SEPTEMBER - "LIFE STARTS ALL OVER AGAIN WHEN IT GETS CRISP IN THE FALL" (F. SCOTT FITZGERALD - THE GREAT GATSBY

 We're having a goose at Michaelmas. As far as I can remember, it's the first time we've done that. When it was suggested, I thought, "Why?" And then I thought, "Tradition!" And then I started to wonder at the renewed interest in those old ways which we thought were almost lost and gone forever.

Growing up before the technological revolution, we lived by tradition. In the sixties, life changed dramatically. We leapt from a post-war society, where every new dawn was just that, to an abrading age where fresh new ideas were never carefully incorporated - instead they were flung at the reeling world without care or sensitivity. We had been shoved, stunned and stinging, into a period of purging. In Britain, we were losing so much. Slowly it became apparent that our identity might be retrieved with a renewed sense of community. We started to look towards Europe.

Sunflower with sunrise, early September


Britain had not wanted to join the European Coal and Steel Community when it was formed, in the fifties, with the notion of continued peace for the continent at its heart. The British Commonwealth was, at that time, an important member of The Family and the trade which ensued from that relationship was deemed sufficient to ultimately give sterling the upper hand in international dealings. In short, Britain was stalling with an eye to the main chance! 
As in so many situations, it had become clear that uncertainty would be less acute if we had a support network. Negotiations began and, through the sixties, the British people were given a glimpse of a secure future in Europe. It wasn't all smooth sailing but, in 1973, it happened. We became members. Over the next forty years we paid our dues and we enjoyed our new roads and pathways, the restoration of our ancient buildings, grants, secure human rights and so much more. 

The situation is different now. I make no secret of the fact that I want to remain a European in every sense. My DNA pie chart makes me a great example of a mixed-bag European and I love that I am! Where we are, in the Brexit process, cuts like a knife. I'm bewildered that anyone at all can really believe we will be better off without Europe. I've heard it said that, within Europe, we were losing our identity. That can't be right! We actually regained it once we joined up. In Europe, the culture of individual countries has always been celebrated. I've seen this in action on many occasions.

Fuchsia and lavender

So the current move towards reviving old traditions amuses me a little. If this is a token statement about regaining our identity, I can tell you that, in this family, no traditions have been lost while there has been European membership. We have some from long ago, some from the last century and some we have set ourselves more recently - like Ben and Jerry's ice cream for lunch every Saturday!!! We started this one after their "Black Lives Matter" tweet. As far as the Crow household is concerned, anyone who speaks out against white supremacy gets our vote.

I went on to think about Michaelmas and realised that I needed to know more. I knew about  Nottingham Goose Fair. It is cancelled this year as it was at the time of the Black Death in the fourteenth century and then, in the seventeenth century, due to the Plague. In the mid-eighteenth century, Nottingham Goose Fair was moved from September to the beginning of October. The association with Michaelmas remains and an image of the geese, wearing their little leather slippers, is frequently used as an illustration for Michaelmas in books and magazines. Those who drove the geese to the fair, put shoes on them to save their feet. Some had a very long way to walk!

I knew that Michaelmas was in late September each year in the Western Christian calendar (I discovered that it's actually on the 29th) and that it's the feast of Saint Michael. I knew Michaelmas was a quarter day but I knew so little about Michael. 

I discovered that he's one of the main warrior angels and that he fought with Satan. Michael is held to be the protector against darkness and, when you think about it, at this time of the year, the darkness is increasing so we need him more than ever we did in summer! When the devil fell to earth at Michaelmas, it is said that he fell into a blackberry bush. He spat on the blackberries and then they became unsuitable for humans to eat. My granny told me that we don't pick brambles after Michaelmas - but she spared me the bit about the devil!

And what about the sweet daisy? The Michaelmas Daisy. How can the gathering gloom of the late months of the year oppress when we look directly into the face of a Michaelmas daisy? They are amongst the most cheerful of all flowers and bloom when many other plants are ready to shut up shop for autumn. I've been taking photos for you in the garden today and there is still a good deal of colour but few flowers remain at their very best.

Fallen leaf nestling in sedum


We've found a new woodland walk right in the middle of our regular walk. While we were moving through the trees, being led by Orlando, there was no one else in the world. We were connecting with the trees, with the animals who were waiting and would visit after we had left, with the singing birds, with the flora and with the fungi. We were in tune with the insects. My daughter and I didn't need to speak. We were each refuelling. We soaked up the magic and took it home. 

Oak leaves will last longer than most


On our walk we also found ripe blackberries. The devil hasn't visited yet so we sampled them. The best! Orlando kept his cute nose out of the brambles. The fox must have told him that a screen of brambles makes a secure site for a den. Cunning vixen!

We have more berries than ever in the garden this September. I'm remembering my grandparents telling me that this meant God was providing for his creation ahead of a keen winter. I wonder - will we have a hard winter? I'm keeping the cupboards, shelves and freezers fairly full, but leaving space for Christmas treats. We're not grabbing things off the supermarket shelves so that others are left without - we're just being sensible. 

Cotoneaster berries

This month we celebrate forty four years of marriage. It's worth mentioning here that I'm not at all superstitious. During the night before our wedding day the heavens opened after the most magnificent summer. Some relatives were unable to attend because farms were flooded. After the reception we drove, through thick fog, to an old market town where we had booked one night in a hotel for our honeymoon. To our surprise, our room was used as a short-cut by patrons in the know! When we waited to pay for the accommodation next morning, the landlord apologised for keeping us waiting but he'd just been clearing away confetti after a couple of newly-weds had checked out. We said very little. We'd left rice!

That morning my new in-laws were out picking mushrooms. I always associate September with fungi. I'd been fascinated by them since I was very small and, when I went to Ripon College, my lecturer was also interested in fungi, so I learned more about them then. I'm still not confident enough to be sure my fungi really are mushrooms though. Last year, in September, on our way back from Lincolnshire, we spotted some marvellous fungi, especially in Scotland. The closer we came to home, the more advanced Autumn seemed to be. The smell of hearth fires, the cooler evenings, the bronzing of the countryside - all signposts to Winter. We haven't been able to travel so far this year but there is so much to enjoy close to home. This week we have counted hundreds - perhaps thousands - of geese as they move from one feeding ground to the next.

Potted pink geranium


In the local schools, teachers are fitting in as much outdoor learning as they possibly can before rain stops play. At the beginning of the month, the children were making crowns out of natural things - grasses, leaves and moss with lichen. A few days ago they made green men with natural materials. Soon the weather will present problems but, for the time being, Caithnessian children are getting outside as much as they are able.

In the garden, the siskins and the goldfinches are back and quickly emptying the niger seed dispenser. I hear the siskins more often than I see them. Their honeyed chittering is such a giveaway. The goldfinches seem to follow us on our walks, picking up friends on the way so that a massive flock dips over fences and rises again with determination to stay one step ahead. The feeding station welcomes back the old timers and each has his own character. Bob Robin breezes in like a bouncing feather and joins the acrobatic tits at the coconuts. They leave. A wren competes, in the trilling championship, with a chaffinch from a branch in the wych elm. The starlings, jackdaws and rooks, occasionally joined by the odd hoodie crow, descend with menace and upset all but the pigeons. The doves watch from the tall stone wall. 
Many of our swallows and martins have left. Our son, living in Portugal, spotted them heading south on the morning of the 24th. They wheeled around their apartment and then settled for a while, on the wires beneath their window, before continuing their journey to South Africa. They also spotted a number of red-rumped swallows. I've never seen those. I believe they breed in Portugal.

With the overnight change during the night of 23rd/24th, the temperature dipped to 2 degrees. There was a frost in Rogart and someone shared pretty frost photos on Twitter. Some of the plants in the garden will need protecting if we are going to have frosts here. I've been caught out before. The weather is no respecter of calendars. At present everything is still good. We continue to have lots of insects and that's positive for the birds.

Early Autumn window box with fallen leaf


Has anyone seen a firefly in Lincolnshire? My mum saw one at the beginning of September - on the 7th to be exact - and I said I would ask around. It was about 8.30 in the evening and it was passing her first floor sitting room window. Please get in touch if you have any knowledge of fireflies in Lincolnshire.

I'm learning about insects. Last weekend, on our dog walk, my daughter and I saw numerous black darters. They were dancing around us and seemed to be following us part of the way. Two days later, as I was out walking with her older sister, a black darter settled on my glove. It had no intention of moving - so we had a really good look at it - down to the tiny yellow spots. I asked what I should do with it. I didn't want to pick it off and thereby damage it. I was advised to leave it where it was so we carried on walking with a small dragonfly attached to my pink glove. It only moved when I saw a familiar face and called out a greeting. I'm assuming it felt the vibration. I haven't seen a single darter since last Monday. I've spotted lots of furry caterpillars though. Isn't it fabulous how there is always something of wonder to see? The swallows and martins, the chiffchaffs and chums, the wheatears and friends are a lovely memory. Now we are ready to welcome the wild geese, the redwings and the fieldfares and to provide hospitality to all of those passage migrants who are blown off course or simply haven't yet learned to read a map!

"Dearest" rose, 26th Sept.

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