Autumn, pumpkin & poetry trails, and trees

Our Greenway writer-in-residence has been seeing in the autumn season with poetry trails, walks and reading circles, read her latest blog post on all the work she’s been doing.

“If spring is the cruellest season – or at least April the cruellest month (an idea to which I don’t subscribe, actually), autumn must be the kindest. At home the garden is full of colour still – nasturtia(ums), marigolds, those madonna-blue cranesbill gerania(ums). It’s also full of hornets – despite a couple of really quite heavy frosts they are resisting the natural order of things, and refusing to die. This means we can’t actually get into our lean-to to refuel.

Our pumpkin harvest is in.

So, too, is the pumpkin harvest at the National Trust’s Greenway, where I’m writer-in-residence till the end of this month. With the help of my co-conspirator, Carly, the closest I’ve ever had to a line manager, and both creative in her thinking and indefatigable even when ill in her help, I created a pumpkin trail for schoolchildren for half term.
 

 

The way we did it was for me to write a little poem which Carly then had printed up into a leaflet. We missed out a number of the words, which Carly carved into pumpkins dotted around the grounds of Greenway (you can see which one of us did the work and which was able to lie on her back and gaze at the few clouds sailing by – at least metaphorically speaking). The children picked up this poem:

leaves ________ down
in a ______ of gold
acorns _____ on the ____ slow river

and now earth’s ________ come

_______ time
apple _____
sweet ________ season

rainbow ______ for our autumn tables

– and had to find and fill in the lost words (which were: spinning  shower   strewn  wide  harvests  pumpkin  month  chestnut  bounty).

I came up with another 70 words related to autumn a few of which were posted beside each pumpkin. The children were asked to collect a few to write on paper leaves (that’s what are in the basket Carly’s holding), and when they’d completed both tasks to come to the bandstand, which Carly had filled with all manner of creative things, so that they could make new poems with me and then decorate a craft pumpkin with their poem and accessories.

We had a mad rush at the end of the morning with children dressed in all sorts of Hallowe’en wear coming back with the words to shape and craft into something pretty, or scary, depending on individual whim.

This was followed by a turnaround time for me of about 20 minutes to swallow a half sandwich and get my head into gear from thinking children’s poems to adults’ fiction writing for an afternoon of the second of the novel-writing sessions I’m teaching at Greenway.

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Just a few days later and I’m back, this time to create another poetry trail, predominantly I suppose for adults, in the garden.

When I wrote the little vignettes a mere fortnight before, the entrance drive was smothered with cyclamen. The first slate vignette is now a commemoration, as only about 6 cyclamen remained. Ah! The transience of it all…

          

That one wasn’t my best anyway, so below it are half a dozen I prefer, all painted on slate by the (indefatigable) Ms C:

 

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And then yesterday – bliss! – the second of my Greenway ‘reading circles’ ‘A Sense of Place’: a whole afternoon for five of us to share passages of writing on trees and woodland. Between us and among other books I can’t now recall, we brought The Magic Faraway Tree (a neatly – and sadly – prescient children’s book from decades ago); Robert MacFarlane’s The Wild Places; a poem by Jane Hirshfield; a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson;Beechcombings by Richard Mabey and my current rave-book The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. We told stories of our encounters with trees, shared knowledge and wisdom, and deepened the love we all already have for these arboreal geniuses.*

I’m going to leave you with some words on trees and autumn from Mabey’s book; we ourselves tend to relate to autumn as a time of slowing-down after summer, don’t we? Not so trees. (Actually, not so for teachers, pupils and parents with the new academic year, I suppose. I’m long out of the latter two and never was the former.)

‘Autumn isn’t a season of decline. It’s a season of furious activity by trees, the opposite of the slow windings-down of senility or hibernation. Leaves are probably shed to help hardwood trees reduce water loss during the winter months, when cold ground water doesn’t easily enter the roots. But leaf-fall also provides an opportunity for trees to get rid of waste products built up over the year, including toxins absorbed from the soil. In some cases, the level of poisonous metals in leaves increases a thousandfold just before they’re shed.’ [Makes me wonder about the wisdom of putting leaf mulch on food plants.] ‘At the same time the tree is breaking down chlorophyll and sugars in its leaves and withdrawing them into its woody parts, conserving them. When the green goes, what is left are the brightly-coloured carotinoids – orange and brown and yellow anti-oxidant chemicals similar to those that make tomatoes red – which are believed to bind with toxins. This flurry of chemical activity is stressful for the leaves, and to protect them during the crucial transfer of chlorophyll many trees synthesise yet another anti-oxidant, the bright red anthocyanin. The final mix of all these pigments, and the tints of specific trees in a particular autumn, depend on factors such as summer sunshine, soil drainage, early frosts.

That is what the season of mellow fruitfulness is all about…’

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*The final reading circle will be on my last afternoon as writer-in-residence at Greenway, and will be on rivers. I shall also be reading my own River Suite long poem.”

Further details and to book: Greenway.


Photos and Words: Roselle Angwin

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