Autumn has to be one of my favourite times of the year.
I love the smell of the earth as leaves fall and vegetation begins to die back. The wet depth of the heavy dews, carpeting the world in sparkling iridescent diamonds. The liquid golden light that touches everything, but especially autumnally-coloured leaves, with syrupy fire. The crisp cool mornings that open out into gloriously warm, blue domed days. Screaming winds and driving rains that send you scurrying for the comfort of a warm blanket and a steaming cup of tea.
Additionally, it is still a fecund time of the year, with flowers still blooming in a last gasp farewell to the summer. Preparations are also underway for the winter, and for next year’s spring.
It is also the time of year to look for fungi. We are on heavy clay here, clay which usually bakes solid in a summer such as the one we have just had. Last year, however, was incredibly soggy, so the earth still gives underfoot, even after this year’s heatwave. Indeed, in some places it still squelches, especially after a good night’s rain. These conditions are, apparently, just what the fungi around here were craving. Everywhere you look, everywhere you thought to place your foot, there you will find mushrooms. Large mushrooms, small mushrooms, each with its own weird beauty. I am not an expert on fungi, and therefore leave them firmly where they are. This is why I have made no attempt at identifying the mushrooms below, as so many types look like other types. Poisonous ones look like edible, or the other way around. Indeed, one particular edible mushroom commonly found in the UK is known as the Deceiver, simply because it looks so alike other types of fungus! If you do wish to collect wild mushrooms for consumption, I would locate an expert forager who can teach you what to look for, as not even the best text book can convey every condition of growth safely.
As you can see, a wondrous diversity and a quite striking beauty. Not surprising, as there are approximately 15,000 types of fungus to be found in the UK alone. A lifetime’s study for the dedicated mycologist, all waiting on his or her doorstep.
There are also a few late butterflies still to be seen, though they are getting fewer and fewer in number now. Here is a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) feeding on a late chive blossom. Interestingly, the species name of urticae comes for their preference for nettles (genus Urtica) for laying their eggs.
All in all, this time of year is magical in its diversity. Beauty is sharper, clearer than in the more opulent summer. Soon, the scent of woodfires will start to perfume the air, the first frosts will silver the world and the bare, beautiful bones of the landscape will be seen. A season of pleasures will be over, but with the promise of yet more pleasures to come.
What autumnal beauties will you find?