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Glastonbury Tor View in Autumn

Glastonbury Tor View in Autumn

Lately, I have returned to regular Tor walking. Partly because I need the exercise, but also because it provides a great vantage point from which to observe the full extent of Autumn’s artwork, patches of colour appearing where swathes of green once swayed and skeletal silhouettes looming on the lines of the hedgerows and horizons.

Down on the ground, in the thick of it, I have been taking short excursions to play with the fallen leaves. To put it bluntly, being creative in nature is something that helps keep me sane. Placing myself in a world where only leaves, shapes and colours are the focus, acts as a bulwark against the ever encroaching nonsense, but also seems to make me and others particularly happy. Art makes people’s day.

Norway Maple Mandala

Norway Maple Mandala

I created this Mandala last weekend from the fallen leaves of a Norway Maple down behind the Rural Life Museum. I spent a good hour sorting the leaves and arranging the pattern. As I picked through the leaves I noticed the different leaf shapes at various stages of their development. Some were dainty and bright yellow, their lobes barely formed, like foetal hands, fingers tipped with pixie hats, others were fully palmated, as large as Grandad’s hands, while others sat somewhere in the middle, unevenly formed and unsteady, like clumsy teenagers. Other’s I happened upon appeared to be twins, with two leaves growing from the same petiole, not something I have observed before. Despite their differences in age, all had met their end at the same time, as the Autumn called halt to their development and returned them to the earth.

The order of Autumn continues, the native ash trees throw their leaves impatiently over their shoulders and lean into the cold, though some still stand with full green foliage in hedgerows and more sheltered areas. Younger trees and saplings keep hold of their leaves for slightly longer than their parents to make the most of the light revealed by the loss of foliage in the canopies.

The poplars on Stone Down are bare, while the acers continue to reveal their plumage. Hornbeams turn bright yellow before quickly discarding their leaves, their cousins, silver birch, turn a deeper yellow and seem to have a more tenacious grip on their leaves. The oak saplings on Bulwarks Lane have started to resemble the palette of a landscape painter, bright gold seeping into their deep green, while most other oaks are still completely green or else glowing deep orange.

Glastonbury Abbey - Fern Leaved Beech

Glastonbury Abbey – Fern Leaved Beech

The Abbey trees are something to behold, trees from all over the world, all doing their thing at the same time. The red and paperbark maples are burning deep as roses, while the silver maple is just that, its white backed leaves almost seem to turn a silvery blue colour in the Autumn light. The lindens are changing the colour of random leaves, giving the effect of a pointillist painting, while the ginkgo shows a perfect green to yellow gradient and the tulip trees are as gold as gold can be.

One of my favourite Autumnal display is that of the beech, their leaves turn individually to rich golds, yellows and bright oranges and dazzle in their contrast to the remaining green leaves.

Beech trees shedding from left to right

Beech trees shedding from left to right

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the three beech trees in a row at the back entrance to the Tor, with the stone beneath them, they have turned bright orange and are now shedding from left to right (West to East), they gained their leaves in Spring from right to left (East to West). How do we account for this slight difference between three trees placed so closely together?


Copper beech (left) standard beech (right)

Copper beech (left) standard beech (right)

On Bushy Coombe, a copper beech stands next to a standard beech, it’s interesting to note the differences in the colour changes of these two trees, the standard beech being far more striking and definite in its fiery display, while the copper beech takes on deeper orange and red hues, dampened by the anthocyanin (the chemical that makes them purple, and Autumn leaves red) to a darker, more burnt colouring.

To confuse matters slightly, I have noticed a beech that in the Spring and Summer was a very dark colour, I wrote an article about the blackness of this beech, as I observe the tree further into Autumn, its colours appear as that of a standard beech, green spotted with vivid golds, browns and oranges. The behaviour of these cultivars is quite mysterious.

The trees undress as the cold weather encroaches and the nights draw in, recent wind has left the majority of trees leafless, but there are still plenty of hangers on, the oaks in particular like to take their time over Autumn. The trees have learned to make the most while the going is good and to reserve and preserve when the darkness comes. If you look closely you can observe next year’s buds and catkins already formed, little sparks of life sitting on the bare branches throughout winter, awaiting activation. The trees prepare now for next year, a lesson that could serve us well. Autumn reminds us of death, but also points us  towards regeneration, rebirth and preparation.

A Golden Path Of Light - Glastonbury Abbey - Norway Maple

A Golden Path Of Light – Glastonbury Abbey – Norway Maple, dedicated to Clarice Jones

It almost feels that as Autumn finishes, Spring has already begun, it will just lay dormant for a few months. Close observation of this cycle helps me to recognise the importance of these processes to my own wellbeing and state of mind and that of our communities and the collective. Observing and enjoying the subtle changes that create our bright red Autumnal leaves, the delicacy and abundance of Autumns offering and the subtle artistry of the natural cycles from which we emerged is an act I will never tire of and will be most sad to leave when the time comes.

I have enjoyed Autumn this year as if it were the first and last time I will witness it, perhaps I was enjoying it for my Nan who passed this Thursday. It’s this attitude, unashamedly childish and eager to discover, that should lead every walk into nature.

Nature is laden with inspiration and healing it asks only for our careful attention.

Samhain blessings to all. x


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Matt Witt

Author Matt Witt

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