In nature’s time frame, two weeks can make a big difference. When we returned from our summer trip away, we were literally tripping over the signs of change in the wood. Green acorns littered the floor, everywhere there was a light sprinkling of yellow leaves, (mostly silver birch and ash) and through them the first of the mushrooms were pushing up.
It’s that in-between time of year. The leaves are still mostly green on the trees; there is very little autumn colour as I look around. The canopy doesn’t seem any less dense than it has been over the summer, though it must be as there are leaves on the ground, enough that the badger paths stand out as narrow cleared tracks through the fallen debris. Temperatures have dropped, the woodland floor is damp again and the feast of uneaten acorns piling up makes me wish for a pig or two, wandering the woods as they would have done in the past – the charcoal burners right to pannage.
The summer buzz of the insects in the canopy has been replaced by the occasional patter of raindrops in the leaves and the sigh of stronger breezes as they blow through the trees tops. Inhabitants of the wood are noticeably vocal. Today, as I walked to the Cosy Shed, the conversations going on were positively deafening. Tits were chatting at the tops of their voices, buzzards mewed overhead, ravens cronked, greater spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches were hammering on trunks while treecreepers dodged up and down them. Blackbirds chucked at me as I invaded their territory, jays shrieked their annoyance.
But the most astonishing action in the woods at the moment is with the fungi. After months of living as filamentous networks hidden from view, the fungi fruiting heads are erupting all over the place. It is virtually impossible to walk in the wood without standing on or knocking over some kind of mushroom. Their shapes and diversity are astounding. Entire miniature cities spring up overnight, as if by magic – it surprises me not one bit that mushrooms appear in so many illustrations of faeries. There is something fascinating about these strange symmetries that burst out of the ground from nowhere, something aesthetically pleasing about the delicate caps, and gills beneath. A freshly emerged mushroom cries out to be touched, the endless shapes, sizes and forms pushing and jostling to be next in line for our attention, for their time in the limelight. The children’s shrieks of excitement can be heard over and over again as we walk the woods; ‘Look at this one!’, ‘Wow, come over here!’, ‘A faerie house!’, ‘A biome!’, ‘A mouse’s apartment block!’. I am not a mycologist, I have very little knowledge of mushroom species. I wouldn’t dare to try eating any of these fungi without advice and can be heard replying to the children’s cries, ‘Amazing, but remember, don’t touch’. These fungi are being nibbled however, by those woodland creatures who know which ones make a good meal.
The wood is full of bounty; there is a sense of plenty here. Berries, hips, fungi, nuts and seeds. Now is a time for feasting and storing for the leaner times of the winter. I think much of the ‘conversation’ I am hearing is all about this – it is the woodland inhabitants agreeing terms, establishing winter territories, ensuring there will be food supplies to last the winter. As autumn begins, it seems our wood is a very busy place.
For a slide show of some of our fungi, click here.