Autumn Childhood: Bike Rides through the Woods; Scrumping & Conkers; Response to photo-prompt challenge
This challenge came from Linda, aka carbdiva, on this link. Thank you, Linda, for initiating this challenge to push our boundaries further.
"Your prompt is this photograph of a country road. Perhaps you have walked this path many times; do the colors, sights, and sounds of the autumn woods bring you peace and contentment? Or, is this a place you have never been before; what lies beyond the bend in the road?
I think that’s all you’ll need to get started. Let your imagination take you down the path, and start writing."
My thoughts turned to my childhood days, freedom to roam the countryside and the beauty of Autumn all around me. Bike rides with friends occurred as often as possible.
So I started writing.
Bump, bump, dg-a-dg-a-dg, in the ruts, over the ridge, the cycle wheels whizzed along the track as, hair streaming with speed, I followed the trail through the golden trees.
Freedom! Friends out in the countryside at the weekend, Indian Summer, exploring just a bit further than normal from our well-wheeled tracks; free-wheeling, legs straight out or feet up on the handle-bars, tearing through the air. Already back to school, we treasured what was left of the sun’s rays, gathering the weekends about us before the clouds set in.
How comforting that was, surrounded by russet, gold and deep green. So who cared if we were back at school? They couldn’t touch us out here, in our own world, in our God-given element of copper freedom. Look out! Low branch; duck and dive. Look Mum, no hands! Look Mum no teeth! But it never happened. We knew we were lucky. We knew the hole in the road wouldn’t be there at the wrong time. We knew God was on our side.
The smells of Autumn filled our nostrils, clung to our hair until bed-time. The crisp, dry leaves, as yet untouched by rain, crackled beneath our tyres, swirled in a mottled yellow-brown tumbling slip-stream, ready for the one behind to catch in his teeth. We were always open-mouthed with the thrill of it all, the decay-dewed rushing air so persistent against our faces that it was impossible to breath without faces agape.
Across the Sussex Weald
Harvest, Scrumping & Conkers
The harvest was in, the fields chalky green beneath the Downs. Apples hung in the orchards, begging to be scrumped into our baskets. We sortied and skirmished on daring-do days. Soon it would be time for bobbing apples.
In the meantime, we'd pick the best conkers from soft rotting soil under the Horse Chestnuts, nature's lofty parasols. That smooth, mirrored surface of ready-polished wood offered us the free entry to conker competitions. We'd smash the opposition and gain the reputation to face the next.
Harvest Festival would see all the fruit, vegetables and plaited bread laid out beneath the altar. A smell of rich soil and plenty pervaded the church before all was dispersed to the needy.
Dust, dug out dens and grazed knees were our staple, bikes our sturdy steeds and we could go anywhere, do anything.
The Game of Conkers
- A hole is drilled in a large, hard conker. A piece of string is threaded through it. A large knot at one or both ends of the string secures the conker.
- The game is played between two people, each with a conker.
- They take turns hitting each other's conker using their own. One player lets the conker dangle on the full length of the string while the other player swings their conker and hits.
- The conker eventually breaking the other's conker gains a point. This may be either the attacking conker or (more often) the defending one.
- A new conker is a none-er meaning that it has conquered none yet.
- If a none-er breaks another none-er then it becomes a one-er, if it was a one-er then it becomes a two-er etc. In some areas of Scotland, conker victories are counted using the terms bully-one, bully-two, etc. In some areas of the United States and Canada, conker victories are counted using the terms one-kinger, two-kinger, etc.
In some regions the winning conker assimilates the previous score of the losing conker, as well as gaining the score from that particular game. For example, if a two-er plays a three-er, the surviving conker will become a six-er. In other regions the winning conker simply gains one point, irrespective of the points-value of the loser.
Bends & Forks
Round the beckoning bend we sped. The sparkling eyes, the grins from ear to there, were infectious. The occasional walker would stand aside and laugh at us as we zoomed past, youth on our side. Autumn existed for us, the falling leaves rained for our amusement, the titian trees cried on us to keep us dry. Our speed never diminished, even uphill as our legs pounded the beat. Exuberance maintained our energy; we laughed, we pedaled, we shrieked, we yelled at each other, at the trees, at the world.
The track split; we slid to a halt, tyres tracking our hesitation through the orange carpet, bikes to attention as disturbed, dried pepper flecks powdered the air, filled our heads with potential sneezes.
Tom cried, ‘Last one to the end of the track’s an idiot!’ and took off before his last word reached our senses. The chorused ‘Wait!’ punched a hole through the yellowed canopy. My calves ached to catch up. The youngest never wants to be the last. The youngest has something to prove, something to win, something to show them she’s got some guts. Face as fired as the Autumn, I skidded, I flew, I pedaled my heart out, past my brother, past my best friend as she slid on mossy roots, caught up with Tom and we hit the hedge as one. I caught his glance of approval before he had his chance to regain composure. I smiled. My day was complete.
Time for Tea
Our cries echoed, bumped each other through the burning woods, alight with our fire, aflame with our wish to make our legs ache until we tumbled into a pile of leaves, panting and giggling. Our laughter subsided with the flames mirrored in the pale azure sky.
Time flickered into reality; time to pedal like fury, fanned by the warm flames of tree and sky, urged by the hint of cool air on gentle evening mist, home for tea. I rode home into the fiery sunset, heart aglow.
Scrumping & Scrumpy
Scrumping refers to the act of stealing apples in the countryside, for example from a cider orchard or from someone’s garden. The word comes from Scrumpy cider.
Scrumpy is cider originally made in England's West Country, (Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire). Nowadays it refers to locally made ciders produced in smaller quantities and using traditional methods, rather than to mass-produced branded ciders.
It can be dry or sweet, is usually still rather than carbonated. However, it tends to be stronger in alcohol and more tannic than commercial ciders. Because of its traditional method of production, it's usually pulpy and often cloudy in appearance.
To the Autumn of our Years?
Where did that world go? When was the last time I rode my bike through a wave of crackling crimson and ochre, battling against the tide? When did I last string and aim a conker? When did it change? When did my world become a serious place? Where did all those friends go?
Well, we have to grow up don’t we? Don’t we? Tides turn. What goes around comes around. We have our Spring of life, our Summer of sunshine and madness, then comes our Autumn, when our lives slow down, change colour, teach us that all things have to subside, prepare for eventual Winter to bring decay and death.
Retracing my Steps
Not yet! Not for me! The fire comes before the decay. I’m wiping the mud and rotting leaves off my bike. I’m wiping the sweat from my brow. I’m oiling the pedals and I’m ready to roll.
I’m not waiting for Autumn either. I’ll be off down those tracks, watching the flowers unfurl, smelling the growth of the mighty oaks, alert for a peep of a scampering squirrel, for the ‘tch-tch’ of a blackbird chastising my trespassing. Strong fingers grip and guide my vehicle of exploration, my path is a mystery but I revel in the journey, wide-eyed at that energy and life pervading all I pass.
I will be down that track this Autumn. I’ll be with my best friend Tom and we’ll ride the crisp path of flames, feel the leaves fall on our hair, wonder at the fire in the air and, eventually, we’ll reach the end of that road together, smile, then wander slowly home, hand in hand through the trees whose flames lick the sky.
Light-hearted Acrostic Poems
Autumn brings a warming glow
Under skies of falling leaves
Turning yellow, gold and red
Under root and moss and trees.
Moon is swollen, tinged with blood,
Night gives way to flaming flood.
Always close the gate behind you,
Wear stout shoes when walking wild,
Ask to cross that farmer’s field
Remember, keep your manners mild.
Every time you see the ducks
Near clear waters, canal or lake,
Eat your bread but do not feed them
So their stomachs do not ache.
Sense and sensibility go a long way.
Under the blue
Skies of yellow, golden hue
Eyes delight in
Please Close the Gate!
John Keats' Poem about Autumn
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821)