The roadsides, paths, and hollows are edged with gold, the hedgerows blushing red. Most ash trees have already stripped bare, some oaks have turned orange, while others may wait until December to fully let go.

The beech trees have turned all the oranges and yellows you can imagine, and burn like beacons illuminating the understory, while the hornbeams have turned as yellow as sunflowers.

Autumn is at its peak, gilding the pathways that guide us down the tunnel into the dark half of the year. If you want to catch this season at its most beautiful, the time has just about passed.

This Autumn has been infused with mild weather and sprinkled with sunny days, the leaves have had reason to hang on for a little longer. The Norway Maple in the Abbey retained its leaves for an extra three weeks and is still harbouring its last hangers on.

The trees’ change of colour in the northern hemisphere at this time of the year is one of nature’s most impressive displays. Like a huge snake, encircling the globe, shedding its skin. During this time, I descend into some sort of inspired, observational frenzy. So eager am I not to miss anything, I take every opportunity to get out in the leaves, to procrastinate at length, and gently fall out of touch with the business of life. This activity has resulted in a series of leaf works, pictured and described briefly below.

Field maple
This grid of 100 field maple leaves was created in one hour and shows their gradual change from bright green, through bright yellow and finally to golden browns. This produces a rather satisfying green – gold gradient when laid out.

Abbey Wren
On Monday 8th, I took a lunch break in the Abbey and created this little artwork. A wren made from beech leaves. The feathery body is created from the leaves of the fern leaved beech, a cultivar that has very dainty ‘cut’ leaves that turn all shades of gold in the Autumn. The piece is finished with twigs of beech for the legs and perch, and framed by the fallen leaves of a nearby copper beech. Thankfully it was a still day!

Norway Maple – Spiral
This spiral was created from Norway maple leaves, beginning with the smallest and working out to the largest. The idea was suggested by Ash Noakes.

Beech Mobile
I stood beneath this beech tree on three occasions, enjoying its changing foliage. One day, I started picking up the leaves and weaving them together, then hanging them back in their tree.

The desire was to decorate the entire lower part of the tree with leaf chains, but the wind, the stability of the structure and the fragility of the fallen leaves all made it quite a challenge for the leaves to remain hanging. Those pictured, one of which reached the ground, took an hour, before my fingers became too cold to work. As always, a great lesson in impermanence.

This one’s dedicated to my Nan on the anniversary of her passing.

November is the month of my birthday. To celebrate, we embarked on a weekend of tree based adventures. We began with a day out at Stourhead on Friday, to see the autumnal extravaganza. Tulip trees (above /left), maples and oaks were the stars of the show.


On Saturday we celebrated with an Autumnal tree walk. 24 people and 3 dogs joined the parade. We ventured through Bushy coombe, sung songs to the beech trees and read poems to Grandmother Lime. We ended with a trip down the hill through Wick hollow. I received handmade birthday cards from two keen young tree walkers and was sung happy birthday beneath the Guardian beech.

On Sunday afternoon we took a visit to a nearby manor house to follow up on a previous exploration which uncovered an impressive collection of native and non-native trees, including redwoods and pines, large black walnut trees, hornbeams so old they were barely standing, and a large collection of limes. This visit, we had the chance to explore further, hopping the fence a couple of times to find even more trees. A treasure trove of mature oaks.

The first we came across was a collapsed oak of at least 5 metres girth, sat on the edge of a stream. The leader branches were substantial, one fell quite conveniently to provide a useful crossing point over the water. Looking at the condition of its trunk and the size of its leader branches it’s no wonder it collapsed, probably fallen in the last year or so. At the top of the remaining eight feet of trunk, a branch was still throwing out shoots and had certainly produced leaves this year. We climbed up via the broken branches  and could peer right down into the centre of the trunk.

The next field held the most impressive find. A mature oak of at least 6m in girth. A tree of this size could be estimated at around 500 years old. I have since learned that this might be quite an accurate estimate, the site was recorded in the domesday book and there is record of a manor and tree pastures in this location dating at least back to the 1500’s. This tree and a few others may be relics of that time. The site is also home to the second largest Gingko in the UK.

On the evening of Sunday 7th Nov, I went for a walk around the lanes in the late afternoon to find that the small stand of aspen and poplar on Maidencroft lane were on the turn and dropping leaves across the field below them.

The gated corner entrance to the field seemed covered in snow, the circular leaves, with their light undersides, created a patchwork blanket of yellow and white. Next to the aspens is a row of young beech trees, whose brown Autumn leaves provided a complementary combination against the green of the field.

As I started quite late in the day, I had the added challenge of making something before it got too dark. Luckily, the backs of these aspen leaves are bright white, and glow in the dark!

Continued…

Peak Autumn is now passing, many trees still stand like golden chalices in contrast to the stark naked neighbours. Some trees may still hold on for a couple of weeks, and some oaks may hold on to some of their leaves well into December. As with all seasons, the changes roll into each other, and when absorbed so fully in the observation, it can become difficult to discern where one season ends and another begins.

Autumn is the most visual, visceral, sensual, and raw of the seasons, it is a grand parade of natural colour that both yearns for our eyes and has our eyes yearn back and it pains me to miss even a moment of it!

As an extra autumnal treat: 
Click here to view 10 of the best Autumn images of 2021

Feet in the leaves.

And finally, I have developed a habit of photographing my feet while I’m out walking. I have dozens of “Matt’s Feet” photos, spanning all the seasons! Here is a specially curated series of Autumnal feet in the leaves.

Careful attention is paid to the colour palette and selection of leaves present on the ground.

Matt Witt

Author Matt Witt

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