August is a funny old month. I’ve always thought of it as being the absolute peak of summer: the UK’s warmest temperatures, a full month of school summer holidays and gardens at their most fully grown, exuberant selves.
But it turns out I’m really very wrong. The only bit I’ve got right all these years is the summer holiday bit, and even that’s only true for the south of England.
Of course, growing up in the UK, I’ve always been very aware of the seasons. The year starts in cold, cold winter, with just the odd bulb breaking the ground to suggest some life in the year to come. More and more reassuring signs appear over the weeks, with bud burst on the trees eventually turning the world green once more.
But being as close to nature as I now am, the cycles of change are so much more definite, so much more marked and, in the case of summer, so much earlier in the year than I’d thought it to be.
I guess it was a case of the school calendar telling me summer was August from the get-go; deviating from this learnt fixture was then a big barrier to break. Although, a barrier that was well and truly broken when we moved to Australia.
Oh, what fun I had, trying to work out when to do which tasks in the garden. Not only did I have to learn that the warmer, dryer weather meant you couldn’t just add six months to your UK timings, but I also had an annoying habit of my brain subconsciously making the seasonal timing shift but then consciously applying one too. With that double adjustment I’d be right back at UK timings, thoroughly confused with what on earth was going on.
Over the years, I’ve increasingly realised what a complex thing the brain is. So much goes on in there that you’re not really aware of. But I was definitely born thinking that things awaken at the start of the year, grow and flourish during it and then settle down to rest at the end. That’s the order of the world that makes sense to me.
But, to my utter surprise this month, despite us having a few days over thirty degrees, August found me discovering dew on rose hips early one morning. Dew? Rose hips? Aren’t those both things that happen in autumn or winter?
But apparently, no, that’s not how it works; the surprises and my adjustment to the seasons seemingly continue. Thank you, Australia, for giving me a practice run!
This month also saw the putting to bed of the wildflower meadow for the year. I’d been so sure this was the one area we would be happy to tidy up by August; the early wildflowers spent and the now straw-coloured grasses collapsing under their own weight.
But it was a surprisingly melancholic experience, Paul and I both working on it together with few words: a slight feeling of grief in the air. Ridiculously, in our first year, it wasn’t an awful lot more than an unmown lawn, the flowers having struggled to get a foot in so far, but still we hated losing it.
For me, I always feel sad to lose plant growth. It’s gone to all that effort and now I’m callously and artificially taking it away. My secateurs must have the cushiest job of any four-acre garden secateurs: I so struggle to bring myself to use them!
For Paul, he felt sad for the habitat loss. We were very nervous about nesting animals, but we’d researched how best to minimise this risk and we’re pretty sure any mammals made their escape into the newer, fresher meadow around the pond. All that seemed to be left were a million very energetic (if perhaps somewhat discombobulated) grasshoppers having quite some party on the newly clipped grass.
But as sad (and exhausted) as we felt that afternoon, the following morning there was Harrietta the hare, running about the meadow as if she’d just discovered the most exciting, enormous playground in which to frolic. The tall grass had hidden much of the wildlife from sight and it was extraordinarily wonderful to see Harrietta again.
I think that’s what being close to nature teaches you. There’s a natural flow to it: after a loss, new joy emerges. When you are feeling sad, a new sign of hope pops up, a silver lining and a reminder that all comes good in the end.
Without the trials of life (many of which, admittedly, put losing some grass into perspective), the peaks would not be so marked. However much we struggle with the dips, it is the combination of experiencing the extremes at both ends that makes our lives so rich and meaningful.
August has been a particularly big month for Paul and I, as we’ve both pretty much had the full month off work. Paid work, that is. Garden labouring, not so much. But it’s been such a special time together and we’ve packed so much in.
Before this year we’d never had more than a few days off at home together and it’s been such fun for the two of us to have that quality time and to be able to explore and discover and work on the house and just catch up with all those little tasks and indeed with life, at a slightly more relaxed pace. Next week, Paul starts a new job and life will change again as we settle into a new routine.
But sure as sure, there will be ups and downs and excitement and challenges within our new little world, whilst the broader world of Harrietta and the pond and the trees continue along as they have done for centuries, wondering what all the fuss is about.
What a wonderful grounding nature provides us with. Living in these continually surprising and extraordinary – yet at the same time unflinchingly resilient and stable – surroundings somehow provides me with all the confidence, energy and inspiration I could possibly need. Certainly plenty to be able to fully enjoy, engage with and take on my own little part of the world each day – however that may change – as we move into September and a new little world.