Friday, 17 September 2010

Abundance at the Forest Edge

Late morning, along quiet trackways leading to the heath, I walked uphill in the late summer sun. Clouds sometimes tempered the warmth, but the day was bright and the woodland edge was filled with a wild harvest of berries, fruit and ripening nuts.

This is a time when migrating birds pass through the Forest on their way to the sea, to Europe and to Africa. Before their long flight, the Forest invites them to stay for a while, to take their fill of the food that is ripening here. Our native birds and small mammals join the feast, their young ones growing and gaining strength before the harder times of winter yet to come.

Sweet chestnuts ripen on a laden tree.

The wilding apple trees are full of fruit. The offspring of domestic trees from cottage orchards, they grow small, hard apples of varying colours, from deep reds to bright, acidic greens. A beautiful red crab apple jelly can be made from the fruit of the tree below, although the birds, squirrels and cattle have first claim on a wild tree.

Drought meant that blackberries (brambles) have been less fruitful than they were last summer, but the deep red hawthorns are as plentiful as ever. Hawthorn trees and bushes make a winter larder for fruit eating birds.

A few bright Tormentil flowers still flower in the undergrowth.

In one gravel lane, I found that an old hawthorn, encased in tree ivy, had snapped a dry main branch under its load of leaves and branches. Ivy cascaded down to the ground and the leaves appeared to be dying. Autumn flying insects will miss the masses of yellow globed ivy flowers , not yet opened and dying on the broken tree.

The wounded branch, broken and splintered dry.

Late harebells in the undergrowth.

Another hawthorn tree, its berries red against a blue sky.

Three fruiting trees together. Acorns, green wilding apples and hawthorn cluster alongside the path.

The cattle have already found these tiny apples on the grass.

Scarlet hips from a dog rose that flowered in the early summer.

More brambles.......

.......and ash keys drying to brown before they fall in the winter winds.

Another wilding tree, with the deepest red apples, on the sunlit edge of the wood.

As I climbed the bracken covered hill, I found new fungi sprouting in leaf mould beside the path.

A puffball, maybe an earthball?

Beneath the bracken and bramble briars, I saw a flash of scarlet. My first sight of Fly Agaric toadstools this autumn. A cluster of large, beautifully spotted toadstools and a flashback to childhood, when these were the magic toadstools of the woods. They are poisonous to humans and are said to have hallucinogenic powers. Stories of witches flying on broomsticks may derive from these and similar fungi. When the witches ( who were more likely wise, older women with a knowledge of country herbal lore) partook of the fungi, maybe they dreamed that they were flying?

Something has had a nibble of this one.

Down beside the woods, the broad leafed trees still keep their summer greens, but the leaves look drier now and it will not be long before cooler nights, autumn winds and the first frosts. The days when leaf colours will change and the leaf fall will begin.

Last vestiges of summer, the bell heathers bloom amongst grass and bracken....

....while ling dries from purple to brown amid spikes of new gorse. There is still good grass in the clearings. The Forest ponies and cattle are feeding well as the summer ends.


ChrisJ said...

Beautiful. beautiful! I do get homesick for all these beautiful things. I have never actually seen a Fly Agaric, except in picture books.You write so well -- lots of good adjectives! :)

ChrisJ said...

Oh, I'm so embarrassed. I'm pretty sure it was your blog on which I commented about your beautiful writing and use of adjectives! Of course I meant verbs, since everyone knows it's verbs that keep everything moving along. So sorry. Please put it down to a 'senior moment'! I'm having a lot of those, these days.

Bovey Belle said...

You have made me SO homesick! I SO want to pick the lovely rosy apples from old Jenny's tree and make wildings jelly again. Our blackberries are showing a poor crop this year, though I managed to pick another pound or so yesterday. I am now regretting using 3 lbs of last years' from the freezer to make wine with!

What a lovely walk. I wish I had been with you. BTTW, a forager writing for Country Kitchen magazine recently gave a recipe for Fly Agaric omelette. Don't think I'll be trying it!

Dartford Warbler said...

Chris,thank you for your kind comments. From one former English teacher to another, your words mean a lot ( whichever parts of speech they may be about!).

BB, you were very much with me in thought as I walked on the heath yesterday. Let`s hope that you may be able to come down here again, before too long.

I don`t think I would be happy to try Fly Agaric omelette, although the slugs, snails and mice seem to nibble the toadstools regularly. I wonder if they have good dreams ( if a slug can dream at all.....)?

Kath said...

Oh how lovely. great minds think alike as I was snapping the berries on our walk today, but we didnt spot any toadstools.
A very autumnal feel to this post today.

Morning's Minion said...

This was a wonderful countryside ramble. I could, in imagination, smell the cider-y odor of the apples, the musky damp where the mushrooms grow, the scent of late-ripening berries.
There is a "puff-ball" which grows in New England--I don't know the correct name--which harvested when firm and white, can be eaten. My late MIL sliced them and fried the slices gently in butter with slivers of onion.
I must look up something about hawthorns--I don't think I've encountered them in this country--although the leaves have a familiar look.