Autumn’s Light

Autumn – for cyclists, as always, it’s the time for horribly strong and suddenly cold winds, slippery roads, more punctures than any other time of year, and unpredictable heavy rain.

True, you can opt for the ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ angle, and on benign days over these few months I can warm to that view. And Keats’ ‘maturing sun’ is often particularly apt; there’s a quality to the light around about now, especially as it’s fading at the end of a clear day, that is unmistakably autumnal.

Is there a touch of melancholy inherent in it? I’m not sure. I’m more inclined to ‘grim resignation’ about the impending tougher cycling conditions than melancholy. We need autumn and winter just as much as spring and summer – remember vernalization!

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Autumn Hills, here seen from around Hailey, near Wallingford

Nature Notes From On High

Up on the Ridgeway for a ride with Charli – it seems like a long time has drifted by since our last ride up there. The difference is marked.

Of course, rain falls everywhere and it’s been very wet of late, but somehow you expect it to be dryer up high. It wasn’t, and the combination of chalk, flint and clay can make for more sideways travel than is ideal, but it wasn’t that bad; neither of us fell off.

The wind was strong and cold; all in all it would be easy to call it unwelcoming and, certainly, there were even fewer people around than normal, but it was by no means a hostile day. As always, making the effort has its rewards.

Cycling in the cold, with Didcot A and B power stations working hard as a backdrop.

Cycling in the cold, with Didcot A and B power stations working hard as a backdrop.

The change in the wildlife is marked. In addition to the ‘normal’ hedgerow birds you’d expect to see there were flocks of Starlings and Red Wings, plenty of Crows and any number of Rooks – in the main rooting about on the ploughed fields. There were more of both Buzzards and Red Kites than I’d noticed before too, and a few Kestrels around to complete the compliment of hunters. It’s been a good year for Pheasants; they’re everywhere – including up where we were.

Depressingly, humanity doesn’t change. A fair way away from anywhere, someone had gone to a stupid amount of trouble to dump a fridge. Pretty well where ever they’d come from, it would have been just as easy or easier to take it to a council tip. It is possible to despair when you think about who you have to share the planet with. People like this can drive cars, vote, breed …

A dumped fridge on the Ridgeway

We share the planet with the idiots who do this.

We Are Puny

I’m writing this after a day’s ride was curtailed by some quite foul conditions: heavy rain with a strong wind for accompaniment. (A Full Hengistbury on the Hengistbury Scale*.)

Alternatively, I’m writing this after the day’s ride was curtailed by my pathetic capitulation to some heavy rain and strong wind. Yes, I could have carried on; it wasn’t impassable or dangerous. It was merely unpleasant in South Oxon – somewhere on the wrong side of bracing.

Either way, my tiny, unimportant plan for a decent length ride didn’t happen. Still, I suppose there’s something to be said for being reminded how puny we are.

‘Sandy’, the storm that’s been doing so much damage first in the Caribbean and now in the USA and Canada, demonstrates human puniness with all the impassive, remorseless aplomb ascribable to dear ‘Mother Nature’.

I say there’s something to be said for being reminded of our human frailty but quite what that ‘something’ is, on reflection, I’m not sure. If you feel the need to be put in your place, just look up at the stars. Our puniness in the face of extreme natural events on Earth is one thing; the insignificance of even that puniness in the light of our position in the Universe is quite another.

I suppose the real upshot of it all is that we are unable to fully, truly comprehend or assimilate how feeble or insignificant we are. Instead, hope and resilience and all the similar, generally lauded, qualities triumph, if ‘triumph’ is the right word for the defeat of rationality.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

Just Yuk

It doesn’t happen often, but today’s was a grotty ride and I’d have been quite happy not to have done it.

The sign to Bury Down on the Ridgeway, near Wantage

A bad day on the bike. You could have put us out of our misery and buried us just down there.

The intention was a ‘blow the cobwebs out’ trip on the Ridgeway up and around the Wantage area with Charli. The reality was a hard slog on a very windy day with lots of mud and water around after the downpours of yesterday – the ‘worst September storm for 30 years’, apparently. I fell off – albeit slowly and without doing any damage, Charli nearly did and both of us were happy to cut it short and go home. Neither of us had ‘anything in the legs’ as they say – for some reason we were both running on empty.

Hey ho – so it goes. It’s rare that there’s a day I’d rather have not ridden. Of course, as is always the case, a bad day is far more memorable and makes far more impact on your consciousness than all the good ones. That seems fairly natural: that makes it yet another example of natural not always equating to good.

Road Kill Has Its Seasons

It’s beginning to feel autumnal now – there was a stiff north-westerly blowing today that had a distinctly cool edge to it. It made for a tougher-than-ideal ride; the colder air is somehow thicker. And, heading out from the Reading area, trying to ride out into a north-westerly means it’s more-or-less uphill from the start. Uphill into a strong wind: not great fun.

But, that said, it was an enjoyable enough 40-odd miles taking in places like Pangbourne, Upper Basildon, Goring and Wallingford. The views from on high, near Aldworth and Westridge Green, were excellent – of a seemingly huge distance. It made me wish I had a very, very high resolution camera and could make a massive print of the resulting photo to show up every detail. A little digital compact isn’t going to cut it.

This is a Horse Chestnut that isn’t dying, despite appearances.

This is a Horse Chestnut that isn’t dying, despite appearances.

I gather that Horse Chestnut trees aren’t native but there are plenty of them around these parts – both ‘gone wild’ and where they’ve been planted, often on the edge of estates. Seeing some of them today, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re turning with the season already but they’re not – it’s the result of ‘leaf miner’ infection. There’s a lot of it about this year, it seems to me. It looks disastrous but I’ve read** that it’s not as bad as it appears.

If seemingly withering Horse Chestnuts aren’t in fact grim, I guess the plethora of dead squirrels and pheasants is also good news if you’re a Red Kite or similar.

I’ve been seeing a lot of road kill lately; perhaps it’s just the time when this year’s young ones are starting to make their own way – or not – in the world. As Tom Waits said, road kill has its seasons, just like anything. ***

Today I disturbed two Kites up near Aldworth attempting to tuck into a pheasant, and another near Woodcote enjoying a bit of squirrel. They’re so ponderous as they fly up I always feel quite guilty for driving them off.

** Forestry Web Site
*** Tom Waits Lyrics

The Animal Within

A nuthatch on a feeder in my garden as I left; a close encounter, certainly closer than I’d expect, with a female Roe deer and one youngster near Exlade Street; considerate drivers; cheery-enough cyclists; one of those fleeting eye-contact moments with a builder when he dropped a tool as I rode by and the mutual smiles that provoked; the rain holding off and the wind not getting up. All in all, a decent ride. My legs weren’t up to much but you can’t have everything.

Following on from yesterday’s musings about the lack of connectivity with our geographic environment, today was all about being alive to the weather. There’s a low pressure system coming in and you can sense the change coming just as much as you can see the cloud building up off to the west.

It’s hard to say just what it is you’re sensing; I have no idea if you’re able to actively feel varying air pressure. Perhaps it’s something more obvious – a temperature change maybe. As a rider I think there’s more to it than that – the air can feel thick some days – but there’s something over and above that too.

Whatever it is, as with the geography of an area, there’s something satisfying about realising you’re aware of these more elemental aspects. Why that should be satisfying I don’t know. I think it’s fair to suspect that animals are more aware of what’s going on around them; perhaps tapping in to our own awareness is to put us more in touch with the basic, fundamental, animal that we are, and perhaps, in turn, being in touch with animal nature is somehow deeply … what? Comforting?

Empty bench in a park: And sometimes it's good to just sit

Perhaps we should all spend more time sitting and staring, just being, just being an animal.