With the arrival of autumn there is no pause in the frenetic activity of the natural world; their actions are fuelled by the need to ensure their survival through the approaching winter when the tempo slows, temperatures fall and the clocks slip back to sandwich the shorter days thickly with darkness. Humans who look closely enough would find that their seasonal actions are not dissimilar to those of the natural world.
Through many autumns humans have gorged on the harvest of tree and hedge with the birds and badgers, and then when stomachs could take no more carried home the rest to pickle, jam and store. Humans eat with pleasure these sweet gifts but instinctively also gather; a genetic reminder of the time before the year round produce of supermarkets and beyond, when such picking was a necessary part of surviving the lean and barren winter months.
Early autumn is the time for the harvesting of fields of maize that are indented by areas laid to waste by the seasonal feasting of badgers on the ripe cobs. They crush the maize flat like a huge picnic rug; their actions like feasting Romans who reclined to eat and famously feasted until they were sick.
Autumn is the time when some of our arboreal giants cover the ground beneath their boughs in thick blankets of nuts. The majestic sweet chestnut is one which is always generous with plenty for everyone; the squirrels leaving mounds of perfectly hollowed out shells scattered around as if refusing to tidy up after eating.
The non- human animal world knows a good thing when they see it and so never turn down the chance of a free meal; with the approach of winter they never know when they will eat another. For some humans this urgency has gone, and so fruit trees stand bedecked and surrounded by rotting fruit as in their shadow supermarket fresh produce is unloaded or delivered.
Uniformity in shop bought produce means people are less inclined to bite through the battered and scabby skin of a windfall Cox’s Orange Pippin to discover the sweetness of the pink tinged flesh, or to fight through nettles and brambles to secure the most luscious of unwashed blackberries from the hedgerow.
In his literary walk through a year in the natural world the writer Roald Dahl noted with sadness that with each passing year fewer and fewer children came to climb and pick from the apple trees in his orchard. “Scrumping” for fruit in the late seventies and early eighties seems much further away now than the actual passing of the years suggests.
As animals migrate, hibernate or go to earth humans act out their equivalent by switching on the central heating or lighting the fire; just like the garden bird cold can kill us too. Modern life has gone a long way to ameliorate the sufferings of previous generations: the morgue like front room that was rarely used, floors covered in freezing lino and the coal fire that roasted your front while your back froze.
When the summer slips into autumn those who rely on stoves and fires for warmth turn their eyes towards the log pile, expertly calculate the quantity of fires therein and usually find it lacking. It is then that instinct comes to the fore and we become gatherers again on the watch for that fallen branch or tree always at the ready to claim and hoard it away. It is a seasonal passion to be shared with other gatherers, or discuss it with a squirrel, who while not very interested in quantities of fire wood, knows that it can never have enough nuts stored away for winter so will understand where you are coming from.
Our friends in the non-human animal kingdom live with the patterns and rhythms of nature by harvesting, storing and fine tuning their instincts to survive the bleak times ahead. Humans can now blur these changes, live above or simply ignore them. These basic instincts are not buried deep though, and as the seasonal nature of the natural world is an interlocking pattern with a purpose and a pedigree they are ignored by us at our peril.