A wet walk in woodland

Sunday, October 20, 2019, 21:36

A tall umbrella fungus with a white cap and brown central point

Now we've passed the equinox the year has definitely turned. Autumn is here. The leaves are turning colour. Chestnuts are everywhere; in the markets and the shops.... and in the plastic bag of produce handed over the fence by our generous neighbours. Now there is cloud and much needed rain. Yet even in the rain I found treasure in the mountain behind our house. I've been into the woodland up the road and look what I found!

To see more of autumn in the woods, click here.

I know nothing of the names or properties of fungi but I do know that the one above is beautiful, like a flying saucer or a geisha's parasol. Others, with shorter stems are browner but with brilliant white gills underneath.

a brown umbrella fungus in the rain

Up by the village football pitch, the stump of a felled tree provides nutriments for a host of tiny fawn plates with pale and creamy edges next to others, presumably last year's growth, which are a dark, smokier brown.

an old stump covered in fungi and a close-up of some fawn plate ones

Elsewhere, almost overnight, toadstools and other fungi are appearing, some popping up with apparent ease while others seem to make a great effort to heave themselves up through the leaf litter.

Two types of globe fungi pushing up through the leaf litter

Are these the same fungus at different stages of life or two different ones? The ones on the left have a smooth white skin; the one on the right is yellow and knobbly.

Here and there I found delicate orange toadstools clustered together in numbers.

Tiny orange toadstools proliferate amongst the fallen leaves and undergrowth

There are other fungi I haven't photographed. On my first walk I cursed myself for forgetting to take my iPhone. I planned to go the following morning to snap the ones that had caught my eye only to find the view invisible, hidden by a wall of rain. In the evening, under a light drizzle, I managed to remember the location of most things I wanted to photograph but where were the little yellow chanterelle-like fungi and the bright orange pinheads on a rotting stump?

As I walked up the road, I was passed by a woman on a tractor pulling a trailer. I waved gaily at her as she trundled by - to be acknowledged only by an infinitesimal inclination of her head. Maybe I missed those toadstools as I watched her disappear into the distance. Half an hour later she returned with her husband – at least so I imagine: it could have been a brother or an employee – in the trailer. Again, she barely noticed me but the man in the trailer stared at the odd foreigner, who was walking along scrutinising the verge, till they turned the corner and disappeared from view. He was clearly thinking how peculiar these outlanders are! What on earth of interest could there be at her feet?

A group a mature trees with their branches silhouetted against the sky

The delight of my walk wasn't only in the fungi. Some old trees amongst the fading bracken, their branches outlined against the sky, caught my eye, amongst them one with lichen mottling its trunk and boughs. Beneath it were massive granite boulders thickly laden with moss.

a tree covered in lichen and a mossy boulder

Under the fading oaks the carpets of acorns crunched beneath my feet. This was virtually the only sound in the woodland apart from the rushing of the stream in the valley. Even the trees were silent, barely moving after the gales of the morning.

Acorns underfoot and last years's saplings

Few of those acorns will ever germinate and turn into oaks. Some of last years' have grown into fledgling trees but they are already doomed. Next year the Forest Department or the local council will send men with strimmers along the road to clear 10 metres from the edge to provide fire breaks and escape routes in case of wild fires. I feel a funeral service for the saplings coming on. Roadside oak that is born of acorn hath but a short time to live. It cometh up and is cut down...

But in case you think this is an autumn world only of grey, green and brown, let me show you something you would miss if you swept by in a car. In fact, even the mountain biker in tight lycra, who bumped down a track on the hillside above me, probably missed the heathers lurking amongst the gorse and bramble.

two kinds of heather, bell and ling, provide a splash of colour

The pinkish purple of the bell heather – if that is what it is (it's different from the bell heathers of my native Yorkshire) – and the grey-green and mauve of the ling provide a welcome splash of colour as indeed do the gorse and the yellowing bracken fronds. (The gorse is always there: spring, summer, autumn and winter – more so in spring, of course, but ever blossoming. As the old saying goes, "When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season" and when did you ever know that kissing had become unpopular?)

Yellow gorse in bloom and a fading bracken frond

Turning for home as evening drew in and the rain, which had been falling more heavily, gave way to a feeble sun, the water on fallen brown leaves began to catch the light with a mirror like gleam. At first, I thought people had thrown away the silver paper covers from sweets but closer inspection showed my mistake. Amongst those leaves I found sheets of eucalyptus bark, rolled tightly like massive sticks of cinnamon, and I reflected that even the hated eucalyptus, which burns like a candle when summer fires take hold, has its interest.

But here is my gate and I'm going in to cook dinner. See you another time.

Do you go on walks in the countryside? What catches your eye in autumn? (If you are Portuguese, please feel free to write in your own language. You don't have to write in English. Lembre-se: o que é importante não é a língua mas a contribuição.)




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