The still air hangs heavy with the scent of decay; autumn’s fragrance, deep with a richness that can be tasted as much as smelt. The damp leaves stick to my boots and the layer of decaying leaf matter holds an impression of my passing steps within its patterned surface. Black-headed gulls dance on light wings to snatch titbits from the surface of the swollen river, their crisp white tones contrasting with the deepening colours of fading autumnal light. It doesn’t feel like the end of November, but it is.
The morning air lacks any real bite, the temperature above average for the time of the year and kept higher by the insulating blanket of overnight cloud. Even now the hazel in the garden at home still carries a few green leaves, each of which looks oddly out of place against its yellow and brown fellows, starved of wanted nutrients and ready to be jettisoned. There is a sense that winter has been happening somewhere else. The arrivals of rough-legged buzzards, short-eared owls and waxwings all point to tougher conditions elsewhere, but not here. Here the hunting opportunities remain and the afternoon fen provides a stage for hunting owls and harriers, seeking out small mammals and birds.
There is an expectation that the winter must come, that the temperatures must drop and that the first proper frosts must replace the damp with a welcome crispness more befitting the season. Were it not for the damp this unseasonal weather might tease more strongly, to hint at a spring that is still many months away. Is this the shape of things to come? Is this how our winters will be? I suspect not but right now it feels as if this dampness will continue indefinitely.
The damp conditions muffle the landscape and increase the sense of stillness. Only the calls of newly arrived swans echo across the flat fenland fields from a distance, piercing the gloom of the afternoon. More closely, the ‘chack’ of fieldfares and the indignant alarm of a startled moorhen deliver a more immediate soundscape. It is time to turn for home, brush the mud from my boots and to shut out the damp and darkness for another day.