Kate on Conservation

How to embrace autumn by learning lessons from nature

I’m delighted to share with you this autumn themed guest post from Chloé Valerie Harmsworth, a nature writer, artist and photographer from Hertfordshire. She has been keeping a nature diary since 2019. In it she explores her local green spaces through the seasons, identifying and recording flora and fauna, and reflecting on numerous subjects. She has written a book on woodlands, due to be published in 2022 and illustrated the cover of my new Wildlife Blogger Crowd anthology, Connections With Nature. You can find out more about Chloé from her website and on Instagram.

Wednesday 8th September 2021 – End of summer

It’s the middle of the day in the middle of the week and I have taken the opportunity to sit on the bench surrounded by adolescent oak trees, positioned in the centre of the park. From here I regard the chevrons of flat, dried grasses which are all that remain of the wildflower meadow. The cornflowers, yarrow, clover and other symbols of summer were cut down last week, although the colour-stripped debris of them hasn’t yet been gathered for use on the local farms.

An obscured chiffchaff calls out, perhaps saying goodbye to his holiday pied-a-terre, or merely marking the end of the season. While most chiffchaffs return to Africa in autumn, these climate-change days mean that some now stay year-round, our UK winters less mean.

Chiffchaff illustration by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth @chloevalerienatureart

The summer has been dreary weather-wise, and I wouldn’t mind three weeks of today before consigning it to the past, but I am looking forward to autumn more than ever before. I anticipate crisp walking days through flaming leaf-lakes and smoke-scented air amid ice-blue skies, and waking up to the magic trick of misty mornings where the world is lost, and the bodily relief of hot stews and soups, my hands scarred and stained from foraging.

Lesson 1: Do what you can when you can; it may not be possible later

Yet it is still summer just about, and I am squeezing the last vestiges of it into my soul, like a refreshing glass of orange juice. I’ve moved my computer work to tomorrow, when a thunderstorm is due, so that I can be outdoors today. This is my post-lockdown ethos: do what I can when I can; it may not be possible later. Not only is this the result of the past 18 months, but it hints at my concern as to what the cooler autumn months may bring. There’s a looming cloud at the back of my mind threatening enclosure again.

Hawthorn illustration by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth @chloevalerienatureart

Endless rain has been cruel to my summertime friends: the cow parsley and hogweed heads have been near-empty of shining beetles. The rain surely isn’t solely to blame – Insectageddon is sweeping its cruel hand to knock our invertebrates off their seats – nevertheless the difference has been stark. After hours of searching, I found just one shrivelled cinnabar moth caterpillar on the ragwort, and no adults at all. Usually by now I would have also seen a good deal of small copper and brown argus butterflies.

Lesson 2: There are winners and losers

With every event and change, however, there are winners as well as losers. The well-watered vegetation has thrived and reached unprecedented heights; the reason maybe for the slightly premature meadow mow. As I made my way to the bench, each step set off explosions of crane flies – abundant food for fledgling birds.

Red Admiral illustration by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth @chloevalerienatureart

Hedges of hawthorn and blackthorn are loaded with a promise they intend to keep. This year I’ve seen a larger number of brimstone, red admiral and peacock butterflies – the early emergers – due to the kind winter and spring.

Lesson 3: Find gratitude, even in unlikely places

September is a month attired in new-year and in-between vibes. I feel this to be especially the case this autumn: I’ve delivered one book manuscript to my publisher and another is waiting to be started. So I take a moment to muse on this bench and listen to the grasshoppers’ conclusive chatter (I imagine them squished companionably together in the leftover grass, like campers huddled round a fire). The park’s joggers and dog walkers have withdrawn, but shortly the schoolkids will march through in ant-lines to the beats of their headphones.

I feel a deep well of gratitude to this place that welcomed me with the open arms of a long-lost friend when I returned four years ago. Its walls of trees shelter me like a mother and its feathered and furred bodies heal me like a white witch. Sense, hope, imagination and possibility have osmosed into me through soil, bark and air. Without these elements that are so entrancingly comforting, my childhood dream of being a writer and artist may have been eternally misplaced.

Buzzard illustration by Chloé Valerie Harmsworth @chloevalerienatureart

I stand and descend the slope towards the entrance-exit. There’s a buzzard hanging overhead. He looks at me as I look at him. My feet catch the winding path and I notice that five birch trees have been cut down – potentially the ones I planted twenty-five years ago – but that four speckled wood butterflies are enjoying the newly-found dapple-light.

About the author

Chloé Valerie Harmsworth writes about UK wildlife and the environment in order to raise awareness of conservation issues and to encourage more people to appreciate the beauty around them. She aims to help people reconnect with nature, to benefit their mental wellbeing and also the world. She has written for various print and digital magazines, and has written and illustrated her own nature journal, which explored her local green space over the course of a year. She also loves to paint and take photographs of nature, inspired by her walks. For more, see: https://chloevalerienatureart.wordpress.com/

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