Autumn Notes

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‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run..’
Keats, To Autumn

How delicious September has been after the monotonous drizzle sponsored by August. Early each morning the South Downs envelope themselves in a misted cloak, the sun glinting sleepily through hazel trees and hedgerows. This year’s lambs have now been moved into the goat paddock for fresh grazing, while the older ewes plod gently up and down the western hill. One of the lambs, Juliet, was hit by flystrike in August and now boasts a strip of short wool regrowing round her belly, the result of blowfly medicine that makes the wool fall off. Perhaps I should knit something to keep her warm..

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Last week we foraged hawthorn, sloe, rosehip, elder and blackberries from the hedgerows, and turned them into a ruby-coloured jam which we smothered on buttered toast. I’ve been making sloe gin by plopping fat berries into bottles and topping up with Bombay Sapphire; it’ll be ready just in time for festive merriment..

On Tuesday we found a frog warming itself on the damp timbers of a wood pile, and our garden is still home to a family of hedgehogs fattening up for dark winter nights. We leave them crispy mealworms and clean water to drink; in return, they nibble the slugs off our raspberry plant.

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Being a January baby, I look to the cold months with utter glee, but a cocktail of thick jumpers and hot tea makes me accidentally forget the smaller creatures we share the world with. While I settle down inside to endless period dramas, our population of mice, rabbits, foxes, badgers, insects and birds must find food and shelter to survive until spring. They don’t care who inherits Downton Abbey, but they do adore a dry jumble of leaves in which to snooze.

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