SINCE THE WINDS CAME, the yellowing leaves of the year and the last apples have fallen into our gathering early dusks, and we have looked out beyond the black sky-writing of the now bare branches into the cold cold soon-come night and thought of Indoors and Fire.
We've been nearly three damp months without a usable woodburner (our only real heating), and finally finally, we have a hearth again, and we did not have to move house! It's amazing how not being able to light a fire takes the heart, in a very real sense, right out of a home. All the complexities of thatched listed buildings, landlord's house insurance, chimney regulations and suchlike, have been remedied, and the original fireplace has been uncovered from behind decades of brick and plaster. We are overjoyed with warmth!
Meanwhile, my studio has been a hive of Calendar packing. I was so pleased to have sold out within such a short space of time! Thank you folks as always for loving and supporting what I do - it makes a real and tangible difference. I have made a second order with the printers, which I will be listing for sale this coming THURSDAY NOVEMBER 21st at 8pm UK TIME (find out when that is where you are here). Be quick folks: I predict this lot will whisk off the shelves rather fast too!
Though the sunlight streams into my lovely studio, the winds also blow in through cracks between the floorboards, and so woodburner-installation shall be happening there too before long.
A painting has been birthing on the floor of my studio for some months now. It's on a large piece of oak which won't fit comfortably on my desk or drawing board, and it is almost done. I can't show you it yet, but will be sure to do so in due course. My back and knees are quite glad it's nearly finished.
In other autumnal news, those in the South West and beyond are cordially invited to come and say hello at my stall at these upcoming craft fairs this month (and snaffle the last calendars left!)...
The first will be the always cozy and convivial delight that is the South Devon Steiner School Advent Fair near Totnes on Saturday November 23rd:
The second will be a gathering of local art and craft talent on Saturday November 30th for the Chagford Winter Artisan Fayre, where you will see many wondrous creations in wood, clay, silver, pencil, paint, bronze, fabric, ink, thread, paper, wool and gem:
There have been cold, sunny November stomps on the moor, where we looked down over the valley of the river Dart, and the many beautiful ochres, umbers, ambers, rusts and browns that clothe it.
And we gloried in the low November sunlight edging the mossy moorland woods as we walked out the heavy-booted things of the year passing behind us.
I have been helping clear and prune an old overgrown local orchard where the apples are sweet and the ivy threatens to win the battle. Under the autumn crowflight, we tended trees in the smoke from an applewood fire, and learnt about which branches to cut, and which to leave to bear fruit next year.
When the elderberries were ripe, I gathered them to make syrup - an excellent tonic for the colder months which will fight chills and ills before they get you. I followed the recipe in Roger Phillips' Wild Food. Simmer the black elderberries with sugar and cloves, then strain and bottle.
It hasn't lasted long.
And from the orchard cuttings, I rescued ripe rosehips, and bottled them dry with sugar, after making a few cuts in the skin of each hip. For this I followed the instructions in Hedgerow Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, but also those given by the mother of a friend from Bulgaria, who told me that they still make syrups by layering berries with sugar in a jar, and leaving them for a couple of months until the sugar and berries have turned into a syrup, and then straining and bottling. This retains far more of the goodness than the cooking method, so we shall see what emerges from the jar in the new year.
On which subject, I cannot pass by without sharing Rosehip November by Vashti Bunyan. This quiet, atmospheric song sits on an album she released in 1970 - Just Another Diamond Day - which she wrote whilst travelling in a wagon through Britain. It garnered very little initial acclaim, which caused this gentle soul to abandon her musical career entirely, until recently when after thirty years had passed and her music had gathered a cult following, she once again took up her guitar. Some people find this album a bit twee, but for me there's something essential and sparse and honest in the music and artwork that reminds me of the feeling in the fallen autumn leaves and in our innermost desires to sit on a dark evening by a log fire warming our toes and dreaming of the road ahead.