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The September shift

September 8, 2013

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.)

Horse chestnut: the conkers are ripening

Horse chestnut: the conkers are ripening

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.

Sweet peas in the kitchen garden

Sweet peas in the kitchen garden

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.

You might enjoy Harvest thanksgiving and First tints of autumn.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
    September 8, 2013 1:43 am

    yes here too. i notice it in the change in the light as well as temperature. it has bee a good summer her too though not so, unfortunately, in all of the country. i am digging potatoes now when the sun is out. it doesn’t seem quite cold enough yet but the plants are dying back so..i always think of Ireland when i’m doing it. look forward to hearing about you autumn

  2. September 8, 2013 4:30 am

    It I always a delight to read of your days. I am so pleased you had the best of summers. I love the sound of whitecurrant and whisky cordial

  3. September 8, 2013 8:18 am

    The September shift brings with it for me an even greater urge to spend as much time outside as I can. Sadly limited by work requirements, so it makes weekends doubly precious. Such a perfect September day here – I hope it’s the same for you.

    • September 8, 2013 4:39 pm

      Yes, it has been an unexpectedly beautiful weekend. I’m glad you have had the same.

  4. Toffeeapple permalink
    September 8, 2013 12:33 pm

    Such a lovely post, you are a delight to read. It has truly been the best Summer for years hasn’t it? I think I am ready for Autumn now, I feel the yearning to knit again, now that it is getting cooler.

    • September 8, 2013 4:40 pm

      Thank you very much. I feel rather the same: not about knitting, as sadly I have never managed to get the hang of it, but the same urge to settle down to creative doings in the cooler evenings.

  5. Nib's End permalink
    September 8, 2013 10:00 pm

    When I was young, I gathered horse chestnuts in buckets, drilled a hole through the center of each, beaded them onto packing string and wore them as crowns and necklaces. I thought they were edible and sold the leftovers to the old reverend and his wife who lived in the parsonage down the street. They must have known they were inedible but they always bought them for a dime. Your lovely post has me longing for cooler nights and a bucketful of conkers.

    • boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
      September 11, 2013 3:42 am

      we used to do that too although we played a game where you let one nut hang down and the other boy was allowed to swing at it with his and then you did the same to his. the object was to break the other fellows of course.every battle yours survived made it one “year ” older. there was the odd cracked knuckle too

      • September 12, 2013 11:27 pm

        Yes, we played conkers (same game) too as children. These days it’s considered too dangerous! Anyway the conkers rarely grow very big in Scotland, unlike in the south of England where they can be bigger than walnuts.
        Nib’s End, what a lovely story of the old minister.

  6. hmunro permalink
    September 9, 2013 4:49 pm

    Your prose is as beautiful as ever — and your photo of the sweet peas is sheer poetry, DB.

  7. September 10, 2013 9:45 pm

    Beautifully written! I’ve only ever been in Scotland in late spring, but I dream of what autumn must be like. Thank you for the preview! 🙂

    • September 12, 2013 11:28 pm

      Thanks, Kerry. Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year, it’s so atmospheric and beautiful.

  8. September 12, 2013 10:47 pm

    Your lovely, lyrical words and photos capture perfectly the change I’ve been conscious of too. The advent of autumn seems to have happened quite suddenly this year, but it’s definitely here. Your whitecurrant and whisky cordial might even succeed in giving me the taste for whisky I’ve never managed to acquire. 🙂

    • September 12, 2013 11:29 pm

      Indeed, it seems to win over whisky-drinkers and non-whisky-drinkers alike. All thanks to a glut of whitecurrants several years ago, and good old Mrs Beaton coming up trumps with an unlikely recipe!

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