The summer holidays are in full swing and nearby caravans are full of children shouting, laughing and playing (also crying and fighting). The broad is full of wonderful classic yachts and motorboats for Oulton Broad Regatta. The sun is playing hide-and-seek with the clouds, but shines through strong and hot in the gaps. It’s high summer.
August has a feel of suspended animation, a heavy, dream-like quality like a siesta after lunch or the quiet on a beach when everyone is just too hot to move. Out in the fields, the hay has been cut and baled, the peas and beans harvested and only the barley still stands, rippling and shimmering in the sun.
The shift in season, summer on the verge of tipping into autumn, is tangible. Out on the marshes, the rushes have been cut. Blackberries and dewberries are ripening. Across the fields, purple flowers have gone from the thistles, which are now sending silky thistledown floating into the sky. Where I stopped to admire a lather of sweet hawthorn flowers in May, there are hard berries, green shading into red. Buttercups have given way to dandelions and the squadrons of turquoise damselflies are replaced by clouds of butterflies, Peacocks and Red Admirals, Meadow Browns and Whites.
This is the first time I’ve lived in a rural environment throughout a whole season. I’ve become intimately acquainted with our immediate surroundings – the hayfield opposite, the reed beds encircling the broad, Carlton Marsh with its rich and varied texture. I notice things changing, day by day and week by week. Orange rowan berries when we walk through the woods, a blaze of glory in the setting sun. Deep, russet-red sorrel. Clusters of berries in place of fragrant elderflowers.
So I adapt our diet to fit the season, too. A strawberry tart I made for a midsummer dinner party is reprised with hand-picked dewberries and blackberries, plus some market-bought raspberries. May’s locally-grown asparagus is compensated for by runner beans and peas. I’m keeping an eye on the elder bushes, wondering if the berries will be ripe enough to pick for a late summer pudding, where six or eight weeks ago I picked flowers to make elderflower cordial.
It’s been surprisingly satisfying, to see a season through in such close proximity. I’m romantic enough to feel that this is how humans are meant to live; close to the plants and animals that share our space, knowing their rhythms and anticipating their changes.
Of course, as anyone who was ever a school child knows, autumn means one thing – back to school. My glorious, golden summer is drawing to an end. I’ll be buying that new pencil case, polishing my school shoes and finding out whether my uniform still fits me soon enough. Two final weeks of bliss, last precious days of summer to bask in, before I return to London. In fact, that’s enough writing for today. I’m off to the hedgerows with my basket, to pick a basin full of berries for dinner. Gather ye berries while ye may.
Meanwhile, some photos and some recommendations for resources on living seasonally and getting the best from our world, whatever the season:
Books: Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries; Richard Mabey’s Food For Free; Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places.