Thursday, 22 September 2016

A landscape takes shape

Summer drought in Extremadura (Martin Kelsey)
The heat at the start of the month turned the landscape two-dimensional, sucking out depth and leaving it as a flattened canvass. As the shade temperatures hit 40ºC, nothing stirred. All creatures it seemed had found some solace in shade, whilst we retreated indoors.  Early September brought us the hottest days of the year, and sleepness nights too. Then change happened abruptly as we entered the second week, and for the first time I could step out of the door in early morning and become embraced by a shock of freshness. For the first time too, for many days, it was now comfortable to sit out and eat at night and we did so at the middle of that second week gazing at the glorious rhomboidal juxtaposition of a young Moon, Mars, Saturn and Antares.

Now we can rejoice a landscape again bearing form and solidity, an autumnal bite to a blue sky across which pass drifts of Spotless Starlings. Parties of these garrulous birds sit in the trees which now bear over-ripened figs, a starlings' fig party indeed and there is a constant chortling, a musical gurgling.  As I stand the garden I am aware of a new sound, distant but penetrating, the bellow of Red Deer stags, embarking on their annual rut, deep, almost adenoidal groans. There too, that most uplifting of sound, champagne fresh and clean, the lilt of a Woodlark: the undeniable herald of autumn, which captures like nothing else days of autumnal sunshine.
Singing Woodlark (John Hawkins)

The days are still hot (close to 30ºC), however the equinoxal nights are deliciously longer and cooler. But the single day of some rain recently, which broke about three months of drought, has plainly not achieved yet the arrival of our second spring, when in the space of days the landscape becomes green with the appearance of delicate new spikes of grass. With no rain expected at least through to the end of the month, we have still more days ahead to contemplate the the powerful harshness of the baked blond ground vegetation, in places crumbled by the hooves of livestock, and the sharpness of the lengthening shadows in the dehesa - a contrast made of black and gold.

Notwithstanding this sense of waiting, cues of change are being clocked up daily. Just two days ago, a biting tic call from the garden told me that our first wintering Robin had arrived. And there it was, close to the trunk of a tree, in a shady patch of the parched lawn, with its appealing upright stance and large-headed appearance, alert and cocky. A companion for the months ahead, whatever the weather.

Robin (Martin Kelsey)