It was November…
the month of crimson sunsets,
deep sad hymns of the sea,
passionate wind songs in the pines
November was ushered in on a gust of wind, on a harsh platter of rain across the window and heavy, grey skies laden with rain. As Pooh said, “the wind was a-blowing and a-tossing and a-whistling”. It was dark, dreary and wet. As the days unfold, leaves spread a cloth of gold and amber. The wind continued to howl loudly, and the trees lifted their roots, swaying like sail boats far out at sea. Leaves took to the sky in a mad Dervish dance swirling all the way down. The patio was drowning in leaves and I seemed to be playing catch-up with the sweeping. Thousands of leaves shaken from the trees and seemed to land in one place, my patio :-(
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.
~Fall, leaves fall by Emily Bronte~
In the garden, squirrels were scurrying across the carpet of fallen leaves carrying the last of their winter larder between their teeth like thieves running from a crime, while performing ninja-like gymnastics in the tree-branches. They were quite ingenuous in their drive to empty the nut feeders and storing by burying them to hide their stash so that they have food to last through winter. It was very entertaining to watch these furry tailed partygoers bounding up and down the lawn, with their quivering tails.behind them. From time to time, they stood up on their hind legs checking their surroundings.
According to folklore, if squirrels were more active than usual, it was an indication that a severe winter was on its way. This was because during autumn, their main task was to gather nuts and seeds for their storehouse. So if their efforts had noticeably increased, it could only meant that they were preparing for the worst. And when their tails were very bushy, that was a sign of a tough winter to come.
Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry
Will cause snow to gather in a hurry
It was Bonfire Night and everyone was excited about the Catherine Wheels and beautiful shimmering displays. It always rained on bonfire night and I guess standing in a muddy field with cold feet doesn’t dampen the thrill of it. The dark of night was punctuated with the sound of shrieking fireworks, loud bangs and the whooshing of rockets. The air filled with the smell of a myriad of explosions as ‘guys’ got thrown into funeral pyres. The next morning, walking to the bus stop on a damp, cold morning, trying not to step on the slippery,wet leaves on the pavements, I came across pieces of burnt rockets littering the ground with the whiff of gunpowder in the morning air. Aah…the day after the night before.
We had purchased 2 pumpkins and I’d fun going through my recipe books for ideas. I made a spicy Thai pumpkin soup as starters and added chunks of pumpkin to a beef casserole as the main meal which was bubbling away in the slow cooker. It made the sauce very thick and yummy. We’d it with couscous to soak up the rich gravy. To end the meal, I made a pumpkin pie for dessert. Babe regarded the day as ‘death by pumpkin’ day. :-)
- 750g/1lb 10oz pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
- 350g sweet shortcrust pastry
- plain flour, for dusting
- 140g caster sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp fresh nutmeg, grated
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 25g butter, melted
- 175ml milk
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- Place pumpkin in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and simmer for 15 mins or until tender. Drain pumpkin; let cool.
- Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and use it to line a 22cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Chill for 15 mins. Line the pastry with baking parchment and baking beans, then bake for 15 mins. Remove the beans and paper, and cook for a further 10 mins until the base is pale golden and biscuity. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
- Increase oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Push cooled pumpkin through a sieve into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, salt, nutmeg and half the cinnamon. Mix in the beaten eggs, melted butter and milk, then add to the pumpkin purée and stir to combine. Pour into the tart shell and cook for 10 mins, then reduce the temperature to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Continue to bake for 35-40 mins until the filling has just set.
- Leave to cool, then remove the pie from the tin. Mix the remaining cinnamon with the icing sugar and dust over the pie. Serve chilled
On Remembrance Sunday, we commemorated the day with a trip to our favourite playground. A pair of Pied and Grey wagtail greeted us from the visitor centre’s rooftop. Their rapid twittering followed their looping flight as they fly after each other. Along the path near Goose Pool, a flock of Redpolls, Siskins, Blue, Great and Long Tits were busy feeding on the conifers. We checked out Baldwin Hide and there he was a pristine looking Golden Eye looking fabulous with the sun reflecting off its plumage. The drake was one of our most attractive ducks, with its shiny green head, bright yellow eye and white face patch.
“Or sadly listen to the tuneless cry
Of fishing gull or clanging golden eye”
~George Crabbe (1754-1832)~
After having our fill with this handsome duck. we waded through the muddy foothpath towards East Marsh Hide. The lake was heaving with dabbling teals and mallards, upending and surface dabbling shovellers while wigeons were terrestrial grazing on the banks opposite the hide. Tufted ducks were busy diving for food, sieving food from the bottom of the lake. Common Snipes were very well camouflaged among the reeds. But the highlight was when this adorable Little Grebe popped its head up.
Then we went straight to the Ted Jury hide. We didn’t stay long because the smell of the freshly varnished walls had been too overpowering. We walked back to Carlton Hide and made ourselves comfortable. The pond was nearly covered with weeds. The volunteers were running a loosing battle trying to clear the pond. We’d something to eat while waiting for the piece de resistance. As predicted, s soon as the Gulls made their way to Draycote Waters to roost, flocks of starlings began to appear and they came together in huge clouds, wheeling, turning and swooping in unison. All you could hear were our cameras rattling away. After about half an hour, they slowly rained down and funnel en masse to roost in the reed-beds.
We also made a trip to Middletton Lakes to check out the mumuration display. About 3k starlings had been sighted and we wanted to see them. But first, as we walked along the boardwalk, we saw this Great Spotted Woodpecker having a go at the bird-feeder. Bullfinches, Robins, House sparrows, Great and Blue tits too were taking turns to feed. We continued walking along the very muddy bridleway where we came across a bridge where seeds had been scattered. We stood silently and waited and half a dozen Nuthatches, Chaffinches and Robins were taking turn to feed.
We came across dozens of fat-balls hanging on the branches along the path. I know that people have good intentions to feed the birds but the nettings that came with the balls were very dangerous to them. Their feet could get tangled and worse still was that they could choke on the plastic. We took the netting off and placed the fat-balls on the ground. We continued on and walked towards the wetlands. The lake was full of Tufted ducks, Wigeons and Great Crested Grebes in their winter colours.
We stopped at the viewing screen near the West Scrape. It was very quiet as the water levels had risen quite high. We were distracted by a flock of Dunlins flying above us with their purring trill cries. Across the scrape, among the reed-beds we saw a herd of Old English Longhorn cattle grazing. By foraging here, they helped to prevent the newly-created pools from becoming choked with vegetation by foraging and improving the wetlands for waders.
We followed the trail between the Jubilee wetlands south and the new reed-beds. It was a very warm afternoon and we started stripping off, not literally off course. We don’t want to scare off the birds. Little brown jobs were darting in and out of the bulrushes that were glittering in the sun. The weather don’t feel right for the end of October. It was one of those dazzling golden, breezy, sunshiny days that you often witness in mid-September. A flock of birds flew in front of us and were feeding on the gorse scrub. We crept closer and it was a pair of Linnets.
While we were busy photographing them, a jerky low flight caught our attention. We stood still and spotted a familiar orange belly and blue top perched on the very top of a thistle bush. It was a Stonechat . Whoop…whoop. And they were popping up everywhere. There were at least half a dozen pairs flying about. The calls, aptly and frequently likened to two stones being struck together, greeted our approach as they flew from perch to perch on rapidly whirring broad wings. I could have stayed here longer but the sun was beginning to set and we wanted to be in position for the starlings.
As predicted, flocks of Gulls were flying to Dosthill Lakes situated at the back of the reserve to roost. Then flocks of starlings started flying in and gathering around the Fisher’s Mill reed-beds. More flew in but they kept on flying away from us. There was nearly a thousand flying across but they weren’t roosting. Where on earth were they sleeping for the night? But, it wasn’t so bad when at least a dozen Little Egrets followed the starlings. Unfortunately, it was too dark for a good photograph. Then it was time to head home in the dark, walking past a large rookery that filled the woods with noise as the crows got ready for the night. Bonn nuit guys.
Earlier in the week, it was Armstice Day. As we observed the one minute silence at 11 am, in honour of those who gave their lives for their country, we need to remember those who were left as widows and widowers and those who came back to a largely uncaring society, left to cope with their own injuries and care. Also the innocent millions who died. I prayed and hoped that by the 100th anniversary of this very sad day, peace will get an opportunity to change the future. Wishful thinking, me thinks. War had always been a scourge. It was mankind’s fatal flaw.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condem.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
My life was always a gentle chaos, where I permanently chase around, striving to hold together the threads and keeping some sort of order. After a proper summer, I am liking the darker season, the shutting down and the closing in that winter winter brings. A spirit of quietness broods out there beneath the leafless trees. It was as if the earth spoke and whispered to me …. “Let everything lie fallow for a bit … rest and wait … rest and wait. “ Autumn made me feel a little nostalgic, serene and pensive, and winter reminded of the human condition, a time of intense reflection during which we come back on the past, think of the future and were ready to start everything fresh.
“Use what you have, use what the world gives you. Use the first day of fall: bright flame before winter’s deadness; harvest; orange, gold, amber; cool nights and the smell of fire. Our tree-lined streets are set ablaze, our kitchens filled with the smells of nostalgia: apples bubbling into sauce, roasting squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, cider, warmth itself. The leaves as they spark into wild colour just before they die are the world’s oldest performance art, and everything we see is celebrating one last violently hued hurrah before the black and white silence of winter”