Albert has done well this week with his little mate captured and now living inside, and his little mate has turned out to be a six-month-old female!  After a couple of days hiding under the bed, she decided that things were pretty cool in Albert’s house and has spent the past three days climbing over every item of furniture in the lounge, every book in the library and every (I kid you not) picture hanging on the walls in the dining room.  I decided that the trauma of going to the vet would not get any better by me waiting for time to make her tamer, so she was parcelled up into a feed sack and taken for a good check-over and a diagnosis of a very rattley cough.  This is where we discovered what a miracle she is.  She is the size of an eight-week-old kitten, she has adult teeth consistent with a six-month-old cat, she has bronchial pneumonia, and is also full of worms ... yet she is spotlessly clean and flea free.  (Thank goodness Albert has a bit of class!)  Who knows what she has been through since Christmas but with good care and attention, and a big bowl of cream every day, she will be one hundred per cent okay in a very short time.  The vet said she will never be a big cat but she should be well filled out and much stronger by the time spaying becomes a necessity.  She has been called “Harlem” because she is jet black and dribbles when she purrs.  I have a feeling that my ‘Photo of the Year’ this year will be a shot of Albert and Harlem snuggled up together on the couch ... my camera is poised.

Come nightfall, the noise outside the backdoor is deafening.  My usual trick of flushing out the last of the slugs and snails with cat biscuits has not worked - I think my little prickly team has done too good a job this summer.  Instead, there is a continuous line of hedgehogs paddling past a continuously refilled saucer of tinned cat food.  Grief - can they pack it away, and with absolutely no manners whatsoever!  On consulting my last year’s diary, the arrival of the hedgehogs at the back door is early this year, but who am I to argue?  If you listen to the creatures around you, you will most likely hear seasonal indications and predictions.  My hedgehogs are saying, “We need to pack it away now - not later!”  Fine, but with an extra mouth to feed inside as well, the budget will need careful monitoring.  What a shame they won’t eat tomatoes!

After the panic with the harvest last year, I gave myself a serious talking and this year, as the buckets of food have landed on the kitchen floor, they have been dealt to with military discipline.  The efforts of the previous seasons have a value and it is a hideous crime to drop that value, in a rotten state, into the pig bin.  In a commodity-driven society, it is too easy to ‘chuck it out’.  You go to work ... you pick up some groceries ... you chuck them out if they start to go ‘off’.  Not a problem.  You’ll grab some more on the way home tomorrow night.  Almost everything I eat is home produced with blood, sweat, tears and a lot of physical effort.  Every bit of food I have has a value consistent with the value of life, which is why letting the chain of events down at the harvest stage is such a pity.  After some unforgivable waste last year I have attacked the produce with a Teutonic mentality.  The results are astounding and all I have to do now is make sure I don’t forget the power bill as I snuggle down for the winter - my grocery store is in the freezers out in the laundry!

But with the harvest comes an emptiness. There are spaces saying, “We have gone.” There are crop remains saying, “We have finished.”  There is a colourlessness saying, “Our bloom is over.”  And, this year, the leaves are turning much sooner than usual, the animals started growing woolly coats long before the opening hunt, and Albert has become quite insistent that ‘outside’ is not a good place at bedtime.  What is Mother Nature saying?  With the price of autumn calves still way beyond comprehension I have begun to agree with Her and I shall have to rethink my programme.  It has been a terribly harsh year which has taken a toll on all and sundry, and the thought of extending the time of hibernation by an extra few weeks is rather appealing.

Middelmost - looking from the fairy glenTonight, as the moonlight helped me wander safely across the paddocks and back to Middelmost, I thought of life outside the barberry hedge.  I thought of the many emotions which have been washed across me during the past year ... of laughter, tears, joy, desperation, fulfilment and, above all, the satisfying sense of controlling my own destiny.  I have made choices to do without many things but the choices have also given me wealth far beyond the dreams of most people.  I still don’t have that new lounge suite ... yet my tiny plot upon the earth has provided me all the comfort I need. I felt the chill in the night air and, like the hedgehogs, realised the time to fold my prickles up for the winter is very near.  As I watched the moon unfold its splendour I wondered how many other people were sharing its companionship with me.  How many other people have looked up during the year, sometimes in anguish, sometimes with exhaustion, or sometimes in elation?  And I wondered how many other people have found comfort in the reliable companionship of this regular reminder of seasonal cycles.  With the moon to guide me, I steered my thoughts towards that long-needed rest and decided it was not wrong to ‘close up shop’ a tad early.  Poppy won’t mind, Last Thyme will enjoy the extra attention, and Albert will appreciate some serious fire-watching with his new little friend.  I sighed as I whispered goodnight to everyone and secured myself into my burrow.  The rhythm of a year began to slow.