Country diary: signs of autumn fill the senses


For a couple of days each year, the textures of change in this little nook of Rutland are palpable. The greens of summer are still the foundations, in the grass, in the moss and in the reeds of the little stream. But here as well are the signals of autumn. The tree line has lost its anonymity; instead, a scattergun of pomp picks out the exhibitionists: acid green, red and burnt gold adding briefly brilliant flamboyance. Lone trees, old oaks mainly, are thinning, revealing the bones beneath.

Trees always look older in the first weeks of autumn; the light sits lower, making hard shadows across the lines and gouges, lighting the relief with a crisp warmth at odds with the sudden bite in the air. Fungi are everywhere. I bend to examine a stand of mushrooms, noticing they all have inky darkenings spread to the same angle of their caps, to the east. Probably coincidence, but anything clock-like feeds a preoccupation with time at this hour of the year.

When daylight isn’t so rationed, it’s surreal here most summers. An open-air theatre in the grounds of nearby Tolethorpe Hall sends quotes of Shakespeare into the warm air, all that passion and romance and murder and savagery drifting over this bucolic stage. There has been none this summer, of course. And now here is autumn, arriving unaltered, ushering in the darker months with its own brilliant production, both visual and audible.

The noise is spine-tingling, and for some reason always chimes with dusk at this time of year. It’s felt in shiver-air, seen in silhouette, and often heard when wood smoke is smelled. Crows, in number, fill the air with their jeers. It’s a sound that burrows to the core and down the spine. And because the leaves are falling, you see the crows too: like odd punctuation on the branch lines of the trees.

They call these little-understood corvid socials “staging”. Everyone knows the collective noun is a murder. Nobody really knows why, but most of the theories are dark. And however ominous, they are not welcome thoughts on a fine afternoon like this. Walking back into the village under the wing of dusk, the stage is theirs.


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