Sunday, 27 October 2013

Making the most of it......

As I lay in bed, trance-like, gazing through the window at the sky, the radio in the background caught my attention - apparently there's a bit storm heading our way; hurricane winds and buckets of rain... I again gaze at the sky, the sun is out and the it's clear and dry. I decide to make the most of the weather on this, the last weekend of British Summer Time.

I set off quite late in the afternoon - I've been snuffling and sneezing all day with a cold - I was in two minds whether or not to go out today, but I decided a slow effort would be okay - and with winter arriving any time now I may not get many more chances.

I'm riding a familiar route along quiet roads - not much traffic and no sign of any people at all. Sunlight slides down a tree trunk into a puddle of fallen apples. They sit on a mulch of hawthorn and hazel leaves, glowing with promise. Their skins are bruised, bloodily blemished, freckled, pustulated but entire, perfect in all their imperfections, hundreds and hundreds of them spilling across the woodland floor. Sunlight gives the apples an inner luminosity like treasure in a cave. Small birds in the hedges throw their voices from behind tangles of rosehips. A pheasant struts across an open field flashing red and gold. A buzzard drifts through the shaft of light which finds the wood and its store of wild apples. This has been a great year for fruit and seeds, a wonderful harvest. Outside the orchards and gardens, the hedges and woods have had an extraordinary crop of hips and haws, sloes and acorns. Even though so many hedges have had their harvests flailed off, there are still places with an abundance. But no one comes to gather them, not even animals yet. The apples lie untouched, beginning to smell cidery against the loam and rot and earlier rain.

I pedal on up towards Stoke Golding - there are still a prodigious number of sweet-chestnut cupules, their prickly forms split and spread and littering the road. I pass a field entrance guarded by a blown-down beech tree; I remember seeing it newly fallen a year or so ago, after a storm, a leviathan stranded, strange and sad. Then it was shrouded in leaves. Now it is in slow-motion collapse – a massive, rotten husk, bark slick and black from the rain, trunk intact, half-wrenched from the red earth, which hangs loosely among the mass of roots, intertwined like tossed spaghetti. Its upper branches reach out, like the fingers of someone reaching for a lifebelt, a lower limb has wedged against the base of a young oak, which leans away under its pressure. I stop for a while resting my hands on the cool, green moss that coats the rotting bark, I realise the whole shape, from ruptured base to brittle tip, is studded with fungi, I don't know the names but I take a few photos on my phone - they look like sweets scattered along the trunk like treats.

As the light fades I click on my lights - first time I've used them for months - I've ridden just shy of 30 miles, its taken over 2 hours, but I feel rewarded from the effort - despite my cold.

By now the clocks have been moved back - we're officially in winter time. The log store has been filled, the slow cooker is out and ready to go - candlelight, log fires, warming stews _ I'm looking forward to winter.

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