Cold fingers, cold toes, cold nose. Autumn came overnight this year. The fields are silvered by a heavy dew, sunlight slants through the trees at the wood’s edge. Scalloped grey cloud undercuts the blue sky, there’s not a breath of wind. I smell chill and cows and damp earth. Inside the wood I find stillness broken only by the call of a bird, the clatter of a leaf ending its twirling, once-in-a-lifetime journey from canopy to woodland floor.
I can’t walk silently along our paths – twigs snap beneath my feet, newly fallen leaves crunch and crackle as I swoosh through. The canopy is thinning again, the dense ceiling of the summer has gone. The leaves left in the trees are mostly green, but there are yellows and browns too, especially in the sycamores and beech. Threads of spider silk catch the light as they float on imperceptible eddies in the air, individual grass heads nod and bounce as insects land, hover, launch. Interspersed in the autumn browns along the path are green hazelnuts, fat, orange-rimmed slugs and bright red rowan berries. Slime moulds lurk, white foam beneath leaf litter, or push strange tubular towers into the light.
At camp, nature has erased any sign that this was our home for days at a time over the summer; muddy footprints have been washed away, marks of the tent scuffed out of existence; leaves lie like a quilt over the fireplace. I pick up the scent of a fox, hear the blackbird angry at my intrusion. A speckled wood butterfly basks in the sunlight under my washing up stand, spider webs adorn table and stump seats.
Walking on, I see signs of badgers, but they aren’t as plentiful as in the summer. There is a lull in the emergence of fungi too – since the children went back to school, it’s not been so wet. In the clearings, butterflies spiral round each other or gently flex their wings in the sun – peacocks, red admirals, speckled wood. Hoverflies zip about, nuthatches seem to be arguing about a nut one of them holds in its beak – as the shouting dies down, they turn to tapping the branches. Perhaps it is the family from the nest box I can hear pecking at the trees.
Geese call overhead, an iconic sound of autumn. Their voices reverberate through the peace of the wood. The sun is shining, heating all that it touches. Where I stand, the air is warm and the wood is calm. There is no hustle and bustle, no vibrant growth or crashing storm, no frantic gathering of food in the trees or rushing excitement of bud burst. Birds have fledged, flowers blossomed, leaves spread and young grown. I have the feeling that the wood is breathing gently, resting after the energy crammed days of the spring and summer. With the contentment of a job well done, the wood is sitting back quietly to rest; it’s taking the time to enjoy the peace, making the most of the sunny days that can still warm away the chills of an autumn night. I feel its wish… long may these days continue.