November 2013


Many moons ago, actually only two moons ago, I found myself wandering in the mountains with a friend. We headed up to the summit of a small mountain under a full moon. The light was so bright that we crossed streams and moorland without our head torches. It was clear to us, but not quite as clear as day, why the full moon was used by our ancestors for hunting trips. Our overconfidence with the area meant we just glanced at the map briefly before burying it in a rucksack. It is fair to say that we knew our way with a vivid mental map, but we didn’t know how far. I think all our mental maps are too short. Maybe they are warped by the speed of our cars, or maybe they will always be warped if walked under the steel grey of moonlight. The mountain was clearly just in front of us, yet we walked on and on.

We found the summit at the end of what felt like a mythical journey. The top of this mountain flattened out into three small pools of water, three strange moon pools. On the edge of the flattened area we quickly got the bivvy bags out, and every piece of clothing we brought to keep out the cold. We spoke the usual fine nonsense and stories that feel like they should be spoken around a peaty fire on a dark night, yet the full moon and stars seemed an equally fitting setting.

I didn’t make any sort of conscious decision to note where the moon was in the sky. I just remember walking up and turning my head to see the moon in a different place completely. Then I remember visualising the arc of the moon and it’s path nearly unconsciously, and thinking; a couple of hours until dawn. Then I smiled and went back to sleep.

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summit sunrise – summit bivvy

For years now I have tried to know the moon and stars. These things can be read in books, but it’s not enough; they have to be lived. The seasons have to mean something and must be felt again and again before it sinks in and becomes part of us.  For years I was out of touch with the seasons and I simply drifted through them from a distance; sheltered behind the modern world and my ignorance.

This morning I caught the moon slipping behind the hills and red tinted sleet filled winter clouds. This full moon was waning; the Celtic dark moon. It’s appropriate. This time of year feels like the adjustment time, when the daylight feels chased and slips away into the colder nights.

The darkness brings with us and unexpected change that, if I had thought about it, I should have seen coming. When we first started keeping hens they were the hybrid variety specifically bred to keep laying constantly; an egg every twenty five hours without end. They did slow down a bit in the mid winter, but it never felt like we had anything but an abundance of eggs. Now our hens are all more traditional breeds who are more in tune with the light, and the lack of it. With no light there are no eggs. With eight hens we now only get one egg a day, maybe two, and I suspect they come from the same one or two hens. No surplus is sold for our occasional meal out with the precious ‘chicken money’. Instead, the eggs are carefully collected with thoughts of specific jobs already beckoning; pancakes, boiled eggs with toast, and french bread. Maybe a cheesecake if we save up for it. This is an unexpected joy. Like the following of  the moon, we are living in the seasons and we look forward to Easter. The Easter bunny doesn’t bring the eggs, the sunlight does.

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“It’s raining, should we still go?” I looked outside as if to acknowledge the question, even though I had just come in from cleaning out the hen house. I replied that we should go, we would be mad not to. The lovely Sharon’s question was not about the fact that we should go walking in the rain, it was about getting stuck in a heavy downpour with the little ones. The weather front seemed slow moving and more damp than menacing.

Wrapped up in layers and hats, we found ourselves in Acorn Wood. We have found ourselves visiting here a lot recently. Acorn Wood has been set up by its local community of volunteers who look after its grounds, ducks, geese, swans, chickens, rabbits, guinea fowl and pheasants. It even has a little fairy village hidden away in the woods, but I think they look after themselves.

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There was water all around us. Water drizzling from the sky, water dripping from the points of twigs and yellow leaves. Water splatting in the puddles under our feet and a soft fur of water covering the hats on our heads. Even our breath was saturated and wet the air in front of us. In such weather at this time of year I can’t help myself from constantly stopping and staring. Gazing at the running river, at piles of fallen leaves, at rooks in the trees.

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After a few hours the thought of food and the wood stove brought us home. After a wet autumn walk I can think of no better smell than that of damp hats and gloves drying by the stove. Later there was a different smell from the stove. Autumn is the season for rolling out fistfuls of hazelnuts on top of the wood stove. We sit back and patiently wait for the slight hint of burning before we lift them off and try and eat them when they are too hot and burn our fingers. The lovely Sharon believes roasted chestnuts are superior to hazelnuts. I will have to disagree with her on this matter.

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It has been discovered that hazelnuts were harvested in large amounts on the Scottish island of Colonsay nine thousand years ago. Annually, neolithic man made a trip to the trees and collected them to roast them on the island in what must have been very large fires. It seems that roasted hazelnuts can be stored longer than fresh ones, a fact we knew nine thousand years before best before dates. I can’t help but picture them sitting around the fire on a damp autumn night with the smell of roasting nuts and drying hats.