‘Youngleaf autumn’

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This is not the picture I wanted to show you.

A week ago I walked the dog up from Fitzhead and along the ridge towards Milverton. The tracks impassable in winter due to the high mud were finally solid enough to walk on. Some of the fields were freshly ploughed and others were blossoming with oilseed adding earthy red and bright yellow to the patchwork of colours.

It was around 5pm when I drove back towards home, coming down off the ridge down this lane towards Croford.

That’s when the magic happened.

As we dipped down the hill the sun was low on the left, dodging through thin, hazy clouds which instead of washing everything out scattered the light in such a way that the colours of the quilted landscape became iridescent. This strange light, falling on the young leaves of the trees, which carry many more colours than green alone as they emerge, highlighted the yellows and oranges and browns of the wood that you can see on the hilltop – the site of an old fort – so that the view became autumnal; but instead of the bright colours of decay, that final flourish of dry gaudiness before the fall, this display was born of new life shimmering into existence on the delicate tips of woody fingers.

It was like nothing I’ve seen before in England, reminding me instead of the light in Provence, and yet more timid and ephemeral. In the spirit of naming things, let’s christen this a youngleaf autumn.

I was driving so I didn’t photograph it. Then I was away. When I finally got back up there today, the sun was higher in the sky and the leaves already conforming to the verdant scene, so that there was nothing to see except a hill and a winding lane and that will have to do.

But earlier in the day I was up the beech avenue on Heydon Hill just as the midday sun forced its way through the diaphanous young beech leaves, and that was pretty special too, and this time I did take a shot.

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