Saturday, 22 September 2012

A sign of the times

It is the autumn equinox today. The day the the Equator teeters beneath the Sun before the Earth tips our northern lands over into the darker days.

And what a strange autumn it has been so far. Early and late at the same time. The pink-footed geese arrived here a good two weeks before we expected them, piercing the bubble of the still-summer swallow skies with their arrow formations.

And many of the trees are already shabby and thin like greying down-and-outs. The fruit-bearers - the cherries and apples, pears and plums, seem especially tired and sad. Almost as if they have given up for this year, having failed to produce any decent kind of crop.

And where is the hedgerow harvest? Late, rather than early, the brambles are still green on their stems, the sloes hard little pips - if you can find any at all. They won't be ripe until after Michaelmas Day - and then we shall risk the Devil having pissed on them.

I miss the blackberries most of all. Picking them is the one atavistic pleasure that even the most urbanised among us surely shares. I can't remember a September when I haven't gone out with plastic boxes and thick trousers to wade in among the tangled bushes to pick the darkly purple berries - or drupelets as we should call them, being really a cluster of smaller fruits. For many of us picking brambles is surely an annual rite of passage between summer and autumn. The season won't be truly upon us until we've done it.

The scientific name for blackberries - brambles is the Scottish word - is Rubus fruticosus agg. The 'agg' acknowledges the fact that the species is actually an aggregate of 320 microspecies, differentiated by tiny variations in leaf and growth, flowering and fruiting time, and habitat. This perhaps explains their ubiquity. There is a blackberry for everyone. And that is their great value. You are never far from a blackberry. Never far from the reminder of your hunter-gatherer roots, and your reliance on the natural world for your sustenance.

Let's hope the frost doesn't get to the blackberries before we can this year. We need all the reminders we can get.

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