Autumn has arrived here in France, the air is still humid and heavy rains fall. Its cow country snd pasture appears never to cease growing here, but after September it slows, the leaves start to turn their autumnal colours and we have a couple if beautiful months of bedding down for winter.
I have a few tasks to complete. The poultry coops get a thorough clean and new bedding, the spiders webs get brushed away as a sign that they need to build new ones. I love my spiders, they keep the flies away but by October some webs are disguarded, heavy with gnats, drooping or tangled due to a too full larder and dust. Within a week of the autumn cleanup, the spiders have webs again, new, bright and bouncy and the spiders confidently stay visible, beedy eyes still alert, knowing we can live together in this space with a little housekeeping on occasion.
The chickens have been through a hard molt, replacing summer feathers with winter ones. It takes alot of energy to produce feathers and I add minerals to drinking water to support the process, the girls spending a few tatty weeks looking like they have been through a tumble dryer in a pillowcase. My collection of feathers has grown to over five hundred, daily picked from ever corner of the garden, on some days you would think it had snowed.
With the sun less warm and frosts appearing, the geese water basins get moved to sunny spots, and the now grass bare flattened area under the trees, dug to rejuvenate the soil. Big flappy feet compress the ground, with a goose weighing around 12 kilos, and after a hot summer, in places the fork barely penetrates the surface. The ducks get excited as I turn the soil after a light water, the worms appearing and puddles forming. They have a rhythmic sqeeking quack and hop from one foot to the other until I move onto the next section, and they in instantly in the mud, poking beaks about and slurping up snails, bugs and seeds. The mud brigade are happy.
I’ve hauled lots if new bales if straw into the duck house and bags if hemp fir the chicken coops. A local hemp farm is just an hour away and this plant is amazing. It takes little nutrient from soil, but producing an anti-bacterial material that is hygienic, absorbant and composts without the moulds you can get from hay and straw. It produces a lovely, even textured compost that stays quite dry even in the wet autumn weather, allowing the ground insects to easily draw it into the soil and work their magic. The chickens do my composting. The mix of poop, straw and hemp and autumn leaves are gold to a gardener. As the mix tumbles out into the compost area the chickens are ready with their inbuilt spirit levels. They like everything flat and within an hour my lumpy deposits of material are mill pond level, the gang having kicked, poked, and shuffled everything flat. The geese look on scornfully as always, no work for them, just nibbling grass, lazy lawnmowers and early warning trumpeters!
With our house projects moving more indoors, we do the last mowing of the fields, the creeping Thistle has been a nightmare this year due to the heat and much of the field has to be cut to keep this at bay. However it does encourage the new growth of wildflowers and grasses for the butterflies next year and we have at last the makings of two small oak forests. The saplings after a two year struggle have finally reached around three to four foot and will now put on a spurt. Oaks are hard to transplant, so we have left nature to work her magic, and there are now over a hundred. In time I will thin some out. The lack of natural gardeners like deer and boar who eat or trampled the weak growers, I wil have to takeover. Many French forests are a mess here with little human intervention and with shooting parties every Sunday, you can start to see the natural balance of nature being disrupted here. I have little sympathy for man’s mess-up and I clear the chemins, common pathways, where I can, but the neighbours do little to help. Already I see a few young fallow dear spending more time in my field, along with pheasants and now barn owls and bats. I wish I had more land for them. Today Tony rescued a kingfisher that got too near to the dogs, a few minutes later she flew off to the ponds nearby.
And what of myself? After a lot if physical summer work I too begin to tidy the house, move summer clothing to wardrobes in the dressing room and bring winter woolies, thick knitted socks and stout leather boots to my bedroom. I finally have a set of drawers this year and have stopped living entirely out of bags. With the heating crisis as it is now, we have moved ourselves into two rooms, with our bedroom just off the kitchen. These rooms are easy to heat and we love smelling the fresh bread we bake and sitting with our projects at the kitchen table, while casseroles bubble, soup simmers and cakes rise.
I have now the chance to push on with my illustrations, a growing list of ideas and a lot of courses I wish to complete, learning about new techniques or completely new crafts. I always loved interior decorating, fabrics and light. After designing alot if fabrics last year, just making cushions wasn’t really making me feel that happy. Everyone makes cushions. I needed something more. But that’s for another post. For now I have a book commission to finish, more work on The Giant Pea and a charity illustration for The Big Red Rooster Rescue in England. I am hoping to produce a design that can be used on products too.
But I love a challenge and in October Instagram is full of ideas to get your creative juices working towards winter. Birdtober is my choice for this month, 31 prompts of daily birds to illustrate as you feel. Many artists use this month to jump start their creativity, update skills, try new styles or as in my case, coloured pencil techniques, composition and subjects I wouldnt normally tackle.
So here are my first three, Days 1, 2 and 3. I allow only an hour, its also a little about being commercial, working to a deadline, finishing and not postponing or overworking the illustration. Its not easy keeping up with it daily but we all try and share our work, compare, like, comment and meet new like minded artists. It’s social and already I am interacting and enjoying the competitive element too.
If you love creating, seek out an October challenge. There are many and you might, as I did last year, find something that surprises you. For me it was fish illustrating. I took on a 100 day challenge but only reached 26, but it was enough to know I wanted to carry on at some point and I found a style and I made a very good friend too in the process…it was so worth it.
Happy autumn everyone.