White Duck

© Alison Hooper

We’re in that slow part of the year when not much appears to be happening. Leaves have fallen, fruit and veg long since picked. It’s all a bit grey and samey, like the turgid mid-section of an album’s B-side. You love that album, but frankly there are eight tracks to get through before you get to the A-side again where all your favourites live. And seeing as the seasons aren’t yet available for digital download, we have to listen and go through it one track at a time, a day at a time and take the positives where we find them.

Anyway, much as this is a bit of a reflection on the passing and transformation of the seasons, I don’t intend to get all heavy and depressing and stuff. I pledge there will be *cute animals* further down this piece. Adorable, cute and fluffy animals which go quack. But more of that later.



Fun facts!

1. Back to the autumn and something for word nerds everywhere now. I was pleased, more than I should be most likely, to discover that the word ‘Fall’, which we commonly think of as an Americanism for the ‘English’ word ‘Autumn’, is in fact…not. Fall was the word used back in 16th century England before it hopped on board ship and travelled across the Atlantic where it took root and flourished, just as we back home had our head turned by the chiselled Roman good looks of the word Autumn and dropped it sharpish

2.One for any foragers who have ever had purple-stained fingers. The study of blackberries is called batology. You’re welcome.

Enough verbiage. The point of this rambling – there is one, trust me – is that things progress, change, appear to be completely separated but then turn out it’s all interconnected and reliant on its constituent parts and processes to work. So there is beauty in decay, amazement in atrophy.

Take this Rhus typhina. This one is in our back garden, it’s super common and you may well have one too.

Rhus typhina leaves and a conker

Rhus typhina leaves and a conker – © Alison Hooper

Arguably, it’s at its best in autumn for a vanishingly short period before all that colour disappears. Leaves turn from green to yellow to red. As sunlight fades, chlorophyll levels drop meaning the other leaf pigments present get to take centre stage. Exit green, enter yellows and oranges, purples and reds. Those dazzling colours had always been there all along, and if I were more philosophical that could be quite poignant.

Also, the humble horse chestnut. The tree is at its best when the candle-like flowers give way to shiny conkers in their bright green spiky cases (which always strike me as a prototype for some kind of medieval weapon. Just me?) Without this, there is no regeneration.

And then there’s that extraordinary quality of light you get in autumn. Amid the long bleak periods, a sudden surprising beam of crystal clear warm brightness, illuminating everything around to remind us of what has been and what is to come again.

And so to winter when the garden is put to bed.

Bare exposure reveals the true state of the garden. Branches bereft, revealing the hidden underpinning structures, shapes and – whilst we’re on about honesty – all that plastic garden junk which seems to mass throughout the year. Maybe work on reducing that waste in 2019. That same light which, sometimes joyous, sometimes a bit embarrassing, also shines a little too intensely on your recycling bin full of post-Christmas clanking empties.

So, like dry January, the intervening months of autumn to winter have a transformational effect. Very brown, the only colour making an effort now is the Winter Jasmine and the grass has been left long ahead of the expected frosts.

But just as the garden hits its weary head to the pillow – and I did promise you cute animals – we take noisy delivery of four ducks. Yard ducks to be precise, a cross somewhere between a mallard and Indian running ducks. They’re on loan to us for ten days whilst their proper owners go on holiday, and we naively and excitedly volunteered to look after them in our small back suburban garden. Frankly it’s a bit of a social let down for them, but that’s life.

Winter Jasmine and Ducks

Winter Jasmine and Ducks – © Alison Hooper

Just as the mood of this blog was getting a little quiet and contemplative, the arrival of these ducks punctures all of that with a huge, celebratory QUACK. Picture Blackadder’s Lord Flashheart crash landing by means of a rope swing into a genteel Edwardian tea room. Pearls may be clutched. Or picture something worse. The same, but with the kids.

The ducks are somewhat non-plussed at having us as their temporary landlords, and a bit huffy at having children intermittently race around them excitedly and at speed, taking shelter in their cage when it all gets a bit much.

As pest control goes, they’re as eco as it gets. They hoover through what surely must be thousands of slugs between them, and even turn the soil over. Great job, Flashhearts.

And the best part about duck sitting is being able to hand them back at the end of their stay. They’ve done an excellent job and all that really remains is the garden is literally covered in feathers, like someone shot a duvet there. So they’re constantly snacking, a bit noisy from time to time, a lot cute and leave loads of mess behind. So that kids analogy is still working for me. Like doting grandparents, we miss them already. I’d pour a small glass of Baileys as a toast to them, but it turns out the bottle’s in the recycling.

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