Autumn is tossing rain over us in fits of its own timing. Most trees are clinging defiantly to their leaves, indulging in a final dose of chlorophyll before the judge called Frost settles the matter.
The pioneers have fallen, and frame deadwood that is slowly being consumed by fungi – in this case, the candlesnuff fungus Xylaria hypoxylon.
White is the theme of the moment. We also have white spindles:
White warted puffballs:
And what I think is a species of cavalier mushroom (Melanoleuca).
White mushrooms often provoke fear; amongst their number are the destroying angels, the most lethal of all fungi. But something far smaller than a human tasted this cavalier, leaving toothmarks as relics in the cap.
Meal for a bank vole, a predator of mushrooms. But it still stood under its birch tree, spilling spores from its gills.
The mapmakers built it, long ago. Lichens write the years upon it, and autumnal mist steals its vista from human eyes, but it remains our grey witness to the hills.
The Ordnance Survey’s trigonometry points crown hilltops throughout Britain. Surveyors used them to triangulate distance and draw this island upon maps for countless purposes. They are a monument to scientific brilliance, but only in chorus. One trig point makes no more sense than one limb of a tree.
But its sister hill with its own trig point is still there, 11 miles away, wreathed in cloud. Trig points may have concrete hearts but they share wild nature’s habit of hinting at greater tapestries beyond our sight.
Fungi like these shaggy scalycaps are only the fruiting bodies of the mycelium, the thread-like organism that lives unseen within soil or tree.
A slime mould is only one life stage of the wood’s strangest lifeform: it existed as single cells before aggregating and becoming sessile.
Goat’s rue is a quiet monument to human hope. It is not a native species in the UK but has been here since at least the 17th century, given passage as a forage crop for livestock. Perhaps these dew-spotted petals are descended from plants tended by farmers who walked these hills in centuries past.
Crystalline clear skies seldom provoke questions about what lies just beyond our view. Mist is the master of those.
I walk fast – my dog expects nothing else. We’ve covered many long miles of the North Downs together and seen remarkable secrets of the wild world. But sometimes, the surprise comes when you pause for breath.
What stilled me was this: a beautiful blackening waxcap. It’s not an uncommon find in this area in autumn but I’ve never seen one such a brilliant buttercup-yellow before.
The grass has so many stories, but I was while reading them, something else was trying to read me.
This is Sooty, the famous alpha vixen of a fox family whom I call the Gatekeepers. This is why.
She watched me from the west, and her mate watched me from the east.
My dog and I were the story being considered between them. Just a small note as the evening gathers pace.
‘Following the herd’ is not a compliment amongst people – only the thoughtless do it, many say. Not amongst horses, however; their herding is a deliberate and warm-hearted choice.
Nothing in the wild walks alone. Even the harshest of leaves finds companions: spiders to weave from it, and light to paint its spines into white.
Horse chestnut trees are throwing conkers upon every path in my local woods, crashing through the branches like misshapen golf balls. But none falls without its shell.
But it is still the horses whose companionship most catches the eye.
Some artwork is subtle and made to persist, like this composition by lichen and moss. A tree died and became a canvas.
Down in the grass, a blackening waxcap offers brightness, but only for moments. Touched by hand or age, it turns dark. The top of the cap turns first, and the whole structure flushes black.
If the slugs spare it, I’ll keep watching.
She comes in the mornings when the clouds are faint and the sky is blushing pale blue. She weaves diamonds into dandelion seedheeds and writes on the grass with fungi.
Her voice is hard for human ears – conkers crashing from the horse chestnut trees. Her dress is bordered by a veil of vapour rising like noiseless smoke from every dewy grass stem.
I like to call her Autumn. She is the star of the wildland year. But we all know she does not linger for long.