Leaves littered the wide pavement, skittering about in the wind like children in a playground. The man with his broom, a council employee, was trying to instil some discipline by sweeping them in to neat heaps before taking them away. But it was hard work; there were many leaves and they continued to fall even as he swept. The leaves were large, some as large as my hand, a mixture of golds, yellows, browns and greens, each leaf carrying away a fragment of our summer.
Away from the busy main streets, nobody bothers about the leaves; they are left where they drop. They fill the gutters, lie along the roadsides, clog the drains. Their autumn tints look attractive for a while, but come the rain and they turn in to an annoying, brown sludge. Cars skid on it, people slip, shoes are sullied but eventually it gets washed away. On the whole, though, it’s a small price to pay for having the pleasure of a tree-lined street in summer, the dappled light, the cool of the shadows.
Down at the river I stand on the quay and look. The tide is very low today exposing wide mud flats decorated with intricate patterns left by the receding tide. There are whole mud landscapes with shallow pools and snaking rivulets separated by mud uplands. In truth the uplands are not very “uppish” but today I notice a surprising effect. The higher contours in the mud have been picked out in shades of gold and yellow. Small leaves blown here by the wind from nearby trees seem to reach the mud uplands first and that’s where they stay. They emphasise the patterns in the mud rather like a gigantic brass rubbing. Fascinating as they are, the patterns don’t last. They dissolve with the rising tide as it distributes the leaves far and wide along the river.
The low tide is not generous to the boats moored here. They lie there unmoving, literally “stuck in the mud”, losing any semblance of elegance they previously had. By contrast, a little egret looks quite at home, prospecting for food in a shallow mud pool. Its brilliant white plumage stands out against the dark grey mud like a star in the night sky. Pottering about, it dipped its head in to the water, seemingly unaware of the nearby habitation.
While I watch the egret, two smaller birds fly fast and low over the mud, screeching in a way I interpret as fearful. Their cries reverberate off the tall concrete quays heightening the effect. I haven’t heard this cry before but the birds were too quick for me and I saw no identification cues. Later, one of these birds flies back and forth above the mud below me, shrieking again. Now I see the unmistakable electric blue back of a kingfisher in flight. When I check the Collins guide at home I learn that this screeching is normal and just the bird’s way of making its presence felt.
Totnes, October 26th 2015