River Severn at Kempsey

Autumn flowers and twilight years

Familiar territory, today – paths once much-taken. But I have not passed this way in a while. In the churchyard, there’s a crisp rustle to the sweet chestnut leaves underfoot, but as I leave the graveside for the river I enter a different season, it seems. Soft sun and gentle breeze, water matching sky for colour and clarity.

But the willow is yellowing, the nettles ragged, and the ground gives a little, underfoot. You cannot fool autumn forever.

On to a sanctuary, the spot by which I measure my seasons. A barometer of the passing year, my yardstick. I have known it all my life. The willow is cut, but deep in the brush a sparse carpet of a surprising, unseasonal streak of colour pokes through. Across the Welsh marches, long after the leaves have died back, the meadow crocus offers delicate blooms, matched only in their beauty by their toxicity. They spread doubt besides joy – what magic is this, when all around withers?

Meadow Saffron, Worcestershire

Meadow Saffron


Nearby, the ancient oak starts to turn. I’ve heard it said that an oak takes 300 years to grow, 300 to mature and 300 to die. This sturdy spirit must be closing on the third stage, and seems to grasp, defiant, its crown of green just a fraction longer than its sprightly neighbours, for which the squirrels are grateful. It spreads, protective, over the orchard to the east. It saw that orchard planted, and now watches it grow into senescence. Thirty human generations and countless companions have passed. Empires have risen and fallen, and every year is recorded, imprinted indelibly: a living archive.

Ancient oak

Ancient oak


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