Friday 9 April 2010


The Baby's birthday today: one more year as a teenager, and turning out well, I'm proud to say. We had brunch at the Takapuna Cafe, right by the sparkling blue sea on this sparkling blue day, before she headed off down to Rotorua for the Xterra run there tomorrow.

Autumn is such a beautiful time of year, most places I've been or lived, and perfect for travelling because the scenery perks up for one last burst before winter: the grass greens again after summer's drought, deciduous foliage blows trumpets, and the crisp mornings and bright sunshine seem that much more precious in the knowledge that winter's leaden skies and sogginess are right around the corner.

I've walked in the woods in Sequoia National Park where blue smoke from a burn-off drifted through the trees, lizards basked on Moro Rock, unmoved by its glorious views, and chipmunks rustled in the leaves and made me think of bears. Further north, Lake Tahoe's incredible blue waters looked even more intense against the pure, clear yellow of the aspens, and the red stripes of the gathered kokanee salmon in the feeder streams glowed through the clear water. Massachusetts and Vermont are almost cliches in this context, but deservedly so: the trees there are superstars.

Last September in the UK and Ireland the leaves were turning, the blackberries were ripe in the hedgerows and the sedums in flower. It was always my favourite time of year when I lived in England, not just because the countryside became particularly beautiful, but also because the purple tint to the evening sky and the chill in the air were a reminder and a promise that hunting would soon be starting.

People who disapprove of fox-hunting may as well stop reading now, because I know your minds are unchangeable, but those of us who understand that fox-hunting is both necessary and humane, and an enriching part of country life, know well that feeling of excitement as the days shorten, the leaves fall and the fields bristle with stubble. For 17 years I followed the hunt, mounted and on foot, and red coats and shining horses, the clatter of hooves on the road, and the soul-stirring sound of the horn and hounds' voices echoing through a bare wood are an essential part of my fondest memories of England.

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