Conkers, Fatherhood and a Speckled Wood

Over at Creative Countryside, we all subscribe to the notion of living more slowly and in harmony with the seasons. And perhaps nothing encapsulates this more than gathering conkers in the autumn.

This past week has been heavy, grey and atmospheric. Leaden skies of slate grey have set in with a resolute stoicism matched only by the green beef tomato that still clings to my yellowed and withering vines. (I’ve been advised to place it next to bananas to ripen, but enough of me still wants to see it soldier on for as long as it can…)

Looming with intent, the clouds finally unburdened themselves on Thursday with vehement abandon. Unapologetic, the skies tormented the landscape for two solid days, lashing everything into dank submission. If early September offers a glimpse through a cracked veil, then this week has seen it ruptured and torn apart, as autumn arrived in force.

With Saturday providing a day that can only be described as nondescript, then Sunday punctuated the month with the most perfect of September autumn days.

My daughter had been eager to go and forage for more conkers to add to her burgeoning collection. Quite what she (or I) will do with them remains to be seen, but this desire to be out and interacting with nature is always to be encouraged. We packed a bag fit for any expedition (wicker basket, magnifying glass, cookies) and headed off to a secret spot where I knew there to be conkers aplenty.

One of the (many) wonderful things about fatherhood, is seeing the world through new eyes. Is this seeing the world through a new child’s eyes or re-seeing the world through the eyes of the child that still exists deep inside every single one of us? I believe it is both, and as I stand here, boots kicking through the leafy detritus, I feel connected not only to my wife and daughter, but to the season as well. We’re not only rooting out conkers, but the very essence of life itself.

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We’re all beneath a colossal horse chestnut tree, where hundreds upon hundreds of conkers line the earth around our feet. My daughter is surprisingly selective in her choice, and seemingly has a system in place for discerning what makes the grade and goes into her tiny wicker basket. With none of my offerings up to standard, daddy clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing, so I leave her in her happy state and potter about myself.

I root around with her and look closely at a few in my hand. Conkers are so incredibly tactile, from the fleshy green shells that encase them in spikes, to the rich hues of brown inside, cool and cold, hard and velvety in the hand.

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Magnificent whorls of marbled brown, every one is its own golden fingerprint; unique in its glossy individualism, waiting to be discovered or lost forever as it burrows its way into the decaying leaf matter all around it.

After the incessant rain of the past few days, the sun returns with some warmth as it filters down through the canopy to the floor below. As I bask in the beautiful simplicity of the moment, a butterfly catches the corner of my eye, and settles down on a leaf near my foot. A stunningly beautiful speckled wood, its body flashes iridescent green, alongside its utterly perfect wings of brown and yellow.

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September is a month that is transient, fast-flowing and unforgiving in its whimsical tendencies: true autumn days are to be treasured and embraced with wholehearted feeling. The sun casts a truly magical light, and I watch as it entwines golden flashes of leaves with my daughter’s hair.

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