Topaz, cinnamon and gold: Autumn’s cargoes
It was a bright autumn morning today; blue sky with high, wind-sculpted clouds, a fresh breeze blowing. How could I regret leaving Bath, splendid though it is? It was a beautiful day to be heading for the woods.
The whole landscape seems to be washed with gold at the moment. We are in the last and best stage of the autumn colour, which is growing brighter every day even as more and more branches push their bare fingers through the thinning canopy. The sun is a little lower every day, dazzling the eyes until one is under the woodland shade.
A strong breeze is filling the air with leaves: they whirl and race across the paths like live things. I imagine being a cat in this weather, eyes big as saucers, pouncing on nothings. Meanwhile my dog startles a couple of roe deer: they crash out of the undergrowth straight towards me and judder to a stop as they realise I am standing there. I don’t know which of us is more surprised to be facing each other. Then they are gone, off down a slope, where they trot to a halt again, unworried. One does that deer yoga thing of scratching its ear with its hind hoof. The other glances about through long-lashed eyes. A couple of iridescent cock pheasants pick their way past the deer. I am, I reflect, in a Bambi wonderland.
The wind seems to unsettle all creatures, including the wildfowl on the lochan at the woods’ edge. A large flock of mallard is agitating the water, quacking and squabbling, disturbing the family of wild swans who sail like stately Spanish galleons through the dirty British coasters of the ducks.
Under the trees the ground is thick with the new-minted copper pennies of beech leaves. The branches overhead are topaz and golden, shimmering with light. I probably say this every year, but this moment of blazing colour really is one of the two most beautiful moments of the turning year. By the afternoon, even the clouds are tawny, reflecting the glow of the landscape beneath them.
By the way, I am sure that some of you have picked up the references to John Masefield’s poem ‘Cargoes’. Many of us first learned it at school: it is one that has stayed in my head ever since, colouring my imagination. Being all about ships, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the land-locked woods. I thought of it only because the ducks reminded me of little bustling boats…and then I realised that it also includes the colours of autumn’s woodland treasures, ‘topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.’ Here it is.
CARGOES [or, the poem which has nothing at all to do with Tuesday Trees]
by John Masefield
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
(With thanks to allpoetry.com.)
You might enjoy Pied Beauty, another post about autumn colour and poetry.