On country walks I'm usually on the lookout for movement in trees, shrubs and sky. But there isn't much going on at this time of year in my regular haunts. Or it so it seems. And before I know it I'm drifting along a familiar route, lost in thought about a scene in the novel I'm writing, or worrying that the washing machine is dead and not just on strike, or wondering if I'll get Christmas cards written in time - and I'm focusing on little except where I'm putting my feet.
While that can be a useful meditation, I can miss an awful lot. So today I took my camera with me and also took my time, stopping regularly to look more closely at my surroundings.
To pay attention.
Here's a tour of a few things I noticed in a half mile stretch either side of a quiet lane.
Fifty shades of green?
Around the bend and above the lane, trees have been left where they've fallen.
The perfect habitat for beetles and other insects (snakes too?).
Worth a careful explore next summer.
Something's been hacking bark off cork oaks. Unlikely to be humans mucking about (some is out of reach). Woodpeckers? Maybe, but there are so many nuthatches here, they're my prime suspects. My book doesn't list insect grubs as part of their diet, but that must be what they're after here? Certainly you can often hear them tapping at branches and trunks. And...
... they also use cork oaks to help them hatch those nuts! I've watched one wedge an acorn in a crack in the bark and bash it repeatedly to get at that delicious soft centre. Sometimes it drew its head back, only to find the acorn stuck on its beak, and angrily rammed it back into the crack to free itself. Head back ... Bash. Head back ... Bash. The acorn didn't stand a chance. Here's the evidence, in what must be a favourite tree:
Roots follow water, through near-solid rock.
This wild cherry has been dying all year. But it's being colonised by other life now.
After egg laying by moths in October,
new "candyfloss" nests of pine processionary caterpillars are just beginning to show.
Plants frazzled to a crisp in the summer are making a comeback in the damp conditions
Old cones and new growth.
Behind: autumn coloured leaves cling onto some trees. It's still too warm.
A few flowers broke up the greenery: Yellow daisy-like things; a single sprig of purple heather; early blooms of gorse and mimosa. And I ate a couple of ripe fruit from a strawberry tree (not much flavour).
I wasn't walking in complete silence either. Although most of the more musical birds have stopped singing or are wintering in Africa, I could still hear the rather sad call of robins. There was the occasional chwit-chwit of a nuthatch; a distant great spotted woodpecker; a buzzard somewhere overhead; great tits; squeaks of what might have been goldcrests...
There wasn't much to smell (not even dead leaves) and I didn't touch - except for the fruit, and dewy grass when I slid gracelessly onto my bottom while photographing the fungi! - however it's worth consciously using at least four senses in the natural world. Even in the winter. At first glance it may seem very still out there - but it's still life, so that's okay.