Autumn is almost here and I’m holding the door wide open to usher it in.
This morning felt like autumn.
Mist shrouded the trees, the air smelt different and a gossamer of dew laden spiders’ webs hung from the gates and plants. Who can not be mesmerised by the beauty of the spiders’ webs and a little humbled by the intricate designs of the fine silk, which even the most talented lacemaker could never replicate?
Brilliant sunshine soon burnt off the mist and caught the rosehips as they stretch for the sky.
Lower down in the hedge, hawthorn berries jostle with deep purple blackberries and blue hued sloes. Wild pears and crab apples litter the ground just asking for someone to line them up along the footpath and call it ‘art’.
Much as I love summer, I’m ready for autumn, especially, warm sunny autumn days like this, rather than the torrential downpour that turned a Sunday afternoon stroll into a run for home.
Late summer is beguiling and wistful. The days are sunny (mostly) and reasonably long but the high summer heat and dust of harvest are over. The landscape has a fabulously wild and unkempt air as parched grasses and weeds grow knee high, seeds scattering in the wind and the stubble fields are roughly tickled, no longer a swathe of regimented wheat plants. Slowly, the first signs of autumn are tentatively creeping in as the berries in the hedgerows belatedly turn colour and the first tiny conkers fall to the ground.
And crocodiles broken branches float in the pond.
Over the summer, I’ve been dyeing with plants and now it’s time to start planning what to knit with all the yarn. A few years ago, I became very frustrated with natural dyeing as everything seemed to be a different shade of beige, which is not my favourite colour. This year, I’ve managed to get a few more colours using nettles, walnut husks, blackthorn twigs, knapweed, rhurbarb leaves, oak galls, avocado stones and alchemilla mollis as well as some solar dyeing with hollyhock flowers (beautiful greens but I’m not sure the colour will last). I have vague thoughts of knitting a fair isle jumper or tank top – heavily influenced by stumbling upon an episode of All Creatures Great and Small in which half the cast seemed to be wearing such items. If I start now, then maybe it will be finished in time for cold winter days. Though possibly not this winter.
Every year, late summer brings a desire to lay down supplies for autumn and winter. I usually find it ridiculous that I have this hard-wired drive to stock the pantry and freezer when abundant supplies are a click or short distance away. But then last year happened and in lockdown, a well-stocked pantry suddenly seemed rather appealing. So, there will be a few jars of Raspberry Jam and Apple Chutney. Maybe some Blackberry & Apple compote in the freezer and some Hedgerow Gin. Not too much, because (finally) my brain has absorbed the fact that there are only two of us in the house now but enough to make me think I’m well prepared. Just in case. Even though jam and chutney could hardly be termed Essential. I think we can agree that Gin has a place on the Essentials list.
The barley and wheat harvest is underway, albeit in fits and starts. A spell of prolonged sunshine would be good, but the weather forecast doesn’t look too promising, much like the harvest yields and quality. Heigh Ho! Such is farming.
An intermittent service may be resumed here. Partly, because it’s harvest and I’ve posted a photo every harvest since 2011 here or on the original farm blog and it seems strange not to do the same again this year and partly because a few blogs have reappeared recently, which have provided a little spark of inspiration.
At the beginning of lockdown in the spring (when we thought this would all be over by Christmas) I started a Letterbox Art Collaboration with my mother as a way of keeping in touch while we weren’t allowed to meet up. I’d been inspired by Anna’s post and thought it would provide a little ray of sunshine while we were socially distanced. Then, buoyed by the success of the first collaboration, I also joined an online chum for another Letterbox Collaboration as part of the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge.
The premise of the collaboration is that you send a set of prompt or starter cards to the other person who completes them and returns them with a set of their own prompts. There’s no telling how the other person will interpret your prompt, so it’s always a bit of a surprise when they’re sent back. As you can see above, the original prompt produced three very different reactions. You can read all about the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge Letterbox Collaboration here.
I must admit that I wasn’t prepared for it to be such a joyous thing to do. This year, when celebrations have been few, it’s been a delight to find a little bundle of artwork in the post. It’s so much better than looking at a screen for there’s nothing like holding something in your hands to appreciate it. Perhaps we post a little bit of ourselves, revealing a hint of our character with our handwriting and choice of stationery that you don’t get with emails. It’s also been great fun to do. Sometimes I know exactly what I shall do as soon as I see the prompt but other times I guiltily push the cards to one side hoping that inspiration will suddenly strike. Not surprisingly, the answer often comes while I’m out for a walk and I hurry home to commit the brainwave to paper before I forget.
By the end of the summer, I’d accumulated quite a stack of cards. Some were pinned up and others stored in a box but I wanted to do something better with them, especially as I think they’ll be a wonderful record of this odd year.
The summer collaboration was very much a springboard for being creative and so we’d varied the collaboration a bit by sending out four prompts but returning only three. This provided the leeway to be experimental so that when it ended disastrously, (as it so often did) I could keep that card back and work on it a bit more or quietly consign it to the bin. In this creative spirit, I wanted to make a book from existing supplies and allow space to add the retained cards or work inspired by them and notes. I remembered seeing a Paper Bag Book in the book Making Handmade Books, so I liberated some bags from The Christmas Shop, found an old cardboard folder to use for the cover and sewed the whole lot together to make a very simple pocket book.
The art cards are slotted into the half page pockets, where they form part of the page and can be easily pulled out to look at more carefully.
I extended the cover to wrap it round to stop everything falling out. One day I might even manage a fastening for it.Read the full instructions for making a Paper Bag Book if you’d like a go. They’re easy for young children to make if you make the holes for them to push the needle through and would be great for treasure hunts if you changed the orientation of the pockets to make them drop-in ones.
For the other collaboration, I wanted to retain the theme of sending and receiving in the post and so made a book that looks like a collection of envelopes held together by a ribbon. I now realise that, had I thought about this at the start, I could have used the original envelopes they were posted in. Alas, forward planning has never been my strong point. The envelopes are made from a sheet of A4 paper, which is folded and glued to make an envelope.
The envelopes are then stuck to a concertina cardboard spine, which holds them all together. Each envelope holds three cards, so if I’d kept them in their original groups, I could have put them into chronological order. But that would have needed some forward planning. No matter. From now on, I can keep them in order.
If you’d like to have a go at making an Envelope Book, the template for the envelopes and instructions for assembling the book with a concertina spine can be found in the craft section under How to Make an Envelope Book.
Both these books would also be a great way to keep a collection of postcards or photographs. They’d make good travel journals, especially if you used bags or envelopes picked up in your travels. If I’d thought about it earlier, I could have made an Advent pocket book, with something appropriate slipped in each day. Honestly, how did we get to December so quickly?
Why not give the Letterbox Art Challenge a try? You might be surprised how much you enjoy it.
The long, hot summer days have faded away and autumn has taken hold. Late afternoon yesterday, when I went out to shut my hens away for the night, the sun was shining and there was a pleasant breeze so I thought I’d make the most of it and take a quick walk.
Heading out through the back of the yard, I joined the public bridleway that runs through the farm but there was nobody else around. The blackberries are just about finished but scarlet rosehips still make a splash of colour in the hedges and I resolved to pick some soon to make a little rosehip syrup to mix with this year’s Hedgerow Gin for an autumnal cocktail. This year, I’ve been infusing a few seasonal ingredients like raspberries or blackcurrants or blackberries in a small amount of gin for a week or so. Unlike a traditional, sweetened fruit gin that’s drunk neat, I’ve left them unsweetened and added tonic water to make a colourful drink with a hint of fruit. The hedgerow gin with blackberries, rosehips, haws and sloes has been particularly delicious.
As I walked alongside the ditch where the track changes to a narrow footpath, the water had flooded the path making me glad that I was wearing wellies (even though I don’t like walking in them) as I sloshed through muddy ankle deep water. Further downstream the banks and bottom of the ditch are so overgrown that the water is obscured but I suspect, from the noisy rush of water, that the flooding was caused a fallen branch that has made a dam. That stretch of path is owned by the local council who don’t seem to care too much about maintenance or keeping footpaths passable but they probably have rather more important matters to deal with during this Covid crisis.
On firmer ground, fallen crab apples littered the path making a circle under each tree or floated like the prelude to a giant apple bobbing game where the trees overhang the ditch in Lakes Field. This field has lots of wizened crab apple trees along its boundary with each producing its own shape and size of apple, all of which are disgustingly sour. I often wonder if the trees have sprung up from apple cores discarded by farm workers years ago or if there used to be some sort of dwelling here. A map from the eighteenth century shows small buildings dotted along the main track that runs through the farm, although they’re long gone and have left no trace.
Walking southwards, the trees cast long shadows across the cultivated earth as geese flew noisily overhead and a hare sat motionless on the headland ahead and then quickly turned to dart through the hedge, across the ditch and over the open field. I lost sight of it as I walked behind a high section of hedge but then I thought I saw him waiting in the middle of the field. Or maybe it was a clod of earth. It’s difficult to tell at that distance, especially in the fading light.
Suddenly, the sky darkened, the wind blew cold and large drops of rain fell in a torrent so that within a minute I was soaked to the skin. The folly of wearing a lightweight jacket in a showery week. Though this was considerably heavier than a shower implies. I thought about sheltering under a tree until the rain had passed but I was cold and didn’t think I could get any wetter, so ploughed on. I was wrong! By the time I reached home, my trousers were so wet that water trickled down the inside of my wellies and water streamed from my hair. Cursing that I walked before I did the hens, I tipped in their food as I did a quick head count and closed the gate.
Across the yard, the lights were on in the house, which is always a welcome sight. I peeled off my dripping clothes just inside the door and by the time I’d had a hot shower and put on dry clothes, there was a pot of tea waiting on the kitchen table. And a slice of millionaire’s shortbread. Perfect.