Everything growing is a post-it note left there as a hint to the bigger picture.
Waxcaps: You are on undisturbed land
The fungi of a dozen colours, family Waxcap is bright, obvious, and sensitive. They thrive in old mossy grasslands and churchyard edges that haven’t been ploughed, fertilised or otherwise harmed. If disturbed, they might not return to a site within a human lifetime. If watched, they tell their stories. Blackening waxcap begins with a glow of gold.
Before turning dark, spreading its spores back to the earth.
Wall barley: You are on disturbed land
Thriving on the opposite, this grass and its extraordinary bristles (properly known as ‘awns’) like roughed-up areas. It often appears on urban road verges and cracks in pavements. It is related to the barley species grown on farms.
Stinging nettle: You are on nutrient-rich ground.
That may sound like a good thing, but most of those nutrients will be run-off from agriculture or be leaking from old iron fences. Too many nettles equals an environmental question-mark. They are also fierce to the touch, as most rural children know. But they have been used by many cultures for various things, from medicine to textiles.
Mist: You are in November-land.
It is autumn, and that grows mist. And it is beautiful.
There are two observation challenges while walking in nature: the first to find the hidden species, and the second to see the beauty and importance of common, obvious things that seldom capture much of our time.
There is a national trail in Surrey that reveals plenty of both. The North Downs Way is south-east England’s most absorbing footpath, threading through over 150 miles (250km) of chalky hills, ancient beechwoods and rolling farmland. I live on it, or very nearly; it runs through my parish on its pilgrimage to Canterbury and the sea.
It is big enough to feel uncrowded, human-wise, but the wild is there to offer its company.
Amethyst deceivers bring royal purple to the forest. The name reflects their variable shape which can outfox identification. These clustered on a fallen beech, joining moss in a living shroud.
The beech that still stand are catching the light as though it were a cricket ball flying towards them in the season’s last match.
Flowers, too, are still shining. Poppies redden the edges of arable land.
Scarlet pimpernels peep through the grass.
And here – the harbinger of spring, resting on a grass stem coloured by autumn:
It is a brimstone, and although at rest it mimics a leaf, on the wing the male is brilliant yellow. One of our longest-lived butterflies, it hibernates through the winter.
Whatever wild dramas autumn and winter bring, it will be oblivious.