While the English are still in the middle of their summer holidays, our school-children are going back to school today. Disappointing as this is, when the weather has only just improved, there does seem to be an appropriate feel to it. The blue tits are back in the garden, there’s a grey squirrel pinching the last of the strawberries, there are goosanders on the river again, and the sound of geese in the sky at night. These are not the winter migrants, I am told, but the resident ones dispersing after the breeding season, but you know there’s change afoot when you hear them calling. The very young black-headed gulls have their winter plumage, and the rowans are red, even on our tree which is usually the last. The colours are autumn-bright, the mullein is in flower and the first japanese anemone is out. And there are feathers on the grass. Some of these are from the moult which most birds go through at this time of year – the sparrows are looking particularly ragged just now – but sometimes they are not. Sometimes you get a scatter of feathers in one place, and you know that the sparrowhawk is back. It’s a turning point in the year.
The garden has done surprisingly well, all things considered. So many of my herbs come with the warning – needs good drainage, likes sun, hates sitting in cold wet soil. And this summer in Scotland has been cold – seldom over 15 degrees, and extremely wet. And yet, most things have flourished. The chervil hasn’t – it seems to have disappeared altogether, and the seed coriander has been a disaster. There are rushes growing in the pot! I think one of the neighbourhood cats chose that particular spot for territory marking – it certainly didn’t smell like coriander!
It has to be said that the garden hasn’t had much love form me lately. That has mostly gone to the NHS, where, thankfully, answers have been found and diagnoses made, and solutions are on their way. But poetry has come back from its holidays too. The proofs of The Territory of Rain have been signed off, and I’ve had a first look at the cover. And I will be reading tonight at the StAnza showcase as part of the Just Festival in Edinburgh. It’s a weird time to start a new year, but I’m ready.