The September shift
This week the season has changed. There is always a moment in the year when you notice that summer has turned to autumn, and this week was it; an unmistakeable shift.
Last weekend’s local Highland Games in warm sunshine feels an age ago, a fond memory from the end of summer. The days remain unusually warm, still reaching the low twenties Celsius/ low seventies Fahrenheit by late afternoon. (What a summer it has been here, so long and warm and mellow!) If not the daytime temperatures, then, perhaps it is the earlier evenings and cooler, dark nights that signify to birds, beasts and humans alike that the season has turned.
We all notice it. The three cygnets on the lochan have adult plumage growing through their grey fluff now: when one stretches a wing to preen, it shows a flash of startling white pinions. The last of this year’s osprey hatchlings are mewing anxiously to each other overhead, readying themselves for their journey south. A night of rain a couple of weeks ago brought a host of tiny brown toads onto the paths, each one hopping and clambering laboriously from its birthplace in search of a new home. (Parallels with all the young school-leavers heading off to university this week spring inevitably to mind: the autumn exodus affects our own species too.)
As the midsummer flowers dwindle and fade, their enamelled brightness is replaced by the warm tones of early autumn. September to me is purple and gold: warmth and richness both visual and edible. Horse chestnuts are kindling the first of the autumn blaze, while rowan berries glow rusty red on the roadsides. In the hedgerows, the mauve spires of rosebay willow herb have burned up like firecrackers, leaving wisps of smoky grey seeds on the lower stems and tongues of flame-coloured leaves below. No wonder its other common name is fireweed.
Meanwhile, in the garden, the last of the summer’s bounty keeps us busy. We missed the strawberries as we were away for their brief season, and the peas are finished now. Courgettes, onions and runner beans keep coming though, and the blueberries and raspberries are still bearing fruit while the first brambles and apples ripen alongside them. I am spending more hours in the kitchen than I would choose as I try to capture the glut while I can, making soups and pies, compotes and puddings and the house favourite, a truly delicious whitecurrant and whisky cordial which is a godsend to guns and fisherman on frosty mornings.
There now, the words ‘frosty mornings’ suddenly fill me with happy anticipation. It will be hard to say goodbye to this best-summer-in-years, but the crisp promise of autumn awaits. Good.