I don’t like saying that the nights are drawing in… but they are. I think having evening walks on the coast, and always timing them to enjoy the last light, means that you recognise this shift very clearly. Rather than walks ending at 10pm, as the light is fading, now we’re seeing that light fade by half 8. Now, we’re having a flask of tea in the car in the gloaming, and driving home in darkness. August is the month where you can feel the light slipping more quickly. Still summer, but with that first hint of the darker evenings ahead.
For years, Christmas brought stress. What to buy, who to buy for, how much to spend, how to afford any of it. What to do on the day. It’s easy to get caught up in the expectations. A few years ago, we decided to step aside from all of those expectations and have the Christmas that we really wanted: quiet, just the four of us, without the pressure of cards or gifts (we donate to animal rescue charities instead), and with a walk as the focus on our day. And for the last few years, that walk has been here, at John Muir Country Park. This has become our tradition.
The transition from the long days of summer to the abbreviated days of autumn (and winter) is always a tough one, right? I miss our evening walks more than I can explain. They were the grounding part of my day, and also the uplifting part. Our time to get outside, to drive down the coast and walk below big skies. To watch the lads run and sniff. To exhale out the day and those tight hours spent at a desk. To let our eyes soak in wide vistas after too many hours at a screen.
I could smell the scorched earth and wood before I saw it. We were walking at John Muir Country Park a few weekends back, on a warm Sunday, and we’d decided to take the reverse route to our usual loop, walking along the side of the woodland that faces onto the salt marshes. I’d paused to take a video of a view through the trees on the edge of the woodland as the sunlight was catching the grasses in the breeze, and as I moved closer I thought, what is that smell? I knew what it was, but why… why could I smell burning?
Sometimes I’ll be chatting to someone and they’ll say exactly what I’ve been thinking but haven’t really put into words. And this was the case when I posted the above photo on Instagram last week and my friend Mattijs commented with: “It’s still a bit post-apocalyptic there, isn’t it?”
There’s always been something special about this place after the rain. In the old days, before Storm Arwen, the woodland felt heavy with rainwater, each individual pine needle of each individual pine branch holding a droplet, together making millions and millions of droplets of water gently held aloft by this wood. I always admired the way the tree trunks were blackened by the rain. It gave this woodland a different hue, a different mood; quiet and still and heavy and beautiful.