Friday, 18 September 2015

Warm days and wood smoke nights.

I have watched summer spill into autumn, counting all the little changes that add up to mark one season's fading and the other's awakening. The first of autumn's storms came in on a tumble of leaves and rain, and our windows leaked to remind us that our boat build is still far from complete. I missed the departure of the swallows, swifts, and martins over one weekend, their exit as silent as their arrival in early summer. On a Friday I watched their agile flight, skimming the river and darting above the boats in the sunshine, and by Monday, as I emerged after a weekend of illness, the sky and river was empty of their acrobatic flight.

These days wood smoke from our little chimney is often spotted hanging low over the water as the nights close in on the equinox. Whilst the days have seen some warm sunshine, the evenings are quick to cool. We received our winter coal supply last week. Keeping warm is an expensive business and so we try and buy whilst merchants sell at summer prices. The arrival of the lorry trundling down our lane is a sure sign that autumn is near. 

Big lorry made it down a tiny lane (it may have left with bits of willow tree attached).
This year, for the first time, the coalman refused to put the coal on our coal pile, and drove off leaving it in the car park. 

The moment I regretted buying all the coal at once.
 There was no one around to help me shift it so I started the arduous task alone, before Rob returned home six hours later after a day's work to carry the rest. 

20 bags and I'm ready to collapse.
We are now fully stocked on wood and coal, and I am sure there will be more storm-felled wood again this year that we will hoard ready for next winter.

We are still out regularly harvesting late summer and early autumn fruits. The sloes have peaked early, not waiting for frost's first touch to make their juices sweet, but turning on the branch instead. Our first pear harvest is in too, collected from a little tree beside the lake. I have been busy the last few days squirreling away rosehips for liqueur and tea.

I will be using the old faithful liqueur recipe from Foraging London that always has wonderful results. I have never dried hips for tea before, so this will be a new adventure for me. 

As I write this Rob's hedgerow port is bubbling away in a barrel beside the stove. He has gathered demijohns from friends ready for the next stage in its brewing. We still need to gather mugwort for our Samhain brew, and need to catch it before the flowers fade. 
This year we have grown our own beans and tomatoes in little pots behind the marina office. I went to collect my first harvest a week ago only to discover that someone else had taken what was ripe. I do not mind sharing what we grow, but first pickings mean a lot to us; the reward for our hard labours. I do not know who took them, but I hope the vegetables brought cheer to their table, and that they tasted good. Enough people bring me tokens of their bakes and garden delights that I do not begrudge the disappearance of a few of my own crops. We will have enough beans to see us through the winter.

And so slowly, it seems, autumn is creeping upon us, but she is not in full mantle. Trees are still dressed in green, and there is, as yet, no signs of the gabble ratchets or the gulls that follow the Thames north in pursuit of colder climes. I do not know what gulls they are, they fly too high for me to distinguish any features, but their appearance in the low light of evening makes us pause whatever we are doing to watch them cross the sky. It is then, as we wish them well on their journey, that we know that autumn is truly upon us. 


  1. Lovely post, V. Looks like I may be too late for the sloes - but will go-see.
    Catch 22, ain't it. You get so warm heaving the coal to burn it to keep warm, so you don't need to use it!

    1. Thank you! Yes, go and check as there's still some sloes about.

      I'm built like the Hulk after that. ;)


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