Summer’s End, Autumn’s Beginning – September
To The Trees Edition #22
As Summer lets go and Autumn takes a hold, this transitional month of September is a little unsure of what it wants to be. One minute, we have blue sky and hot sun, the next, grey clouds and chilly breezes. This month’s walks have been mostly morning Tor walks, all the way to the top, often greeted by the mist and the house martins and swallows who gather around the tower at this time of the year, either eating the last of the summer bugs, or nibbling on the stone.
I have also enjoyed many evening circumambulations of the Tor, visiting the trees that live around the foot of the hill and staying out to watch the receding light of day. This month has included a number of private walks for individuals and groups too, and a beautiful cemetery tree walk on Monday, pictured above.
At this time of the year, Autumn becomes tangible, my cheeks are the first to feel the subtle movement of cold air encroaching upon the warmth. As we approach the Equinox, the point at which day and night become more equal, the evenings suddenly start to escape us and the trees begin to respond to the lessening light, as they always do, by slowly slipping out of their Summer gowns.
Along with the eruption of Spring, the spectacle of Autumn is my favourite to observe, and this article details some of the finer, very subtle changes that occur at this early stage of Autumn and the end of Summer.
In and around the hills of Glastonbury, the first trees to change are the elders, who start by subtly altering their light green into a shade of pale yellow, signifying the shutting down of the photosynthesising ability as the final nutrients is drawn in and the leaves await abscission. The elders are joined early by the horse chestnuts, who are always most recognisable as the first to undress for Winter, gleefully throwing off their golden, fingered leaves.
For some trees the Autumnal costume change is very gradual, for others, it’s more immediate. The limes interrupt their green swathes with dots of bright yellow. The non native maples start to make their bright colour changes, and the three American ash trees at the top of Redlands Estate have started to turn a beautiful pastel pink in their upper canopies.
The old mulberry I pass daily at the Rural Life Museum has almost entirely lost its leaves, while it’s counterparts in the Abbey hang on to theirs and are even showing new growth at this late stage of Summer. The birch and spindle, most notably, on Bushy Coombe are putting on quite a display of bright yellows and pinks.
Hazel is producing its catkins now, awaiting unfurling in late Winter and early Spring, while it’s nuts are now ripening, ready to be devoured or stashed by eager squirrels before the cold nights begin.
Hawthorn, while readying next year’s buds, also reddens and enlarges its haws, gathering in the last of the summer sun, collecting it in its little berries, creating little pockets of sunshine made accessible to hungry birds throughout the Winter. Many trees are undergoing growth spurts, even at this late stage of Summer, and especially as we have been blessed with a sunny September.
The procession of the seasons is a gradual process, each season overlapping the last and the next. We can notice the subtle seasonal changes long before the seasons, as we know them, arrive. Autumn is visible in Midsummer, and the preparation for next Spring, next year’s buds, can be seen on the branches long before the leaves have started to fall.
By observing nature more closely we can see this gradual shift, noticing the trees preparation for the next seasons, while observing the remnants of the previous seasons, and in the meantime being present to witness nature’s real time unfoldment. It’s a full time job in itself and the observations one could note would warrant an entire series of books.
It’s this month of half-and-half, some buttercups still remain in the fields, while surrounding trees start to match their yellow. The birds chirp up again, after falling silent in mid summer, they begin to fight it out and consolidate new and recently opened territory. The robins and wrens have been particularly vocal.
While Autumn sets in, the trees are not only preparing to lose their leaves and ripening their fruits and nuts, they are also preparing in advance their buds which will remain on the tree all winter, protected from frost by their casings, to be released next Spring.
Ash, for example shows next year’s buds in mid Summer, with thick black diamond shaped casings. Its buds are released as flowers in Spring, but the remaining buds won’t be fully ready to reveal their leaves until the end of April, or May, meaning that ash remains without leaves for most of the year.
The ash trees are already throwing off their gowns, unabashedly, still green, while the bunches of keys, their seeds, come to maturity and hang in dried brown bunches; some are whipped off by the wind, while others cling on for dear life and may do so through the gales of Winter.
Earlier this month, I spent some time with the dancing ash trees, pictured above, these two stand in a hedgerow in a field just off Paradise Lane. As they lose their leaves, their naked silhouettes start to appear as two human figures held in a theatrical dance on the horizon.
For decades they have waltzed, half the year draped in gowns of ash green, luxuriously swaying in the summer breeze; the other half, stood naked, frozen, nodding only to the strongest winds that move them slowly towards Spring time, where their green dresses await them, once again.
That’s all, until next month, when we’ll observe the less subtle changes of Autumn. In the meantime, enjoy the visual diary included below, please note the upcoming events listed on the homepage, and please consider donating to support the continued evolution of the To The Tree project.
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