Like spring, autumn is a time of change. Though, unlike spring, it is not a time of awakening; instead, it is a time of falling slowly into a deep slumber. The leaves turn yellow, orange and brown, and are then released, one by one, from branches onto a sodden or frosty ground. This year I’m finding the developing patches of rusty colours speckling the green horse chestnut leaves (Aesculus hippocastanum) particularly attractive.
And who doesn’t love discovering a shiny conker on the ground?
This week’s beautifully observant and poetic blog with images is written and fully illustrated by the gifted nature writer, artist and photographer, Chloé Valerie Harmsworth. See more from Chloé at instagram.com/chloevalerienatureart/ and chloevalerienatureart.wordpress.com/
While autumn might seem a more lethargic season, there is a flurry of activity too: flocks of metallic-sparkled starlings return from northern Europe, crowding the trees and skies with their excited whistles and clicks; a deluge of redwings and fieldfares gobble up whole trees’ worth of ruby berries; and jewel-like domes of fungi sprout daily across the leaf-laden earth.
“.. a deluge of redwings and fieldfares gobble up whole trees’ worth of ruby berries…”
Hurry, hurry, hurry
Everything is in a hurry. Trees fruit as part of their final hurrah, and animals urgently gather what they can before winter sets in. As I inspect the nuts of the hazel trees, I can see that their shells have been pierced by wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) to get to the tasty kernels within, leaving holes that make the nuts look like they are saying ‘Oh!’ or ‘Ah!’
“..I can see that their shells have been pierced by wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) to get to the tasty kernels within…
Photo of hazelnut by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth
The Queen bee
The last of the summer’s butterflies, bees and wasps are feasting on the leftover blackberries and autumn-flowering plants.
On one of my walks, I find an exhausted queen bumblebee on the path, in danger of being flattened by feet or paws. Using two leaves, I manage to carry her to a nearby patch of white dead-nettles (Lamium album) and there she takes deep draughts of the nectar and begins to move more energetically.
I hope that she will survive, either to hibernate until she starts her nest in the spring, or to begin her work in the autumn (an increasing trend among the bees in southern UK). I notice that there are mites hitchhiking on her neck and hope that that they won’t cause her or her future hive too many problems.
“there she takes deep draughts of the nectar…
Photo of Bumblebee on white dead-nettles by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth
Stash and cache
While we are using the season’s apples and plums to make crumbles, jays and squirrels are collecting nuts from the oak and beech trees to hide away in anticipation of leaner winter days. Some of those stashed away will be forgotten, and become the grand old trees of the future.
For a long time, jays (Garrulus glandarius) seemed very elusive to me – especially compared to their more gregarious cousins the crows, magpies and jackdaws (all of which are very noisy at this time of year). Then last year I saw five of them making a racket in the tree next to my house. This year, I have spotted them moving between the branches of the field maple trees. They are full of character and the variety of colours held within their feathers is remarkable. One of my most precious recent finds is a black feather with the jay’s signature electric blue barring.
The sun’s light at this time of year is rather special too. Almost all day it has the quality of evening light, as the reddening orb hangs lower in the sky. The blue sea holly becomes extra striking, as the dust in the atmosphere makes blue flowers stand out all the more. This is contrasted with the soft, dappled light of the woodlands and the glow of the goldening landscape.
As the summer flowers fade, the air becomes rich with the scent of decaying leaves and vegetation, verdant stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) with their new seeds, and lingering smoke. There’s nothing better than an invigorating walk in the fresh air, even on a drizzly or atmospherically misty day, followed by a warm drink when you return home.
“As the summer flowers fade, the air becomes rich with the scent of decaying leaves and vegetation…
Although appearing throughout the year, it’s the damper and cooler conditions in autumn that makes mushrooms and fungi more prevalent. My favourite finds have been bright red fly agarics (Amanita muscaria), which I had previously only seen in fairytales, violet-tinged wood blewits (Clitocybe nuda) and smoky candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon).
“My favourite finds have been bright red fly agarics (Amanita muscaria), which I had previously only seen in fairytales…
photo by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth
Smoky candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)
Photo of smoky candlesnuff fungus by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth
Autumn is a good time to pause and reflect on the year so far, and to think of the year ahead. If the summer has burned you out, now is the time to recuperate. If this most unusual year has left you feeling sorrowful or lost, this season is the ideal time to take stock of what you have been grateful for and consider what you would like to work towards in the future.
Nature teaches us many lessons throughout the year, so take time to look around at autumn’s beautiful changes and discover what you can learn.
N.B. All photos and artworks © Chloé Valerie Harmsworth – Chloé Valerie Harmsworth is a nature writer, artist and photographer who believes that if we look after nature, it will look after us. See more of her work at instagram.com/chloevalerienatureart/ and chloevalerienatureart.wordpress.com/