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In an oak tree not far away something strange and bizarre happens. The tree weeps. It’s been weeping for many, many years. And as it weeps the sap it produces ferments. The tree is infected. With a fungus.
Down one side there’s a scar…black, glistening, reaching into the roots, staining the soil and exuding a pungent aroma of fermenting fruit which is utterly irresistible to insects. Those who sip the sap become intoxicated and it’s not unusual for us to see hornet, beside butterfly, beside fly – shimmering in an iridescent cocktail.
I’ve been away. It was a spur of the moment decision made on Friday morning halfway through making a batch of quince and squash chutney. Well, I exaggerate, not wholly impulsive, I’d been toying with the idea ever since Will (3rd son) had suggested it a month or so ago. The time seemed right. Olly was around for the weekend… “100% mum. Though I’m going out Saturday evening.” And Robert had no pre-arranged ‘dos’ either.
After a couple of quick phone calls and very hastily potted chutney, I threw some essentials into a bag and was on the road by 2pm. It was the foulest drive imaginable. Busy roads, incessant rain, fierce wind and relentless spray, poor visibility…and dark! Six hours later I emerged, zombie-like, from the car.
Relieved to have arrived I push open the wicket gate and, clutching my basket, carefully walked down the slippy, uneven brick path. Lining the pathway are tall, darkly-dense box hedges crowned with mystical topiary beasts that moan and groan in the gusting wind and pelting rain. Drenched I reached the door, give a tap, turn the knob and step into another world. I blink in the soft light “Sorry I’m late…the roads…the rain, the traffic.” I thrust my basket towards Don “Supper.” Pulling it back to me I rummage around and take out a wrapped greaseproof package “Steak…fillet. Ours. Red Ruby.” I look up and smile “Quick to cook. Tender and mouth-watering…hopefully.” Grinning I dig into the basket again “And wood blewits. To go with the steak. From the woods above Marymead.” Carefully I lift out one of the starling violet-blue fungi “Aren’t they just extraordinary?” I hold it to the light “So beautiful…what an amazing colour. You’d think they were totally poisonous!” And lastly I take out a bottle of wine “And wine. To celebrate!” I pause, take a deep, slow breath and let my eyes wonder around the kitchen absorbing every little detail “How wonderful to be here. I feel recovered already!”
The friends I was staying with live in an old gardener’s cottage once attached to ‘The Big House’… to me it’s a place of enchantment. I’m Alice… stepping through the looking glass into another world; wood smoke, worn red-brick floors, milky glass, ancient timber framing and soft chalky walls. Colour; colour is everywhere – softly muted and earthy rich. And then there are the things! A jumble. A plethora. A marvellous abundance of treasure. I love it. I gather to me the extraordinary tapestry of senses and feast my soul.
Next day, the enchantment continues outside. An old oak barn tumbled with myrtle, rosemary and clematis, a hidden sculpture, a table, a summerhouse. Brick paths which turn into mazes of tall box hedges and fantastical topiary beings that lead one into small secret places…or with an unexpected twist guide you down a grand avenue (the Queen of Hearts?) to a pond and the rolling countryside beyond.
The reason for my visit? Time to reflect. On my memories. Of my mother and my closest family buried in the churchyard not a hundred yards away from the cottage. My father, my aunt, my uncle…and in a nearby village, my grandparents.
To me the month of November lends itself to recollection and introspection. November is a month of transition, a time for rest, a time of renewal and a time for resurrection. The darkening days, the wild weather, the slowing down of nature and the comfort of the home hearth make it so.
With the church bells ringing overhead I walk in the garden gathering sprays of crimson crab-apples, branches of myrtle and sprigs of rosemary which I take and lay on the still uneven turf of my mother’s grave and remember…..with love.
I cut a meadow for hay on Saturday. I don’t do a lot, around 250-300 small bales for the sheep. Sheep are not keen on wrapped haylage, even if it’s dry and sweet, they will eat it if pushed though much prefer good old fashioned hay. At last, after weeks of ‘yes we can’, oh, ‘no we can’t’, those fonts of all knowledge, the weather stations, predict four to five days of dryish weather (of course leaving a 10-20% error margin for rain just in case those super-advanced technical pieces of seaweed are having an off day).
Coming back from turning the hay a second time late yesterday afternoon I was confronted by two very dejected bored dogs waiting for my return in the yard. Feeling guilty I rushed them off for a quick walk. Going past the woods I notice the ground was covered with large patches of golden leaves. Funny. I thought and went for a closer look. Not leaves but carpets of chanterelles! Quickly taking off my cardi I began to pick – but there were too many. I dashed back home to get my basket and a knife. I picked and I picked.
Last night we had omelettes with chanterelles, tonight it was chanterelle risotto, tomorrow it’ll be a chanterelle strogonoff. And, to boot, I have trays of them drying out in the sun and on top of the Aga. A totally unexpected delicious bonus.
We have a dearth of fungi this year, but yesterday, returning home through a glade in Marymead birch wood I found the floor dotted with these glorious deep purplish-lilac fungi. The Amethyst Deceiver. I love the gothic implications. However my book assures me they are ‘quite edible’ and boringly ‘very common’ – but I’ve never found them there before…a deception? Read the rest of this entry »
Has anyone seen one of these?