The Searing

Three months ago, at the very birth of summer, I wondered what the season ahead would hold. I read the signs in nature and reckoned that we’d be in for a good summer. I wondered if the old proverb ‘Oak before Ash, we’re in for a Splash, Ash before Oak, we’re in for a Soak’ would hold true. It most certainly did.

June and July seared North Wales, and, while we all basked on beaches, worked on sun-tans in the mountains, or indulged in barbecues in our gardens, things in nature escalated to crisis point remarkably quickly. You see, people confuse ‘hot’ with ‘dry’. And while social (and traditional) media are buzzing with people pointing to the ‘hot’ summer as a sign of global warming, they’ve missed one key thing. Hot does not necessarily mean dry – nature can cope with hot, but the nature of our temperate little corner of Wales doesn’t do very well in the dry. And we had a drought. Almost eight weeks of drought, with almost no rain compared to average ‘summers’.

The Leaves Turn

The leaves started turning colour in the second week of July…

By the second week of July, the leaves had started to turn. Well, the Birch and Willow trees had anyway. The dark green leaves of midsummer suddenly stopped dancing in the breeze and wilted. Then turned crisp and browned to a light orangy colour. It felt like the start of Autumn. But Autumn doesn’t have long days, late nights and a baking sun.

The ground baked to a crisp, and the grass died. This gave a fertile harvest for nothing much but wildfires, which became a threatening plague inflicted by wicked youthes and careless walkers. One evening, the mountain behind our village started burning. The thick, acrid smoke drifted down the valley and out towards the sea, stinging the eyes and turning the sun red.

The Mountains Butn

The Mountains Burn – thick smoke drifts from the burning moors and turns the sun blood red… 2nd July 2018.

In that moment, I knew fear. What it must have been like for those living closer to the fire, I do not know. It must have been indescribable. Fire is a wild, living, force of nature. And it is very hard to control. We had all seen the devastation to the moors of the North West of England on our screens, and were terrified of the same happening to us here.

The Other Side of the Burnt Mountain

The far side of Mynydd Cilgwyn from us – this shows the expanse of burned heather moorland. Photo taken by my good friend John Harrison of allotment-garden.org

Fortunately, the fire brigade battled the fire, and 60 fire fighters got the blaze under control in a couple of days. But it made us all edgy.

Now, walking around the quarry, my usual evening walk, you can see the sites of fires every couple of hundred yards. Some are quite big and have scorched the grass and flora back to gravel and earth. Black is not a natural colour – its stark darkness looks somehow obscene in an area that should be shades of greens and browns. And everywhere you look, the Birch and Willow trees are still in their Autumn colours – two or three months too early.

Scorched Earth and Withered Leaves

The earth stands scorched under trees withered by a lack of rain and the unrelenting baking of a harsh July sun. This photo was taken on August the 4th.

I have a bit of a strange relationship with fire. It’s a long story, but I do fear it when it is wild and unrelenting. This summer made me glad of the rain that started softly falling at the beginning of August!

In terms of foraging and gathering herbs, I cut back to almost nothing in June and July – a lot of the herbaceous herbs I normally gather in summer were either doing really poorly, had died, or would have been in trouble if I’d harvested. We’ll see what the berry harvest brings but I’m not expecting to forage for much until the bark and root season this winter.

As for how the rest of the year will play out, we all wonder. We wait, watching and wondering what will happen. All we can say is that for us, this year has indeed been a year of extreme weather. And it is not over yet.

Categories: The Wheel of the Year

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