St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, November 2019
The last day of autumn. The final patches of beech, oak, hazel and birch leaves are all that resist the darkest greens and browns of a winter wood. The green leaflets of an elder dangle out across the path, the only ones left on the entire tree.
Grey squirrels round the trees in small groups, like people wrapping a maypole in its ribbons. They are elf-like in a place where little else moves. I stop to take a photo of a biscuit-brown pine tree and a woman waits alongside me.
‘I thought you’d seen an animal,’ she says when I look, her dog carrying on ahead of her.
‘Just squirrels,’ I say.
She laughs: ‘Oh, yes. Plenty of those!’
The gill is full as it slaloms down through the woods. In a pond at the edge of the path fallen oak leaves rest in perfect stillness.
At the foot of the heath, golden mushrooms grow in the soil amidst the remains of bracken. They are so easy to miss. They’re trumpet chanterelles, a species as edible as the original. Like all the mushrooms I photograph, I’m not here to pick or eat them. Their trumpets curve out like gramophones, their stipes sinuous, yellow and tapering like a birch trunk.
These are autumn’s final moments. The frosts are creeping in, our breaths stolen away on the air as they leave our lips.