To feel time passing, take a look around.
In these Corona times, I’ve heard it said that one day can seem much like another; but the daily walk around an increasingly familiar Dorset hillside offers its own means of noticing how time passes, a way to experience the subtle day to day changes that build into those great leaps from bud to leaf and flower, to fruit and seed, to colour change, leaf fall and back to bare twigs tockling in the wind.
New to me was the appearance of a plant I first noticed on 22 June, in the damp under-storey. It has broad green leaves and spikes of modest white flowers: in other years my eyes must have passed over it.
A picture uploaded to Plantnet – a free app that helps you identify plants through photos taken on your smartphone – brought back this identification: Broad-leaved Enchanter. The name gave off a smell of lurking magic.
As usual with this app it’s a good starting point to find out more. In this case it was easy to confirm the plant’s identity as the one with the botanical name Circaea lutetiana. Another common name is Broad-leaved Enchanter’s Nightshade, which is a bit of a mouthful.
The plant has quickly taken its place as another sign of time passing. It appears in the shade of the closed canopy, among sparse growth of grass, docks and nettles, as the long spring and early summer season of wild garlic and bluebells runs to seed and melts back into the earth.
Now, a few weeks on, the Broad-leaved Enchanter has become unavoidable. What once seemed rare and new quickly becomes common. I’ve even noticed it in the wilder parts of my tiny garden and was pleased – until the RHS website mentioned that it has underground rhizomes and can become a nuisance if allowed to spread. Now I have to decide whether to remove it.
Luckily, on the hillside I am not required to make that decision and can leave things to achieve their own balance.
This photo looking northwest was taken early in June. Then, the time for gathering elderflower was already past its peak.
Now in mid-July, everything’s at full stretch. Some grasses are waist height, the brambles reach out to snag us. On the grassy uplands, other plants appear in drifts: the yellow flush of sweet-swelling Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium Verum) and the white of its nearby relative Hedge Bedstraw (Galium Album) also known as False Baby’s Breath. As the name suggests the bedstraws were used in times past for stuffing into mattresses.
The Guelder Rose has long since shaken off its wedding gown and glows with clusters of fleshy red berries – but only in full sun. Back on the shady path the berries are still green.
The very last of the elderflowers cling on even now but nearly everywhere have changed to tight green knobbles held up to catch the sun. I am half-dreading the sight of them darkening and turning upside down, for that to me is the sign that summer’s almost done. Will this year’s late summer into autumn be one of stillness and heat with that afterglow that’s warmer than springtime? Sometimes it’s much too warm. The school summer holidays begin here next week, usually a sign for a change to windy, wet and cold, but it’s not quite the same this year, is it? Children have been homeschooling and going for walks. The old superstitions and applications of Sod’s Law don’t seem to apply.
But we’re not there yet: the decline of the purple foxglove sees the rise of yellow-starred St John’s Wort – another surprise and delight. This is one of my favourite plants from the time when I used to make my own red oil. Hold one tiny leaf up to the light and see why this Hypericum is called Perforatum, for the oil cells let the light shine through.
Unripe hazelnuts shells lie on the path brought down by hungry squirrels, on the cooler banks the blackberry still blossoms, just about. Often they say, these are the last wild flowers of the year. Young fruits show small and green but where the sun bathes the south-facing bushes, the tip fruits are ripening.
Everything is going about its business: to flower, get pollinated, fruit and seed.
Where you are, what things in nature make you feel conscious of the passing of time?
Does the fleeting nature of almost everything make you feel appreciative? Or do you feel that sweet melancholy that comes with knowing that things always move on? For me it’s often a mixture of both at the same time.
Please feel free to share links to photos and posts of the natural world where you are!