On the days surrounding the Solstice, the sunrise reaches its farthest point North on the horizon, bringing it into alignment with the axis of the Tor, where it stops for a few mornings to be enjoyed by those gathered to celebrate, before making its journey South to slowly but surely shorten the days.
But this is no time to be talking of short days – we are at the height of Summer and at this time of year the light makes the night wait and the day keeps the dark at bay.
After weeks of welcome sunshine, the last few days have brought some equally welcome cloud cover. We have been spoilt for still, hot days coated in blue, green and gold, and are now blessed with some fine downpours to lighten the load of the heat. Where the hedges were brimming they now overflow, drooping and hanging where they can as the eager activity of Spring is forced to slow down under the oppressive weight of midsummer’s warmth.
The foliage appears to be sweating as this year’s bumper crop of green fly emit a coating of sticky honeydew that rains onto the lanes making the tarmac grab at the sole of one’s shoes. Stood beneath a local hazel I felt the gentle spray resting upon my bare arms, a blessing of sugary nectar straight from the Gods, or more accurately from the arse-end of aphids.
Relentless waves of Summer sun have doused the land allowing the fruit to develop well, with added water they now begin to swell further. The branches of ash and beech have begun to hunch with the burden of their bounty, while the oak’s acorns are just starting to take form, their little cups forming first and appearing like belly buttons upon their umbilical peduncles. I have even spotted the first hazelnuts making the most of the fine weather.
In the fields I have watched grow from winter stubble into overflowing basins the flowers of buttercup, vetch and dock relinquish the stage to the fiery pink of thistle, the darling flowers of clover, while the ever present birds foot trefoil and the delicate stars of lesser stitchwort are allowed to come to the fore. On the perimeter, hawthorn and elder now with berry, the honeysuckle, clematis and privet become the most prominent flowers, along with the huge white trumpets of bindweed. Most of the fields are now mown short, a well timed visit to paradise lane allowed me to witness Wilf, a man in his 80s. cut and bale my favourite field, “farming the old way”, as he proudly put it, using his 1950s tractor and baler, the only ones he has ever owned!
In the fields that now lay bare, I watch the swallows feed, flying through the air within inches of the ground, grazing the grassy stubble with their scissoring glide, ducking and weaving like only swallows can to pluck midges out of the air with a God gifted style and agility. Some approach at eye level, hurtling directly towards me at great speed before banking sharply at the last minute. I marvel at how at home they are on the open waves.
On the coombe, Grandmother lime marks reliably the period of Midsummer with her most notable efflorescence. A perfect halo of hermaphrodite flowers hang delicately beneath pale green bracts, their gorgeous aroma cocoons her like a veil and drifts across the coombe to attract the humming busyness of the pollinating bees who vibrate the surrounding atmosphere creating a triadic bubble of sensory stimulation into which I am completely subsumed. Her flowers are now past best and where pollinated have started to form their little spherical seeds, appearing in the centre of the flower, white at first before turning brown and being dispersed on the wind, their leafy bract acting as a sail carrying them away from the mother tree.
Surprisingly, the grass on the coombe is yet to be grazed, it’s grown long and gone to seed and the nettle beds in places are topping five foot tall, their lanky stems are dressed with heads of the finest laced flowers and jewelled seeds that bob and glint in the Summer sunsets.
The overgrowth has allowed for a pronounced desire line to develop through the tall grass from the gateway to the lime. It’s a narrow avenue overflowing on both sides to create a tunnel, probably first traversed by badgers and then adopted by humans, guiding the walker towards the linden’s green cavern, an open arm reaching forward to beckon them into Tilialand.
Traversing the Isle from Bushy coombe, North West of the Tor via paradise lane to sit in the orchard on the Northeast end of the island, I take up a perch upon a fallen apple to watch the sunset reflected upon the bank of ash at the bottom of the paddock. The sun disappearing behind the hill behind me creates a shadow that climbs the trees until only the very tops remain illuminated. This light show is accompanied at this time of the year by an untamed cacophony of avian even-song. The ever present song thrush sat in the bottom corner of the orchard, invisible to eye but conspicuous to ear, expresses a call that is less of a song and more of a series of random telecom sounds strung out robotically one after another. If it weren’t for their consistent tone and rhythm, one might mistake these sounds for a series of different birds. This particular thrush has a very well developed repertoire and will sit in exactly the same spot to sing without repeating a gesture, often for the duration of my visit.
The great tits are relentless in their monotony, their contribution only matched in its repetition by the chiffchaff. On top of their beat, the song thrush and blackbirds lay down sporadic gestures, the robin’s shouts are backdropped by the wood pigeon’s murmurs, and the wrens bellow deep in the hedgerow. The chatter of a magpie and the laughter of the woodpecker provide an offbeat backing to the vocal styling of the ravens, and every now and then a black cap will join in for a chorus. All the while, the crows, jacks and rooks chatter amongst themselves as if playing the part of an uninterested audience to this orchestra. Then all fades and enters stage left, an unexpected and almost unheard guest, the subtle rising crescendo of my favourite little bird, the long tailed tit.
My eyes were drawn at once to the source of their tiny peeping and like a hawk on a rabbit I spotted three picking their way through the apple branches just to the right of me. Encouraged to my feet for a better look I saw at least five in this tree alone, more flew from a third tree, and then a handful more, lollipopping one-by-one in perfect long-tail fashion. As I spun round in excitement I realised that I was surrounded and that every tree within the vicinity was crawling with the little flying spoons – perhaps 30 or 40 of them, if not more. I watched mesmerised for a good twenty minutes as they moved through the orchard feeding on the vast banquet provided by the lichen encrusted and mistletoe dripped branches of the old apple trees. I gather this would be an extended family with recent fledglings ganging together to feed in relative safety.
At this time of the year, many of the winged ones are now not-so-lovingly encouraging their large babies away from the nest. In this orchard alone I have encountered fledgling woodpeckers trying out their vertical landing skills on the small apple trees while remaining within earshot of the mothers squawk. The great tit parents were particularly aggressive and insistent that their offspring now fly the nest, and preferably away from the vicinity entirely, allowing them to get on with the business of a further brood before summer’s out. It’s not uncommon to see fledglings around at this time of the year, some on the ground, still being fed by their parents as they make that final push out into their respective worlds.
I look forward to walking with you soon and leave you with a little ditty that has been playing on my internal station over the past two weeks. Also included below is a photo diary of the month including the solstice celebrations.
Until next time, we walk To The Trees.
Thank you the blossom,
Thank you the bee
Thank the sun
Thank you the leaves
Thank you the orchard
And to the trees
Thank you the apple
For growing for me
Thank you the Earth
Thank you the seasons
Thank you the water
For so many reasons
Thank you the Sun
Thank you the seed
Thank you the apple
for growing for me
A Visual Diary – May / June
Public Tree Walks, Glastonbury – By Donation
Wedmore Tree Walk – Fri 14th July 12.00pm – Event link
Summer Tree Walk – Sat 8th July 11am – Event link
Summer Tree Walk – Sun 23rd July 11am – Event link
Woodland Folk Fire
Acoustic night, Paddington Farm.
Thursday 13th 27th July – 10th, 24th Aug – 7.30pm – Event link
Abbey Tree Tours – Spring 2023
This walk can only be booked via the Abbey website:
Abbey Tree Walk – Sat 29th July 11am – 12.30pm
Abbey Tree Walk – Sat 19th Aug 11am – 12.30pm
Booking: 07548 936 081
Walks for individuals and groups, for birthdays, weddings, and as an add on to your retreat, at a date and time to suit you.
Call Matt to book: 07548 936 081
Bring the outside in!
The To The Trees Newsletter A monthly release of creative writing by Matt, dedicated to the trees and released every Full Moon. Sign up to receive it straight to your inbox at this link: http://eepurl.com/gSt1mj