Yesterday was the first time this year that I’ve noticed it, with the lowering sun, the lengthening shadows and that sense of gentle quietness in the atmosphere. Almost as though there’s a slight, deadening filter on all sounds – the birds, the children playing in the newly-extended recreation ground, the distant traffic. And the first faint yellowing of the sun. The leaves on the horse-chestnuts – always the first to show the signs – are starting to lose their green colour, and some of their spiky-coated fruits are already falling. Autumn has its foot in the door.
Yesterday also W came over and we went blackberrying and damson-picking. It didn’t need a trip in Ruby into the countryside to seek out some quiet rural backwater. We just took a five minute walk to the other – south – side of this hill ridge on which Crystal Palace is situated. There, in the wide green verge of a steeply sloping road of quiet, modern-ish houses set well back from the road, are some damson trees. Who on earth planted them and when would be fascinating to know. But it seems not many people are interested in damsons round here, (on the other hand, how many would go looking for damsons in a street of houses?) for in the grass around each tree were literally hundreds of those lovely, purple, ripe fruits just lying there. We gathered up perhaps a kilo or more and by the evening W had started their conversion into damson liqueur. They were packed with sugar and vodka into sealed jars and placed in a cupboard for three months. I’ll try and remember to report on the results.
Blackberries abound round here. There are large wooded areas with extensive undergrowth and bramble. And many of the roads, especially on the southern side of the slope are lined with blackberry bushes. We picked enough of those for W to make of them a blackberry crumble for dinner. There is something quite magical about picking wild fruit which is there, free for all, and eating it almost while the sap is still rising in it. And all this in London, within sight of the skyscrapers of the City.
But I’m feeling the onset of a need to go away. It will soon be time to once again pack the gin and the bird-books and go a-roaming in Ruby. I love autumn, it’s my favourite season of the year. But it unsettles me. Stirs a need in me to break free as the leaves do from the trees; as the migrating birds do from these, their summer haunts. They too will very soon now be gathering together prior to leaving. Some in fact, will already be gone and settled in their winter quarters thousands of miles south from here.
Autumn reminds us of our mortality; that all things change and are cyclical; that that which starts will have its ending, and that which ends will have a new beginning. I guess it’s a bit of a cliche to quote Keats in this context – but some cliches are nevertheless totally appropriate. “Where are the songs of Spring?” he wrote. “Ah, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.”