We are held inside the deepest, darkest time of the year, the most cocooning, but also the most revealing. Winter is visible and visceral, days are short and some barely rouse me from a dreamy state. Gently drifting through these days is a privilege and a pleasure I am allowing myself. Considering the year we have had, I am intent on embracing this restful state and to remain content with it, so far that has happened with ease.
I try to walk every day, in the morning after a cup of tea, or in the evening, just before the sun goes down, sometimes both. Recent morning walks have been laced with a veil of mist and walks in the evening punctuated by encounters with familiar faces on the Tor gathered to enjoy the sunset.
Winter walks have a different feel to Spring and Summer, there is less hanging around, long sits in the woods with the guitar are curtailed for a few months, due to the cold. There is more standing and more squinting as the Winter sun approaches its lowest arc across the sky. During this time, there are stark and often abrupt contrasts in the light, from rich golden when the sun is shining, to more silvery atmospheric blue colours, when the mist and cloud gather.
Most of the mature trees have lost their leaves entirely, the hedges are becoming less foliaged and more fingery, allowing light and visibility into the deep dark heart of their rows. Some hedges remain untrimmed with this year’s growth spearing from their tops like poles flagged by the last leaves left. Hedgerow and understory trees often retain their leaves for longer, taking advantage of the sunlight now allowed to reach them as their parents lose their leaves. It’s also slightly warmer and more sheltered around the lanes, causing the leaves to hang on.
At this time of the year it’s interesting to note the crossover of seasons, walks are still dotted with the trailing remnants of summer, while the glimmers of a future Springtime are readied from Summer’s bounty. This image was taken on Fairy Lane, it shows the bright red of this year’s haws, still hanging on, contrasted with the bright yellow of hazel catkins. These pre prepared catkins will remain closed on the branches until late winter, when they’ll extend to release their pollen.
The branch in the background is an especially large arm of a blackthorn, I often touch this branch as I walk through the kissing gate into the lane, it seems like a necessary tradition to uphold, it reminds me to give thanks and ensure safe passageway through the lane, but otherwise has no immediately obvious or logical purpose.
At the meeting point of Lypiatt Lane, Bulwarks Lane and the public footpath commonly known as Fairy Lane, a physical cross road exists, it’s a junction with five gates and three paths. Apart from the observable crossroads, this location also seems to host a gateway or point of passage of another kind. There is a definite sense of something else present here, a misty hint, surely whispered, that rouses one from their laney day dream.
At this junction a decision is always required: do we head further out into the countryside via the aptly named Fairy Lane, do we head back to town via Bushy Coombe, or down to the wells via Lypiatt Lane. Perhaps it is the simple requirement for a decision that makes one pay attention at this juncture, or perhaps there’s more to it. I am not the only tree walker to have noted the presence of invisible others in this spot.
More often than not the decision is made to enter onto Fairy Lane. I press the little blackthorn button as I pass through the kissing gate, whispering discreetly a request for permission to enter.
As one passes through, there is a distinct feeling of stepping into limbo, like this section of the walk sits outside of time, like a walk within a walk. Further down fairy lane stands the double trunk of a split ash that resembles a grand altar with the meeting point of its two trunks providing a convenient sheltered receptacle for offerings. A view of the Tor spans the right hand side of the lane and often dramatic light cuts through the walls of the hollow. This little lane feels like a journey within a journey, like a purgatory, where one can relax, cocooned by the green hollow, softly listening, closely watching, and gently feeling.
A recent linger on fairy lane revealed a gang of long-tailed tits drifting from branch to branch, their trailing tails and subtle flutterings could almost be mistaken for that of tiny fae folk. With the trees left bare of leaves, the gangs are forced to forage in the open. They find safety and warmth in numbers and have a very interesting social structure, with sibling birds helping to feed and rear chicks, while protecting their feeding territory as a group.
When caught in my peripheral vision these birds have often struck me as resembling wind blown leaves. It’s often difficult to make out to what extent they are in control of their movement. For the most part they tumble in circles, as if the wind has hold of them, almost out of control, but conducting the most minute manoeuvres, so quick and tiny as to be invisible to my eyes, to miraculously avoid collisions and conduct safe landings. It’s as if their movements are an imprint of the wind in physical form, an embodiment of the physics of that element in flesh, skin, and feather.
So, here we are on the cusp of December. As it stands, the leaves of 2020 are yet to completely leave us behind. The odd oak, here and there, are calmly holding their leaves to ensure all the nutrients are transferred before they are blown away. One in particular, on Bulwarks lane, is still verdant green. The beech tree canopies are now sparsely dotted with gold leaves, new growth of hazel, elder and elm in the hedgerows are still holding leaves, willows are hanging on, and Grandmother Lime is yet to fully bare herself, but for the most part the foliage has departed and the misty silhouettes are skeletal.
This Autumn has taught me the extent to which the seasons blend into one another, there is never a definite end of summer, nor a beginning of Spring, they are labels for processes that blend and gradate into each other, with no separation between. The seasons merge, move gradually, and despite the bleak winter skies, lack of warmth, and days that seem to last forever yet pass so quickly, we are reminded at every corner that Summer remains with us for months and that the first inklings of Spring can be observed in deep winter, as tiny golden gems, hung out in the promise of future sun, warmth and bounty.
We are left to walk on to the Winter Solstice, looking forward to Yule. Tree walks will be few and far between over the next three months, while I rest and read, take stock and plan for the forthcoming season. There will be a tree walk over the Solstice, date and time TBC and I will be performing as part of the Glastonbury Live Virtual Solstice on Sunday 20th Dec time TBC.
I leave you with two images, the first taken on Bushy Coombe, the late Autumn sun holding the leaves last song in golden radiance. The second was taken on this weekend’s tree walk, with its contrasting blue, misty hues.
See you soon x
Feet in the Autumn Leaves
Over the weeks I have collected a series of square images showing my feet in various piles of leaves.
It was interesting to observe the ever developing colour schemes and see how beautifully complementary and opposing they are, the pastel greens and oranges in particular, then the bright yellow of the field maple, then finally the deep oranges of the oaks, all sprinkled with a good helping of golden beech leaves, depending on where one is standing. From a creative perspective, Autumn on the ground provides us with an endless source of ready made swatch schemes!
Bring the outside in!
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