Nature excels in its autumn song

IT’S amazing how smaltz songs can contain memorable lines, phrases that never leave one, no matter how saccharine or sentimental.

Other song lines stuck in my head are “When Autumn leaves begin to fall” and “Poetry in motion”. “The hills of Donegal” is another line etched indelibly in my brain.

Autumn in its glory is the light and the leaves. Last weekend, we were again bowled over by the beauty of the autumn sun gilding the dwarf gorse on the Sheep’s Head peninsula in west Cork and turning the sea to turquoise. It was marvellous out there, a wake-you-up breeze blowing but quite warm as one walked, especially given the exertions of the path along the ridge near the tip, where the sea is below one on both sides, Dunmanus Bay to the south, Bantry Bay to the north. Hairy molly caterpillars crossed the path; we saw at least half a dozen. Tortoiseshell butterflies were flying. The views were magnificent, panoramic, breathtaking; it was easy to see why Ireland is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Indeed, we should, perhaps, consider this more often in these economically-stressful days. We can’t live on the scenery but at least there’s some joy to be had for free.

Wild food for free is also, now, as plentiful as it gets. Out there on Muntervary, the blackberries on the small, wind-hammered briars were as good and as luscious as I’ve found them anywhere. They shone in the sunlight, fat from the mist or the dew and unwormed; that was the joy of it – not only the sweetness but the absence of maggot-life in the fruit. Walking the roads, it was hard to keep up any sort of pace, such were the temptations to stop and feast. Another bush, another banquet. Let’s go, let’s keep going – we’ve already had lunch!

Meanwhile, away from the bare and breezy headlands with cloud-shadows skimming across the hills, hazel nuts are ripe in the woods. This year, they seem to me to be exceptional, fat and brown, with sweet kernels. And there are gourmet mushrooms, small carpets of chanterelles and solitary boletus, too, if one is lucky enough to find one, the Boletus Edulis, the famous Cep, the King of Mushrooms. We once – in Wales – found a Cep that weighed 370gr but it was riddled with worms and, in my opinion, inedible. However, my friend, a Frenchman, didn’t think so, and sliced off a hundred wriggling grams and threw them in the pan.

“Indian summer” was so named, it is said, for the time when the native Americans hunted game and harvested crops in preparation for the winter; perhaps, in these straitened times, we should harvest the windfalls in the orchards and the crab apples and rose-hips in the hedges. Others say the “Indian summer” was so called because it was a period of good sailing weather for ships en route to India during the British Raj. Some has the letters “IS” burnt into their hulls to indicate the high level to which they could be loaded in this clement weather.

The American word for autumn is, of course, the fall, when the forests of New England are ablaze of colour. So, also, the parks in Tokyo, and the Japanese appreciate them with a fervour. Dedicated leave-admiration walks are taken to Mount Fuji, and a million cameras click to record the changing of the colours as they deepen day by day.

Sunday October 4 is an Open Day at the lovely Manch House estate near Enniskean, near Dunmanway, and, at 2pm, according to the programme, I am scheduled to lead “a walk through the woods at Manch to examine the range of fungi growing there”. All are welcome. I hope we find a cornucopia of mushrooms of interest, edible or inedible. The Open Day events are put on thanks to funding from the West Cork Development Partnership.

Meanwhile, it is good news to hear that the Forest Stewardship Council Ireland is hosting a public consultation day on the new Draft Irish Standard for Forest Management Certification on Saturday September 26 at Tullamore. Forests internationally must be managed, not plundered.


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