Eliot was wrong: August is the cruellest month. Everything is hung, unused - the very air in a kind of dull stasis. There is odd patches of colour in the patchwork-brown of certain fields and a few trees, responding to the shortening days have begun to prepare for autumn's small death; but the field margins have lost their colour and the hedgerows have lost their lustre, the umbellifers drooping over their hardened stems.
Last Thursday I went for my first proper walk in what felt like ages. It was late evening and it was the first time I'd sensed autumn on the air. It was possible, walking in the patches of slanting light between the shadows of overarching oaks, to feel the air change shape, from the denser air thickened by the calorific weight of the sun to the sharper colder patches in the shade. At one point, beneath a lone maple I stopped a moment and was surprised to hear the unmistakeable piping of a chiff chaff and realised I hadn't heard any birdsong in an age. The biggest absence in August for me is birdsong. And each year it's a surprise, of sorts - such is the cacophony of March to (roughly) the middle of July that as the birds one by one give up their territorial claims it's impossible not to miss their calls scissoring the air. Even the blackbirds this year gave up early...
Thankfully Radio 4 have filled the void and are re-broadcasting Chris Waton's Guide to Garden Birds; you can also hear this dawn chorus recording Watson made in Holystone Forest.
place, nature, landscape
The east coast of Jura
What a summer job: go for a few walks and that, wherever you like really, and write a few hastily constructed pieces and we'll pay you for it and give you your own column in the New York Times!
I suppose I'm being a little unfair but I'd kind of expected a bit more from Will Self's walking column in the NYT. The pieces have got an odd tone, as if he wasn't sure of the audience, or if he could let loose his full grand, petulant style. And the editing is godawful in places. Take this piece, where he walks out to Orwell's house at the far north of the island of Jura. I've read a similar account of this journey in Roger Deakin's Waterlog and it's full of drama and the bleak harshness of the land. It's also full of it subject: it inhabits. Self's piece is so badly paced and crunched together that none of the themes get a chance to breathe; and the landscape descriptions are dead and flat, with Self oddly failing to bring any animation to the surroundings at all. It's probably partly the fault of the medium and I'll check the rest of the series for sure but well...