Our berry-laden hawthorn hedge was also laden with blackbirds and fieldfares this afternoon. At the rate they were eating, there won’t be many berries left by the end of the week.
I call it our ‘hedge’, but it’s really a straggly line of trees. Every time I come across a hawthorn sapling somewhere it doesn’t belong in the garden, I transplant it to the line. The idea was to let the saplings grow a bit, then lay them down to make a hedge. But hawthorns are very prickly, and they grew a lot faster than I expected, so I never got round to sorting them out—and now they’re trees.
The first day of winter, according to meteorologists’ reckoning. The winter solstice in three weeks’ time will make it official.
A late-afternoon walk around the lanes. Another cold and sunny day, but not quite as still as yesterday. The ruined farmhouse at Far Nook (or Ernest’s, as we call it) was beautifully side-lit in the lowering sun. The brief sunset shortly after I returned home was among the most crimson I’ve ever seen.
A walk around the lanes. The foxglove leaves at the side of the track were still coated in last night’s frost, as was the moss on the north-facing drystone walls. The low sun cast long shadows over towards Stoodley Pike. The church bells at Heptonstall rang across the valley, carrying farther in the cold, still air.
A short walk along the edge of the misty Dee Marshes to Burton Point. Blackbirds and other thrushes pigging out on hawthorn berries. Linnets and a robin watching me from the bushes. A vole searching for crumbs beneath a bench. A raucous flock of rooks and jackdaws wheeling above an oak. A tup mounting a ewe. A raven cronking on a distant fencepost. A large formation of pink-footed geese descending, then tumbling willy-nilly into the marsh. Minutes later, a formation of Canada geese doing the same. A kestrel flying past with a frog in its talons. The alders in the carr yellow with autumn. Wales invisible in the mist.
Up near the Farm, there was still a white foxglove in flower. With no bumblebees around to pollinate it, I wonder how long it will take for the petals to wilt and fall off. I’ll continue to monitor the situation with interest.
This evening, Jen and I attended a Caught by the River event at the Golden Lion pub in Todmorden. The gig, MCed by Anna Wood, featured a surname-less ‘Roy’ (entertaining Scouse fiction writer), Amy Liptrot (reading about literal and metaphorical geologies, online dating, and raccoons), poet Zaffar Kunial, and a threesome from the Willowherb Review , Jessica Lee, Nina Mingya Powles, and Michael Malay. The event had received funding from Arts Council England. As always, it was a thoroughly enjoyable event. I was most impressed at the quality of the chosen pieces, and intrigued by what on earth it is that makes particular writers write in their own particular ways.
It later occurred to me perhaps there might be a useful rule of thumb here for my own writing… Every time I finish a piece, I should ask myself, ‘Can you imagine reading this in front of an audience?’ If the answer is no, perhaps I haven’t been ambitious enough.
The hawthorns in our back ‘hedge’ are covered in red berries at the moment. I’ve never seen so many.
The berries mean the hawthorns are also covered in blackbirds, and the occasional thrush. I’m pretty sure there was a fieldfare mid-way up one of the trees this morning, but it was impossible to tell for sure as it was obscured by an inconsiderate branch.
There are reports of redwings all over Twitter, but no sign of them here, yet.
A miserable day. Torrential rain with no let-up, bringing fears of flooding down in the valley. A couple of leaking windows. Lights on at midday.
I glanced out the study window mid-afternoon and saw a small flock of starlings land in one of the hawthorns at the far end of Russel’s field. But something about their jizz felt un-starlingy. I dug out my binoculars, and struggled to focus them through the sheets of rain… Starlings all right, but with a handful of fieldfares thrown in for good measure. A sure sign winter can’t be far off.
By pre-arrangement, I finally met the author and online friend Neil Ansell today. Neil has been incredibly supportive of my writing over the years. He was visiting the Calder Valley for the Todmorden Book Festival. We took a pleasant autumnal walk along the Rochdale Canal, talking about nature writing and our current works in progress. Afterwards, we grabbed a coffee at a v✽gan café, then headed off to Neil’s gig at St Mary’s church.
The session was entitled ‘Writing Wild Places’. Local author Andrew Bibby interviewed Neil and another pal of mine, Amy Liptrot, about their work. Neil read from his latest, The Last Wilderness, and Amy from The Outrun. The session ended with perceptive questions from the audience. I later congratulated Amy for using the word ‘orgasm’ in a packed Sunday church.
As always with these literary events, I came away totally inspired, determined to do better with my own writing. Thanks, chaps!