November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.

With night coming early
And dawn showing late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn,
The kettles sing
And the earth sinks to rest
Until the next spring.

Clyde Watson


Today was the perfect example of an autumnal day. It was warm, sunny with a crisp coolness in the air. The sun that had been promised by the met office a few days ago had finally arrived, if a tad late. I decided to get out and enjoy it, heading off to a place very dear to me.

I set off through the small Cornish villages; despite a chill in the air I dropped my windows, allowing the rich smell of smoke from the thatched-cottage log fires to permeate the air to my nostrils. As I reached the turning, I noticed a buzzard sitting atop a telegraph pole. I slowed the car, but it flew off before I had even neared stopping.

I pulled up outside Kestel Barton, the ancient farmstead-turned-arts centre. They were also having a fire, and the smell was sweet, as though it was a fruitwood being burned. It was comforting and familiar. I visit this area at least once a year; usually in the spring time when the wild garlic is in bloom. It carpets the path, huge blooms of white, the strong garlicky smell filling the air, a new burst of odour with every step you take through the throng of plants.

Heading towards Frenchman’s Creek down a thin track, the sun gleamed off the field. I stopped as I reached the corner, to hang over the gate and gaze at a patch which I have always coveted. Apple trees in rows, surrounded by fencing with chicken houses tucked inbetween. The hens here roam freely, secure from predators in their stronghold. Some of the apples had fallen into the yard and had begun to rot. Their presence was causing a mini furore; birds had gathered to enjoy the gifts. The area was extremely busy; sparrows, robins, blue tits, great tits, siskins, bullfinches, chaffinches, goldfinches and greenfinches were everywhere, as well as jackdaws and pigeons. They took it in turns, several birds at a time, swooping from the safety of the thick hedges, to steal mouthfuls of apple, before flying back into hiding again. They chirped and sang as they went, the air imbued with beautiful notes. A red admiral fluttered by, the sun awakening it from its wintry slumber.

Continuing down the hill, the trees grew thicker as I entered the woodland. Large ferns clumped together, fronds overhanging the thin path. I chose, as usual, to ignore the main path, signposted to ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ and slipped off to the left. I skipped over the bridge, noticing that the tide was out. The Helford is connected to the sea, and the brackish water flows in and out, altering the landscape drastically with the 6 hour toll.

Reaching the break in the trees, I sat aside the river, enjoying the tranquillity of being alone. After gazing down the river for some time, watching as the sun light caresses the water, I hear the sound of shuffling leaves, the noise of foliage being crunched underfoot. I steel myself, ready for the perfunctional nod and smile of another walker, but the person never comes. Instead, through a gap in the trees I see a large brown creature slip between the branches; an otter. The movement is fast but completely distinguished, and I hold my breath. Staring at the foot-wide gap where the creature had been. I don’t move, sitting still for a long time, eyes searching the woods down to the river bed for further signs. I sit for what seems an age. The sun disappears behind thick cloud and the cold seeped in through my thin jumper. Despite my bones urging me to move, I continued to wait patiently, watching a grey wagtail pick about on the shore, grabbing the tiny insects which hover above the water. Suddenly, I saw a movement in the trees and sure enough, a tiny brown face peeked out and stared in my direction. It was merely a split second, but it was enough, and a warm feeling spread over my body, warming me up again. I contemplated staying, waiting it out to try and observe the otter further, or whether my presence was causing the mustelid to be uncomfortable. But before I could make my choice, the decision was made for me. A touring river boat chugged into view on the river, headed in our direction. The otter would be long gone with the noise I thought to myself, as the grey wagtail disappeared, and a little egret suddenly screamed and flew off overhead, its thin legs pressed together in the sky. I made my way back up the path I came down, wanting to escape before my moment of serenity could be broken. I slipped back through the trees. The wind blowing occasionally, scattering leaves with a loud rustle.

As I made my way home, I noticed the buzzard has returned. I tried my luck again and this time, the buzzard stayed put. Its eyes were trained on the grass verge below. I was focussing my camera when it suddenly bolted. For a split second, I thought it was my fault, but I heard a loud thud as the bird hit the ground. Seconds later it was up again, a small mammal tucked tightly in its claws. It sat back on the telegraph pole and tucked into its dinner, the small creature ripped apart ant eaten in 2 mouthfuls. Then it sat again, staring down at me. I returned the gaze, struck by awe. The bird turned its head and launched itself once more, but this time into the air, and I watched its retreating back fly over the fields towards the horizon.

I turned the engine over and peered up through the windshield wondering where the sun had gone. Drifting home, I thought of the brownie and camomile tea that awaited me, and contemplated having my own fire.

buzzard catch

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