The Viper in Autumn

Positive blogging today.

I know, it doesn’t suit me. I should stick with the cynicism, depression and nihilism. Today, though, you’re getting a more pleasant facet of my personality.

Today I will mostly be blogging about stuff what I likes in autumn.

Firstly, go away and read Keats’ “To Autumn”. Mmm. Goodness. Now you’re ready.

I love the change from the blazing days of August to the cooler mornings of September. Here in the UK, we get to see the fields ripen to a vibrant gold before they are harvested. I love the fields of stubble that are left when the wheat is gone. Hay bales amuse me, too. Where I live, the hay is baled into weird cylinders that fill the landscape like the megaliths of an alien race.

The hedgerows offer up sloes, blackberries, rose hips… the list goes on, if you like to forage. I won’t give all my recipes on this occasion, it would make the post too long. Here are some of the things I enjoy preparing in autumn: blackberry jam; blackberry and apple crumble; quince jelly; fruit gins; sloe gins; apple pies; mincemeat. Being a househusband usually gives me time to get in the kitchen, where I belong. Mrs Viper enjoyed my Apple Puffs in particular this year. Smell the cinnamon, taste the raisins. Envy my idyllic life. If it weren’t for the crippling bouts of depression, I’d be winning.

If you’re feeling a little more frisky, look out for medlars and quince. These are more old fashioned and not always easy to get hold of, but I think they’re worth a go. Medlars have to be basically rotten before they taste good. Go on, look them up on wikipedia. They’re hilarious and Shakespearean.

I try to get out into the woods as much as possible (I think all woodlands should contain at least one menacing person who suffers from a mental illness, don’t you?). The subtle change in smell amazes me. In summer I can smell pollen, warm hummus turning to rich earth and wildflowers. Autumn brings a new scent, the sweet rot as the flowers die back and the trees beginning to shed leaves. The changes in smell and colour are extraordinary. Sometimes the beauty of it sets me free from the gnawing of my thoughts. The little teeth of my mind stop chewing my soul for a while and I feel at peace. The birds migrate, the hares run, the deer become fierce or frightened. The world knows what to do and it does it perfectly well without my intervention. This has gone on for centuries without me and, if we don’t destroy our world, it will go on for centuries more. These changes have happened before and they will happen again; they are the paradox of nature, the change that is stasis.

Weird fungi show themselves. I swear that the woods near me produce different fungi every year. Sometimes there are mushrooms as vast as dinner plates, other years bring bracket fungi sprouting from trees or puffballs squatting amongst the fallen leaves. I love to eat fungi, but I never forage in the wild: my paranoia prevents me. I have passed by many edible mushrooms and thought, “Not this time, my tempting friend. You’ll have me writhing in agony while the doctors talk about highly unusual specimens that look tasty but cause hours of excruciating pain before death.”

I’ve just read a book called, “The Oak King, The Holly King and The Unicorn” by John Williamson. It talks about the medieval myths that surround the changing of the year. I shan’t go into too much detail, but Autumn is the time of year when the mythical Holly King begins to take control of nature from his counterpart, the Oak King. I can never decided which King I serve. Much as I love spring, I think I am probably part of the Holly King’s retinue. The bounty of harvest, followed by the slow decay of later autumn and the final hardness of winter are really my time. I like the underlying melancholy of this time and the human attempts at jollity: we feast and we light fires.

I’m not a huge fan of a commercial Halloween. There are some fine, old traditions in the UK that I’m open to. I like apple bobbing, making lanterns and telling ghost stories. I don’t like trick or treating. It seems strange to encourage children to visit houses and ask for sweets. Mostly I tell my kids NOT to talk to strangers. Trick or treating in this country seems to be an excuse for teenagers in plastic masks to ask for money. It’s not the same spirit as small town USA. My children go to Halloween parties, they don’t roam the streets asking for treats. One Halloween tradition I’d like to try is Snap Dragon, but Mrs Viper doesn’t approve. It involves using brandy to set fire to raisins while children try to grab raisins without getting burnt. How great is that? Mrs Viper can be such a killjoy.

My preferences in clothing, food and comfort are all better suited to autumn and winter than to summer. I suit scarves, jumpers and coats. Hearty stews, toad-in-the-hole and pies are what get me excited at meal times. An evening with a real fire, a book and something warm to drink are my idea of relaxation. Home feels warmer when the outside world is colder.

I haven’t mentioned chestnuts or mulled wine. I haven’t written about the smell of bonfires or the joy of eating jacket potatoes outside. I suppose I should save some of this for other posts.

I’ll leave it there, for now. I was feeling positive, so I wrote something positive. Don’t fret, I’ll be back to wailing and gnashing my teeth in due course. Who knows how long it will last? The harvest ends, the leaves fall, the land hardens. It’s a natural cycle. It will continue, with or without me.



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