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A celebration of Autumn – part 3

You can see my first two posts on Autumn here and here. As before I have added spreads from the Ladybird book ‘What to look for in Autumn’, written by E. L. Grant Watson and with illustrations by C. F. Tunnicliffe (copyright acknowledged).

Previously I said that the work has its own narrative – to expand on that, the articles explore change in the British landscape over the last fifty years. We can see some successful species, ones that have managed to withstand the difficulties caused by population and agribusiness, but there are others that have been less fortunate. I also hope that the skein of life, the web that connects us as humans and the other than human, becomes apparent as the series continues.

The pursuit of the uneatable

What to look for in Autumn 8
What to look for in Autumn – hunt, blackthorn, parasols

Fox hunting may seem to have had its day in England, Scotland and Wales but is still legal in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as some other countries. A powerful lobby exists to bring it back, notably led by the members of the House of Lords who refused to pass the legislature, and the Countryside Alliance. There is a view that hunting is now a practice of the past since the hunters no longer have an affinity with the land and supporters claim that the majority of foxes still killed are the victims of illegal hunts and poachers.

I cannot see that a pack of dogs, followed by a body of people on horseback, who in their turn are followed by still more people on foot and in cars, is anything other than a gross travesty of hunting in any form: it is neither ritual nor sport and the prey is uneatable, as Oscar Wilde so memorably pointed out. So the hunt continues, sans fox, as a relic, a passport to status for some, an activity without purpose unless that purpose is a ride in the countryside or nostalgia. The hunt itself is a hierarchical dominant symbol that is a mirror to the worst excesses of capitalism and only serves to illustrate the contempt those who are elevated, whether on horseback or in power, have towards those without status.

Quietly framing the anachronism of the hunt are the wild plum we call blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) bearing its acrid fruit, the sloes, and a fine crop of Parasols, probably Macrolepiota procera. The author doubts that they are edible – but in fact they they are delicious, though they need to be identified positively before consumption, and may not be picked from nature reserves.

Fungus the Bogeyman

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What to look for in Autumn – autumn crocus, shaggy inkcap

The distrust of fungi in these islands so prevalent fifty years ago makes itself known again on the very next page. The author correctly asserts the toxicity of the Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) but goes on to claim that ‘no living things’ except maggots and insects, would touch the ink-cap toadstool. In fact the Shaggy Inkcap (Coprinus comatus) is also delicious when young.

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What to look for in Autumn – potatoes, black bryony

Some loss is welcome, and the back-breaking work of picking potatoes by hand is now a thing of the past unless you have an allotment or you are a smallholder. E.L. Grant Wilson wonders if the tubers of Black Bryony (Dioscorea or Tamus communis) might be edible. Don’t be tempted, they are not. This is another plant that has suffered from the grubbing up of hedgerows.

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What to look for in Autumn – weasel, horse chestnut, wood blewit

The Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda) is not perhaps a species to seek out for the table as it seems to disagree with some people.

The naturally drying fallen Horse-chestnut leaves shown here are something rarely seen since the predations of the Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner (Cameraria ohridella), the leaf mining moth that prematurely dries and shrivels the leaves and which has spread from Macedonia since the late Seventies and is now moving inexorably northward. The tree is left unharmed, it seems, but this new moth species is seen as direct consequence of a reduction in diversity caused by over-planting.

Misplaced morality

The Weasel – here the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) is shown – has a good population and is not of concern. It has a fascinating mythology, presumably owing to its shrill calls and its fierce demeanour. The evidence for a weasel killing ‘for the sake of killing’ seems to come from owners of livestock, chickens, rabbits, the concentration of which presumably creates a confusion. I can’t see that one can apply a moral judgement to a weasel, and I wonder if this comes from the Puritan notion that weasels were the familiars of witches. The name itself has a base meaning of ‘stinking animal’, from its musky scent, and the connotation of ‘weasel’ as something underhand (‘weasel words’) is related to the weasel’s ability to suck out the contents of an egg without destroying the shell.

One in six

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What to look for in Autumn – teal, shovelers, goldeneye, black-headed gull, heron

Teal, Shovelers and Goldeneye all share RSPB amber status as, alarmingly, does the black-headed gull. The lapwing has red status, with a very much reduced population. It was wonderful to see them earlier this month at the London Wetlands Centre. Of all these lakeside birds then, only the Heron enjoys a stable population, but it is a comfort to know that they are all with us, decorating the still waters of late Autumn and Winter.

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Haiku

Haiku

I was criticised by someone on Twitter who told me that I should loosen up and ignore the 5/7/5 syllable ‘rule’. In one sense he is correct in saying that a syllable is not the equivalent of the Japanese mora. Even in English Haiku forms there are many variants. However, something about the form of the traditional Haiku appeals: the adherence to structure, the importance of the ‘cutting word’ and the seasonal reference.

I ‘wrote’ all of these out of doors. Nietzsche observed that “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” and while I offer no judgement as to their worth or otherwise, I certainly found them useful to invent in the moment, and so for me they worked as  ‘great thoughts’ in difficult times.

Contents

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Winter

Reflections

Spring

I

April: and the trees
Flap and flutter with the wings
of pigeons fucking.

II

Celandines are out.
In the fumes, I think of those
Bright buttery stars.

III

I hate Valentine’s.
But Magnolia buds swell,
Swaddled in soft down.

IV

I see a greening
In the tightly furled birch buds.
My tax bill is here.

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Summer

I

A hot day in June:
Confronted by pale orchids,
my pain is greater.

II

A tired aroma
of cheap fat barbecued meat.
Life in the city.

III

High Summer, rain falls
on sweet-scented Buddleia
This is without shame.

Buddleia flower

IV

Still so far away,
but so close: an honour guard
of tall hollyhocks

V

A grey shroud of dusk:
Fat pigeons grazing the lawn.
A thud of car doors.

VI

Goldfinches twitter,
The sun starts it’s slow descent
Behind tall grasses.

VII

Glancing up you see
The sky criss-crossed with contrails.
The city’s white web.

VIII

The cafés are full,
iPads and sharp pencils poised.
Elsewhere curlews call.

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Autumn

I

My footsteps fall hard.
Each sodden leaf in my path
Reminds me of loss.

II

I saw a Brimstone
In November. But it was
Just a leaf, falling.

III

In late Autumn light,
Each branch is dressed with bright shards,
And loss cuts deeply.

IV

A few flowers still,
Scattered by the river bank.
A dog rolls in leaves.

V

Hedgerows are weary
With great swags of Old Man’s Beard.
The earth calls for sleep.

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Winter

I

Which invidious
Part of us dreams of white cliffs
And the hum of bees?

II

Black fruit and lush green
Of Ivy in the cold sun.
This is what matters.

III

Slender willow twigs
Droop into the stream, or are
Blown like golden locks.

IV

Just a little sun
On a cold day – and small flies
Appear like magic.

V

After the market
Has gone, yellow grass straggles.
A twist of tinsel.

VI

Beginning again,
Pushing up through frozen ground.
It looks so easy.

Go to the Top

Reflections

I

How small things remind:
the smell of a wool carpet
to a lonely child.

II

My pillow mocks me.
I wrap myself round it but
it cannot reach out.

III

It is hard to feel
the deep yearning in my heart
for sacred places.

IV

It’s seven o’clock.
Dinner jackets and silk gowns
Gather to eat lies.

V

Another day goes.
Peaches and avocados
Belong to last year.

VI

As the dark settles
I begin to dread the night.
Yawning hollow hours.

VII

Dawn brings foolishness.
My black sea – was it so deep?
I reach out again.

VIII

I don’t often find
That poetry can quieten
The shrieking sirens.

IX

It’s Saturday night.
Loud voices spill from the bars.
But they can’t listen.

X

In the morning sun
They can’t see how I’m bleeding.
I chase my desire.

XI

I breathe a great breath
and swing the antique sabre.
Look how it glitters!

XII

They want me to fight
To don the rusty armour.
Once more, with feeling.

XIII

What is this sharp pain?
A memory of spun gold:
Her hair in the light.

XIV

Sick for what I’ve lost,
A sweet longing dwells inside.
I spurn all doctors.

XV

How a picture wounds,
Bringing back from long ago
A scent of ripe pears.

XVI

The gardens were closed,
I was robbed of many things.
Days of peace and light.

XVII

With a storm, a surge,
Things of the past are revealed.
My secret sadness.

XVIII

How much I would like
To see tall buildings fall, and
Gaze at distant hills.

XIX

The Tories: neck deep
In the blood of bribery,
And the stink of lies.

XX

The world will force you
To stay safely in the light.
But you need the dark.

Go to the Top

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