Drifting towards the end of summer

I love summer.

And spring.

And autumn.

And even winter too, sometimes.

I love the seasons. I love living somewhere there is always seasonal change on the horizon. Tomorrow is the start of meteorological autumn. I tend to feel slightly sad at the passing of one season, but excited for the next. Spring and summer hold so much promise, but the shorter days and longer nights of autumn and winter help us to value them all the more.

As summer starts to drift to a close, my sadness is tempered by the signs of the changing seasons and the promise that has been growing for half the year. There are signs all around: harvest in the fields, brambles in the hedges and fruit ripening on the trees. The evenings are getting shorter and darker. There will soon be crisp autumn days, glorious colours on the trees and crunchy leaves underfoot.

I’ve been spotting burgeoning blackberries on the bramble bushes for a few weeks already, which seems very early this year (some have even been and gone).

Bramble bushes and Ripe blackberries

The apples are growing on the trees (below left) and sloes appearing on the blackthorn bushes (below middle), although it will still be a while before either are ready for picking. Take extra care with sloes: they should be picked after the first frost (or popped in the freezer before using to flavour gin!) but you should only collect them if you are absolutely sure of what they are. There are impersonators which are not edible! Similar, but larger fruits also with a white matte surface are Damsons, and care should again be taken before picking and eating these to ensure this is what they are. The fragrant elderflowers of late spring have made way for the dark elderberries (below right) which can be used in jellies, cordials and to flavour fruit crumbles.

Of course, other animals also enjoy many fruits and berries and we should ensure that there are plenty left for them.

The guelder rose (below left) berries are an important food source for many birds (but can be mildly toxic to people!). The berries of the white beam tree (right, related to the rowan) are eaten by woodpigeons, crows and thrushes and are edible by humans but must be cooked first.

Whilst the haws (below) of the hawthorn tree look like berries they are actually pomes, like apples and pears. Haws are also an important food for birds and are edible in small quantities by humans when cooked, although the seeds are poisonous (haws are often made into a jelly) – but they don’t actually taste very nice!

When foraging, always ensure you have permission and take a responsible and knowledgeable grown-up with you to make sure you don’t pick anything poisonous. There are many plants with similar looking berries and fruits which could make you very ill. If in doubt, don’t eat it!

The end of summer usually also brings excitement for a new school year, although that is going to look a little different this year. The uncertainties of the world around us are balanced by the comforting familiarity of the turning of the earth and the changing of the seasons as nature continues to get on with life.

What signs of the changing seasons and the end of summer can you spot?

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