Tag Archives: #autumn

Last of the Season

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The weather has turned so cold over the past week or so, mostly grey with the mountains getting their first coat of white. But today came up sunny, a nice change. I watched the blue sky while I worked, and finally managed to bundle up and go for a walk at sunset.

I found these hardy blossoms braving the low temperatures.

All photos: PKR

Some of the gardens still have flowers – especially late-blooming roses – but I was only interested in the roadside variety, the ones with no assistance, coming up along the edges, defying asphalt, gravel, cars, and dogs.

They’ve felt the bite of frost every morning for over a week, they’re starting to frizzle, but they’ve still got color and beauty to give before it all goes brown and white for the season.

 

Humble, bowed but not faded, a passing late pollinator might still find joy. And if the pollinators don’t find joy, well, at least this walker did.

Going, Gone

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Just a short time ago, I posted some images of the prolonged and glorious autumn we’ve been enjoying here in eastern France. A time to revel in the moment, because it passes all too quickly.

My favorite old oak tree. Photos: PKR

My favorite old oak tree, last week.
Photos: PKR

And see, that suspension of the seasonal march is coming to an end, the first snows are anticipated for the end of the week.

Time to bring in any last stragglers from the garden, cover sensitive bushes and trees in a winter coat, give the lawn a final once over and wait for the freeze.

My favorite old oak tree, this week.

My favorite old oak tree, this week.

The good news is, with every turn of the screw, no matter how much beauty seems to be scattered on the ground, no matter how cold and bitter it may seem, there is always a promise at the end of another spring.

 

Sparse Harvest

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Here’s the bounty from the garden fig tree this year:

 

The thumb-sized fig. Photos: PKR

The grape-sized fig.
Photos: PKR

Granted, it’s not from the generous old tree we had for fifteen years, the one that didn’t make it through a transplant followed by a harsh cold snap a couple of years ago.

The fig newbie managed a decent harvest last year; probably the long heatwave and lack of water are to blame for this season’s fig dearth.

There are a few little fig buds that tried to grow once the weather cooled in September, but it’s a case of too little water, too late.

Better luck next year.

Autumn vine on a nearby wall.

Autumn vine on a nearby wall.

 

Autumn Palette

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Mont Blanc at sunset. All photos: PKR

Mont Blanc at sunset.
All photos: PKR

Completing my regular running loop these days takes forever.

Why? Because it’s so breathtakingly beautiful. I have to stop every now and then just to take it all in.

Fallen leaves under a village streetlamp.

Fallen leaves under a village streetlamp at the end of an evening run.

 

The bourbon-sweet scent of fallen leaves and late crops, the soft snik-snik-snik of leaves falling on other leaves, falling to the ground like a gentle dry rain, the intoxicating tapestry of yellows, reds, oranges and browns.

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My mood is made even brighter by a lovely autumnal palette of blended whiskies, a wedding anniversary gift given to celebrate more than two decades of blended lives.

Look at all those lovely hues.

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What a treat.

Some of them I know, some of them I don’t. The Johnnie Walker Blue Label turns out to be like a soft puff of sweet smoke, a perfect complement to the seasonal change outside.

I’ll update on the others as we try them.

Who says autumn is the melancholy season?

Not me.photo 2-5

An update on the Hibiki whisky here.

The Third Season

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Word taxonomies have shown that there was a time, at least in some cultures of northern Europe, when there was only one season worth mentioning: Winter.

Sure, there was the warmer part of the year that wasn’t winter, known early by its Germanic word “sumer,”, denoting something like “half.”

So there was the warm half of the year, summer, and the other half of the year, winter.

The spaces in between, transitional moments more ephemeral than a long and heavy blanket of snow or days and weeks of heat and sun, went by various names until quite recently.

One of the apple trees in our small garden, a reliable producer of too many tart, delicious apples every year. All photos: PKR

One of the apple trees in our small garden, a reliable producer of too many tart, delicious apples every year.
All photos: PKR

Technically, that is to say, astronomically, the autumnal equinox denotes the point at which the day and night on Earth are approximately the same length.

Once, it was the time when the harvest took place and the lively, outdoor, active days of warmth began to turn inward, cooling off and withdrawing for a dormant season. The season itself was once referred to mainly by words denoting harvest, and this is still the case in German – the word “Herbst” has the same root as “harvest.”

These days, though, not many people are actually involved in gathering a harvest of the agricultural kind – the harvest as a season has been replaced by year-round availability of food.

The terms autumn and fall replaced harvest in English in the 16th century, with fall becoming more popular in North America.

I leave the fallen apples on the ground between infrequent mowings - the birds love them. The brown spots on the lawn are the scars left from a very long and hot summer.

I leave the fallen apples on the ground between infrequent mowings – the birds love them. The brown spots on the lawn are the scars left from a very long and hot summer.

I prefer the sound of the word autumn, with its sense of changing colors and a cool wind that slices through the heat of summer – but fall has the concise utility of being descriptive. The fruit falls, the temperature falls, the leaves fall, the rain starts to fall, and all that growth of summer pulls into itself until winter has passed.

The season holds a different promise from spring, that giddy season of birdsong and budding forth. Fall speaks of reflection, it’s the coppery flip side of spring’s exuberant coin, a time to prepare, a time to take time. It starts softly and ends quietly, almost before it’s even announced its presence.

So today, I offer a gentle salute to the Autumnal Equinox, a marker on the vague road that leads from one half the year to the next.

This year, late summer finally brought rain just as the season was turning - the grass is turning green just as the leaves are starting to fall, a sort of double season.

This year, late summer finally brought rain just as the season was turning – the grass is turning green just as the leaves are starting to fall, a sort of double season.

Leafing Out

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There are few places in the world, if any, that aren’t touched by human activity, including places with no humans. And one of our chief human activities over the past couple of centuries has been the transfer of carbon from reservoirs deep within the planet out into the atmosphere.

We’ve been re-creating the environment during this industrial dream. Like a dream, we aren’t always conscious of our decisions and the impact they will have as we weave the story forward.

Several recent studies show that the phenology of leaves around the world, i.e. the annual cycle of vegetation changes, has dramatically altered since the mid-20th century.

Smoke & Mirrors (2010) Photo: Ellie Davies

Smoke & Mirrors (2010)
Photo: Ellie Davies

 

It might not seem particularly important if the first vegetation leafs out a week earlier every year, or drops a week later in autumn.

But a study published in Nature Climate Change measured severe phenological changes on 54% of the planet’s land surface between 1981 and 2012, with resulting shifts for entire ecosystems.

Warmer temperatures, new rainfall patterns and increased atmospheric carbon are altering the rate of energy exchange between land and atmosphere in complex ways that we don’t yet entirely understand.

Increased carbon uptake due to earlier springs and later autumns mitigate climate change, at least in theory (and leaving out the issue of deforestation, of course).

But as it turns out, phenological change alters different forests in different ways. Temperate forests react differently from boreal forests, and the overall impact on a global level is as yet unclear.

Smoke & Mirrors Heathland 1 (2013) Photo: Ellie Davies

Smoke & Mirrors Heathland 1 (2013)
Photo: Ellie Davies

 

Truly long-term studies of leaf-out times aren’t widely available, but the Marsham family of Norfolk, England, kept records of leafing and flowering times of estate woodland plants from 1736 to 1947.

By matching historical temperature records (back to 1772) to the family log, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland found that while a warmer autumn causes early leafing species such as birch to take longer to come into leaf the following spring, while late-leafing species, such as oak trees, seem unaffected by autumnal temperatures.

These citizen scientist observations allow researchers to test predictions regarding the effects of temperature on leaf cycles and woodland environments.

Smoke & Mirrors Heathland 2 (2013) Photo: Ellie Davies

Smoke & Mirrors Heathland 2 (2013)
Photo: Ellie Davies

What is clear on a global scale is that the countless organisms with life cycles synchronized to vegetation cycles are being dramatically affected.

Meanwhile, we continue to emit carbon sighs during our long industrial dream of plenty, not yet knowing where it will lead, or how the earth will look we will wake up.

Smoke & Mirrors Heathland 3 (2013) Photo: Ellie Davies

Smoke & Mirrors Heathland 3 (2013)
Photo: Ellie Davies

Stopwatch Pause

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Yesterday I promised myself, while out running, that I would not dally to take pictures. And before that thought had even come to an end in my inner monologue, I came around a corner and saw an oak tree ablaze in the first autumn sunset of the year.

So I switched off my stopwatch, climbed under the electric fence (it’s meant to keep the horses in, not me out, right?) and stood very close to but not within a perilous patch of stinging nettle to catch a bit of equinox fire.photo 1_3

The newly orange and yellow leaves on the oak are not necessarily set apart from the golden hue of the sun’s rays in the last moments before it dipped below the crest of the Jura mountains.

The phone camera, wonder of technology that it is, still isn’t quite made for this kind of light – or perhaps I should say, in my impatient and unskilled hands, it wasn’t easy to catch both detail and light.

I opted for light.

Welcome, Autumn.photo 3

 

Come On Over

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“Peaches, ripe for the picking,” my neighbour tells me from atop his tractor as he passes by. “We can’t eat them all.”

No need to ask me twice. This morning I headed over with an empty picking sack.

The peachy corner of the neighbour's garden, which was established in the late 19th century.

The peachy corner of the neighbour’s garden, which was established in the late 19th century.

I’ll be honest, in all the years I’ve lived next door to this farm, I thought they only had one kind of peach. Pêche de vigne, vineyard peaches, of which there are several types.

The one grown next door isn’t a pretty variety on the outside, it looks a bit rough, a cowboy peach that’s been out in the weather too long and smoked a few hundred too many cheroots.

Pêche de vigne.

Pêche de vigne.

But there are two heavily laden peach trees, and the second is bending with the weight of green peaches that look vaguely unripe, but are soft to the touch and ready for harvest.

The green-yellow peaches, soft and ripe.

The green-yellow peaches, soft and ripe.

I’m happy to say I took a few of them, too. Because while I have no idea what this kind of peach is called (there are over 2000 kinds of peach), it’s a revelation of taste.

Tangy peach scent with a hint of vanilla, and the flavour is crisp with an aftertaste of honeydew melon.

The first small plate of harvested peaches, the first of many.

The first small plate of harvested peaches, the first of many.

The scent of the pêche de vigne is completely different, a heady mix of sweet and rich red earth. The flesh looks like it’s been steeped in port wine, and that’s pretty much what it tastes like, too.

In the past I’ve made sorbet using these red peaches with a dash of port, and if I do say so myself, it’s not bad.

I was under the close supervision of this guy, who was sitting in the sheep meadow on the other side of the fence.

I was under the close supervision of this guy, who was sitting in the sheep meadow on the other side of the fence.

I foresee a large amount of peach jam, preserved peaches, peach pie and peach sorbet in my near future.

Thanks, neighbour!

End of Season

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A few photographs from the old farm next door to our place. Autumn is always a busy time – the garden gets readied for winter, the wood gets stacked, and best of all, they’ve been pressing apple cider. We’ve been lucky to be on the receiving end, every year, of their fine product.

The apple press, clean and ready for a new day of work. This is the small press. The giant stone press, hardly ever used these days, is here.DSC01903

The inner workings of the apple masher.DSC01905

And the stone fountain where all the cleaning takes place.DSC01902

The whole courtyard is filled with the sweet scent of apples and the hay used to filter the juice. And out back by the compost, the remains of the press.DSC01915

 

The walnuts have been out drying for a couple of weeks now. They’ll be cracked and pressed into walnut oil.DSC01904

Old barrels meeting their end.DSC01894

And the hoops that once bound them.DSC01906

The number of pumpkins has been steadily dwindling with every passing week as they get made into soups and stews.DSC01888

The sheep look ready for their winter quarters at another farm up the hill. They graze here from early spring until late fall or early winter.DSC01917

The people who run this farm are in their 70s, and I don’t imagine their children will be carrying on the old habits of this place, which has been a working farm in the family since the mid-1800s. I’m grateful for every season we get to live in proximity to this heritage.

All photos: PK Read