Lia Leendertz on 5 Seasonal Things To Do in Autumn
Blending nature writing, folklore and recipe guide, Lia Leendertz's Almanac is the perfect handbook for enjoying the year ahead to its fullest. In this exclusive piece, Lia shares five evocative activities to partake in now that the heat and sizzle of summer is turning to the golden-hued wonder of autumn.
Summer is over and autumn is here, let’s celebrate! Well yes, you might well look at me sideways. Lengthening nights and increasing cold may not feel like a thing worth raising a glass to, but I want to encourage you to embrace them. My book, The Almanac, a Seasonal Guide to 2022, is designed around this idea. We live in a highly seasonal climate which is constantly changing and every month has its own atmosphere, traditions, foods and celebrations. I want to help you enjoy them all for what they are, rather than pining for the few warm months. To that end I have searched out as many keys to unlocking the joys of each month as I can find, from night sky watching, to moon gardening, to seasonal food, folk songs and stories and more.
And autumn has so much going for it, it’s not even hard. The countryside looks beautiful, tinged with changing leaf colour in low golden light, and there is great bounty and abundance. Autumn also cannot disappoint in the same way that summer can. If the weather is good then halleluiah, what a wonderful autumn, but if it is cold and wet then we already had our woolly jumpers and wellies brushed off and we now have an excuse to light the first fire and make the first crumble of the season. Here are a few ideas to help you enjoy the coming months in all their glory.
Spot the Pleiades
Autumn is the best time of year to spot one of the most beautiful deep sky objects, the Pleiades. Deep sky objects are astronomical bodies outside our solar system that consist of more than a single star, so we are talking about nebulae, star clusters and even distant galaxies, and many of them are visible to the naked eye (and even better through binoculars). As nights lengthen the opportunities for night-sky watching increase, and The Pleiades is high in the sky in autumn and on into winter. It is known as the Seven Sisters because of its seven glitteringly prominent stars but in dark sky conditions more can be seen, and there are over a thousand stars in the group. Find them by first finding Orion, and following the slope of his belt upwards, past the bright star Aldabaran. You should see a patch of glittering stars. The Almanac 2022 has a deep-sky object to look out for each month of the year.
Make thar cakes
For 2022’s edition of The Almanac I made it my mission to track down a traditional or seasonal biscuit to accompany every month, from Italian Cavallucci di Sienna, a Tuscan biscuit traditionally eaten on Twelfth Night in January, and fortune cookies for Chinese New Year, to Easter biscuits delicately scented with cassia oil and many more. Thar cakes were traditionally eaten in the north of England on All Souls Day at the beginning of November. It is thought that the word comes from the old English 'theorf', meaning unleavened, a fittingly plain name for something eaten on such a solemn occasion. They are made of oats, black treacle and spices and are a very serious but very delicious biscuit.
Visit an estuary
September is a great month for bird migrations, some of which leave us to head south to the continent, while others arrive here from further north. Many of those from the north will refuel at an estuary on arrival, because estuary mud provides some of the richest feeding there is, making this a brilliant time to visit one. Visit at high tide for best spotting, as more birds will be squeezing into a smaller amount of space. Look out for pink footed geese from Svalbard in the Arctic Circle, as well as knots, dunlins and widgeons. Curlews that have summered in Scotland may fly south to English and Irish estuaries, and oystercatchers arrive in great numbers from the soon-to-be frozen north and in particular from the Faroe Islands.
Bulbs go into the ground from September onwards, a little bit of spring packaged up, placed into the ground, and left to hibernate. There is barely a better thing that you can do to pull your mind through the dark to brighter days. Daffodils go in early, and should be in by the end of September. Plant crocuses, scilla, grape hyacinths, miniature irises and windflowers next – consider planting them around early flowering fruit trees as they will draw the bees in and increase pollination. Last but not least, plant tulips in November: any earlier and you risk them starting into growth before the cold weather, which isn’t good for them. The 2022 Almanac contains a guide to planting by the moon, so that you will know exactly when the best time for bulb planting will be.
The autumn equinox falls on 22nd September this year at 8.21pm. The earth is tilted on its axis and as it moves around the sun each year it holds this angle, which means that different portions of the northern and southern hemisphere are in shadow at different times of year, so creating the seasons. The moment of equinox is the moment at which the sun is directly above the equator, and in the autumn this is the moment that our nights become longer than our days, and we are into our dark half of the year. I always buy myself a stash of candles in the run up, and light a few on the night of the equinox, a cheaper (and more environmentally friendly) alternative to lighting a fire, but with the same warmth, flickering glow, and sense of cosiness. As we are into the darker and colder half why not embrace cosiness: learn to crochet, start a new boxset, and light candles for every evening meal from now until the spring equinox, even if it’s beans on toast.
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