I always find mid-August difficult. So much of the natural world appears to grind to a halt, and even the air itself can seem dead and sluggish. But things are picking up. A few birds are beginning to sing again after the moult. Robins call by the river. There’s even the occasional chiffchaff.
I’ve been reading a lot of nature writing recently, and the book I find myself going back to again and again is Wind in the Willows. The well-known characters and their enjoyable adventures are set against some breathtaking insights into nature, and there’s a wonderful sense of place.
In the chapter called Wayfarers All it is late summer: “Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why. To all appearance the summer’s pomp was still at fullest height”. But: “the constant chorus of the orchards and hedges had shrunk to a casual evensong from a few yet unwearied performers.” There’s an air of change and departure. Birds are feeling the call of the South.
He meets three swallows who are making plans for their journey, though they won’t be flying for a while yet. Ratty asks why they have to go, doesn’t their home by the riverbank give them all they need?
One says: “First, we feel it stirring within us, a sweet unrest;” then “one by one the scents and sounds and names of long-forgotten places come gradually back and beckon to us.”
So, asks Ratty, if it’s all so good why bother coming back next year: “What do you find to attract you in this poor drab little country?”
“And do you think,” said the first swallow, “that the other call is not for us too, in its due season? The call of lush meadow-grass, wet orchards, warm, insect-haunted ponds, of browsing cattle, of haymaking, and all the farm-buildings clustering round the House of the perfect Eaves?”
“Do you suppose,” asked the second one, “that you are the only living thing that craves with a hungry longing to hear the cuckoo’s note again?”
“In due time,” said the third, “we shall be home-sick once more for quiet water-lilies swaying on the surface of an English stream. But to-day all that seems pale and thin and very far away. Just now our blood dances to other music.”
Such an eloquent evocation of the dreams of autumn and the dreams of spring! And such wonderful words to read at the cusp of the seasons, when summer starts to tip over into autumn with all the changes, mysteries and uncertainties that will bring.