Oh dear, oh dear... are you still with me, dear Readers? A whole four months have passed since I last posted on this blog, a whole season and more! The combination of a busy Summer season and some procrastination on my part accounts for this gap in my more regular musings. I remember the beginnings of a Summer Solstice blog formulating in my mind, then one about the joy of first harvest but I have had to let go of both of these as time passed and neither of these write-ups made it out of my head unfortunately. Being a slow writer and a bit of a perfectionist provides the ideal conditions for me to put off getting my writing out there! Something to work on, I reckon, because I do enjoy writing and sharing my seasonal reflections in this way. Will you bear with me, dear Readers?
As I write this, we are having something of an Indian Summer here in the hills of Mid-Wales. Warm temperatures and sunny skies give a sense that Summer is not quite finished although the first signs of Autumn have been revealing themselves for a little while now. And tomorrow, with the Autumn Equinox, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is officially here. Are you ready for the new season? What is your approach to Autumn and the changes it brings? Do you welcome it and ease yourself into it or do you cling to Summer not wanting to let go of the long, hot days?
I find that, as I become more mindful of the subtle changes between seasons, the transition from one to another is more gradual and gentle. The young summer in June matures into the full-on days of July and by August, when our veg crops are plentiful, there is a sense that all our efforts in the Spring are coming to fruition, an ending of sorts as we harvest all our produce. The Wheel of the Year turns continually, Autumn blends into Summer before September comes and I find it so helpful to notice all the subtle natural changes around me... the first falling leaves, the last sweet pea, the first blackberries in the hedgerow... This keeps me grounded in the present moment and I then take the arrival of Autumn and its darker, colder and shorter days in my stride, welcoming the cosy evenings by the fire, the extra layers on the bed, the invitation to go inwards that comes with Autumn.
We have had a good season with the shepherd's hut, all weekends booked up since we opened in May with a few mid-week bookings too. The changes we made at the hut have been a success as has marketing ourselves under the heading of "luxury camping for nature lovers": we have attracted guests particularly suited to this kind of adventure and all have been very happy, appreciating the peace, quiet and simplicity the site offers. Our guest book is filling up with very lovely reviews that indicate what we offer is valued, such a boost after an uncertain post-lockdown re-opening.
The last month has been very full-on with preserving the harvest, a tiring but satisfying way to fill the pantry shelves and the freezer with food for the coming months. This will continue for a while longer with more tomatoes, peppers, beans and a good crop of Winter squashes still to come. The growing season has been challenging with cold days at the beginning and generally a lack of rain throughout the summer months. This makes us appreciate our harvest even more. We don't put the veg plot to bed as such for the Winter as we have leeks, kale, parsnips and chard growing in there, which will take us to the Spring. Just last week I sowed winter crops of spinach and lettuce, some of which will overwinter in the polytunnel. I am drying sweet pea pods to collect the seeds for next year's flowers. The dahlia bed has put on another fantastic show this year and we love all their bright colours brightening up our entrance.
In August, we organised a little music event at ours to give a post-lockdown boost to the local music scene and to raise funds for the Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre. We gathered a few friends... Peter tidied the workshop for the band, I cooked the food and it was lovely to get back doing these things with people. The band played in the workshop whilst we all spread out outside to eat and listen to the music and the singing, all arranged by a colleague of Peter's.
Our children came to stay with us for a week in June, which was wonderful, not having seen them for nine months. We very much enjoyed spending time together, catching up, chatting round the dinner table, going for walks. We had missed them.
We had a broody hen over the Summer and whilst we did not want her to have bables (she is our naughty hen who gets into places she shouldn't so we didn't want her to teach babies her old tricks!!), we reluctantly gave her some fertile eggs to sit on, after our third and failed attempt to stop her being broody!! She is proving to be a wonderful mum and we now have four little chicks about the place. I have wanted blue eggs for a while so I used this opportunity of a hatch to introduce blue egg-laying chickens into our little flock by giving our broody hen a clutch of Araucana eggs. They are now four weeks old so when I can get near them and they stay still enough, I will be trying to see who is a hen and who is a cockerel. So far, I think we have two of each but it is still too early to be certain as their feathers are still coming through.
If in the Spring and Summer months, my gaze is upwards trying to spot birds, September comes and my attention shifts to what is happening on the ground, noticing fungi and searching for waxcaps particularly. I am discovering how their grassland habitat plays an important role as a valuable carbon storage space: waxcaps prefer to grow in grassland that has not been ploughed or fertilised so their presence indicate ancient and undisturbed grassland which store a third more carbon than cultivated fields, according to the environmental conservation organisation Plantlife whose annual WaxcapWatch campaign has just got under way. We found quite a few in our fields last year so I have started looking for them again and contribute my sightings to the campaign and help Plantlife map these colourful fungi. Our Colchicum Autumnale, another sign of ancient and undisturbed meadows, are also in bloom. We did our annual count two weeks ago and passed the number on to the botanical county recorder.
Sometimes, it is easy to feel at a loss, emotionally, over Summer ending, especially if we have a tendency to associate it with doing happy things or we "live for" the summer months and all the activities that go with them. In reality, Autumn has plenty in store too; just in a more mellow, mature and delicate way. Our experiences of a passing Summer now live on within us as memories, like the photos in this blog post that I share alongside the writing. The times past that we let go of as each season passes become stories that form our story like chapters form a whole book, all with a relevant place within the tapestry of our lives.
The Autumn Equinox is a time of balance when our journeying through the year reaches a point when day and night are of equal length. Let us use this time as a reminder that the seasonal change brings us both inner and outer offerings and insights. An abundant harvest marks the growing year reaching completion as the seeds we planted in the Spring now bear their fruits to feed us. Similarly, reduced energy levels and a slightly melancholic mood may frustrate us but they also invite us to pause, reflect and assimilate, which in turn will give us the rest and nourishment we need. Happy Autumn Equinox!