By Kev Parr.
After three months of staring at my feet, autumn‘s end is bittersweet. There are still a few mushrooms about (and still some of the finest) but as November ends so the season fizzles away with it.
Jars sit crammed full of dried ceps and chanterelles. Just a gentle swish of a cupboard door can fill the air with that deep earthy scent of porcini and it will be well into next year before anything is cooked without a fungi twist.
I love creeping around the forests, but as sad as I am when all the leaves have fallen and the first frosts nip the mycelium march, it is always nice to be able to look up again. My back is aching and my eyes are sore from staring for stalks among the leaves, but above the pain is the sense that I won’t be missing too much above me.
I carry my binoculars when I’m mushroom hunting but normally they are an inconvenience. My ears are alert, and the low hum of a hornet or the panicked piping of nuthatches do not go unnoticed, but it takes something extraordinary to drag my gaze skyward. Now though, as much of the world begins to curl up in winter torpor, my thoughts drift to places that are just waking up. The rivers have shaken off their algal tinge and push hard in places where weeks ago thick weed stifled the flow. Chub and perch are prowling, grayling sail across the gravel and the minnows do their best to tuck themselves out of sight.
Bites are tougher to come by in winter but well worth it when they do come. Now is the time for the bigger fish to nudge their way to the front of the shoal. In cold water and with less natural food there is less time to allow smaller siblings to take the risks. Food is grabbed with as little energy spent as possible.
The banks themselves are less trodden. Many anglers put their rods away for the winter and it is not unusual to walk a mile downstream without seeing another soul. Of course, with less competition comes more opportunity but more importantly perhaps is the fact that I see so much more. Those eyes that have been darting around the wooded shadows are open to all the intensity offered by a shortened day. Winter is not a time to be territorial or overly cautious. Daylight is preciously short and with so little time so many creatures take a meal whenever they are able. Snipe probe the flood plains, water voles work at the stems around your feet. Barn owls quarter, water rails scream and at any moment that little blob of red resting up against the reeds might donk once and slip away.
It is a magical time to be beside the river and providing I put an extra pair of socks and remembered a flame to set to the Kelly kettle, I could not be more content. And rather than hunch my back and squint at the floor I can hold my head up and breathe in the whole picture once more.