04 Jul 2022

Then & Now: Making the most of autumn

Then & Now: Making the most of autumn

Tom says that a walk in the forest at this time of year is a most rewarding experience. Reader and local photographer Shane O'Brien sent in this snap from a walk in the woods near Castleconnell last

OCTOBER DAYS are receding and getting shorter after a good summer and autumn of sunshine and colour, which enriched all our lives as we began to renew our lifestyles after Covid.

The weather was ideal for people living in my district which is prone to too much mist and rainfall most years. We live in a great little country despite the many issues facing the people, such as high rents, homelessness, hospital overcrowding and the high cost of living.

We have so much to be thankful for and the sunny October weather put a smile on people’s faces and an extra pep in their step.

I have never seen so much movement since my young days from people who are embracing the great outdoors and enjoying what nature provides for our pleasure and all for free.

Walking, jogging, swimming rowing, cycling and other outdoor pursuits are the norm and people are enjoying their leisure time.

The arrival of Covid may have played a part but I would like to think that people realised that healthy pursuits were good for body and soul.

A walk in the forest at this time of year is a most rewarding experience, and woodlands enrich all our lives, provided it is spaced out and not blanket forest. Woodlands are fascinating places to observe wildlife, birdlife, wildflowers, butterflies, and many other hidden attractions.

Last week I noticed a squirrel scampering around for food to hoard away for the cold days of winter. I am a hoarder of memorabilia, but I also hoard memories of happy occasions when family and friends get together.

These stand me in good stead when the miles separate us all. Then I hoard in my mind's eye a beautiful sunrise or sunset, for when the days are dark and grey in January. I also like to store away in my head a nice song or stirring piece of music, which will return to cheer me when I need a little lift.

Of course, some kinds of hoarding are wrong, but the kind of hoarding I'm talking about never did anybody any harm and does the hoarder a whole power of good.

Trees provide shelter from the elements and shade from the blazing sun, and what a delight to see the rays of light as it streams through the gaps. The pine forests that grew on the mountains in Ireland over 5,000 years ago were gone by early Christian times in the second half of the first millennium.

This happened because the climate got colder and wetter and the bogs began to grow, swamping out the forests. Turf cutters come across some of the remains of those trees at present buried in our blanket bog.

In recent weeks the leaves are falling as they lose their grip on life and flutter downwards to make a carpet of exotic colour. The changing colour of the autumn leaves is an interesting story that tells us that leaves change colour when the weather gets colder.

The trees stop making chlorophyll (the green pigment in leaves) and this unmasks the colours that were there all along but hidden. Now the other colours brown, purple, red, yellow, orange etc of the leaves are revealed in all their glory.

It is a shame to see our proud and native trees being removed from our town centres and countryside for the sake of it. Health and safety regulations and fear of insurance claims has led to the removal of healthy trees all around us.

It is necessary to cut trees that are a danger to the public but not for the sake of it. People can draw inspiration and wellbeing from walking among trees as they have a calming effect, and they can re-energise us mentally and physically.

Feast days in October included Blessed Michael who was honoured on the tenth and many boys born around this time was called after him. The ancient belief was that on this date that Satan was expelled from Heaven, and he landed on a bunch of briars, and spit on their fruit.

As a result of this our forefathers forbade the picking of blackberries after the tenth of October. The more obvious reason was that the fruit would have been over ripe, and insects would have attacked them by this date.

Many householders used to kill a fowl to mark the feast of Michaelmas, and goose meat was served to visitors and given free to the poor on that day. The goose grease was in great demand as an embrocation in the 1950s and it was rubbed on as ‘’Deep Heat’’ and other lotions are nowadays. The goose feathers provided soft materials for the interior of bed quilts which were found in most houses at that time.

The third Sunday in October was called ‘’Winter Sunday’’ and very often cattle were put into byres for the winter around this time. The farmers also placed crosses in the sheds and byres which it was thought would protect the animals from evil. It was also the time that youngsters used to raid as many orchards as possible, ensuring an abundance of fruit for the Halloween festivities.

The deer mating season occurs in September, and October the traditional months for amorous stags to engage in battle for the affections of females. The majority of deer are confined to National Parks and enclosures but in recent years they have become more numerous around the countryside.

They are shy animals who keep out of sight and are rarely seen until the mating season commences. They go mad during the rutting season and males fight fiercely with one another. It is a sight to see deer locking antlers as they show off their power and strength, and their loud and fearsome calls travel a long distance.

Motorists are asked to be on the lookout for deer crossing rural roads at present around dawn and dusk when they are most active. They have their own routes for crossing and on average 300 accidents involving deer are reported each year.

They can cause extensive damage to cars and other vehicles, and motorists are advised not to approach an injured deer. It is nature taking its course, but it can be a freighting experience to come face to face with a deer in flight escaping from the pack.

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