad that I did.

After dropping mum off in the Argyll pub with a coffee (under the landlord Neil’s supervision), I drop down to the river’s edge at Thames Side and head upstream.

There are, of course, semi-tame mute swans, mallard ducks and coots all along the way but many black-headed gulls and cormorants too.

I’ve always thought the cormorant to be a strange looking bird. As I stop to look at the murky water, one of them pops out and gulps down a fish in a flash. Naturally, anglers despise them as their diet is entirely piscine. One of them on an ait resembles a large bat out of a Dracula film with wings outstretched drying. Maybe it is also doing this to warm up after a fishing expedition by trapping the faintest of the sun’s rays?

On the same ait the leaves on a line of horse chestnuts (how did they get there?) are turning crisp and brown.

There’s something missing or have I missed them? Canada geese. There used to be quite a few here, so I’m perplexed as to where they’ve gone. The sky darkens ominously so I decide to curtail my walk to Marsh Lock and turn around.

Heading back into town, I call at the home of a fellow naturalist to pass on a newspaper cutting of interest.

He shows me a wonderful haul of edible fungi that he has just gleaned some miles away. I salivate at the sight. Perfect specimens.

Walking along Reading Road, I hear and spot a group of noisy starlings on top of Christ Church. This is a species in decline so it is a welcome sight.

After a fine lunch, I leave mum briefly in Vintage Look in Hart Street so she can peruse the antiques while I take a quick peek at St Mary’s Church, its old graveyard and the ancient Chantry House.

As ever, Dusty Springfield’s grave is adorned with flowers. Some people really do care, don’t they?

Vincent Ruane

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