Autumn Came Way Too Soon


I don’t know where the last 5 months went, since the start of the pandemic and quarantine, but the time has flown by. This Summer we had 3 continuous months of hard unrelenting rain which caused huge mould problems in the house. We occasionally had a warm couple of days, around 30 C, but nothing like the epic scorching heat of years past. We actually saw the beginning of Autumn – leaves browning and dropping – at the beginning of August. Now, the night time temperatures are hovering just above freezing.


Living out in the bush, aside from the stunning colours of the foliage, the most obvious sign that Autumn has arrived is ruja – the red deer stags’ rutting period. All night long they bay, and the *cough* hunters driving slowly around in their large 4x4s blocking the single lane bush roads, or parking at the side of the road so they can shoot them across the bonnet, are a much more disturbing and annoying replacement for the vicious horse flies that plague us when we sweat and toil outside. I love going for our evening walk at this time of year because the giant stags just stand in the middle of fields grunting loudly – but the sight of hunters who don’t even know what the inside of a forest looks like taking multiple pot shots at them while they’re basically blind and immobile and thinking themselves heroes for doing so makes me sick. If you really want to be a hunter then go into the animals’ domain and learn their patterns. And shooting them during the rut makes no sense whatsoever – that’s when the strongest pass on their DNA. Instead, their skulls end up nailed to a board, one among many, on someone’s wall. I’m not against hunting for food, or even to cull numbers (we sometimes get herds of over 100 ransacking the village), but the animal must be honoured. I could go on…. The Slovak government has even suggested sending in the army with machine guns to cull the wild boar population due to African Swine Plague…


Currently, we have 4 red deer hinds living next door – in the garden of my neighbour’s abandoned property. It’s quite a shock to be doing the dishes, look out the kitchen window and see a group of wild beasts the size of horses – along with their immense camel-like heads – staring back at you. One of them is a fawn still with spots, which is quite late.


Even the fawn is bigger than roe deer (above), one of which we meet every night just standing on a patch of grass beside the abandoned road. They really are dumb creatures. Cute but dumb. They think that if they don’t move then they can’t be seen, and if they run away they only get about 10 metres before stopping, similar to rabbits.


All of the Summer birds have flown away, leaving only the usual residents like the red backed shrike above, the eagles and the ravens. I’m extremely grateful I managed to photograph a hoopoe in the short time they were flying about.


Because of the really bad weather this year we have no plums, only one apple tree has borne any fruit and a meager crop at that, and all of our vegetables rotted. One success we had was with the hazel tree which, like every year, is absolutely filled with nuts. I even decided to try roasting them (having long ago given up on my idea to make Nutella). However, after spending hours picking them, husking them and then cracking them I gave up. I can understand why this was a popular activity in Saxon or Medieval times, when there was nothing to do of an evening but husk and crack nuts, but to me I seriously don’t have the patience. so I’ve let the squirrels and edible dormice have them. Like every year.


We did eventually get around to going mushroom picking (last Sunday) but we missed the season. We did find a couple of birch boletes, enough for my wife to make her prazenica (scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms), but it was mostly poisonous or inedible types which littered teh forest floor. Thankfully, Lord Veles presented us with one large and one baby cep as we left the forest, both perfect despite being actually inside the pasture.

We had a lot of insects this year because Winter was very mild and then Summer was too wet. We had much fewer black crickets than last year – and most of those seemed to have moved inside my house. I kept finding them everywhere looking very confused so I’d take them back outside again. Rinse and repeat. We’ve had an awful lot of mosquitoes because every damp leaf in the pastures and fields is a breeding ground for them, and at the beginning of Summer we had a lot of small ticks. Again the spider population is growing too large. I don’t kill spiders and usually just leave them to make webs in the house as they catch flies (and our house flies bite) but they’re beginning to take the piss with their numbers. One really cool spider we had in the garden next to the swing bench I’ve never encountered before. It was huge and its colouring is scary but apparently they’re as harmless as any other spider (which all bite but are usually not venomous). The wasp spider –


This Summer we even had a fire salamander visit. This one is very young and small. We used to get them constantly wandering across the garden, as well as slow worms, but it’s rare to see either nowadays. The climate has definitely changed. We don’t even get that many lizards anymore and the snake species have changed from predominantly adders and smooth snakes to grass snakes, which we never used to get.


We did some jobs around the house and garden this Summer but nowhere near as much as we’d hoped. Because of the pandemic and the uncertainty regarding the future economic situation (which for me at least turned out to be true as my business has taken a massive hit as I deal with people), we didn’t do the gate, the parking lot, the path, or several other jobs. We did make some steps up to the back garden as that was a necessity – the rain had made it dangerous to try and traverse the short grass/mud incline. It was cool taking the kids to the river to fill buckets of gravel as an underlay.



We also basically finished the altanok, the gazebo. We honestly never wanted one as we saw no need for them, but after making it ‘liveable’ we all use it all the time, whether to sit and have coffee out of what little sun we receive or for my daughter to practice her guitar, etc.


I made some planks so that we could fix up the old, previously canvas, swing bench to go inside the gazebo. My wife’s cousin came over to finish it off as he’d done one previously. That was a long night and we got bitten alive by mosquitoes but it was worth it.


I tried using the petrol strimmer again but it just eats through string and it’s a pain in the arse taking the head to pieces to restring it so I eventually gave up and went back to scything. I really need a new blade (scary and deadly) as mine is all bent because of hidden rocks and logs.


Even on a scorching hot day I have to wear full clothes plus at least wellies due to biting flies and snakes. I sweat kilos.


For once we managed to get a decent supply of wood in, get it chopped and stacked and, hopefully, seasoned ready for Winter. I am so happy we built the woodshed last year. We still need to get at least another 4 cubic metres of wood but that will mean emptying the seasoned stuff, stacking the green stuff, and then restacking at the fore the seasoned stuff once more. It’s a long, gruelling process but it adds a sense of security you can’t imagine. I’ve had Winters where I’ve been out in blinding blizzards trying to chainsaw frozen green logs because we didn’t have enough fuel.

Today’s a fairly warm and sunny day and I’m tempted to go out on my motorbike, Scarlet. But it’s not warm enough to go to the nearby lake Domasa like we did in Summer.


Tomorrow both my boys go off to university, both to medical school but in different cities. My eldest boy, Brano, finally realised one of his dreams and had a sabre made for him by a fairly renowned Polish swordsmith.


And so Summer ends and Autumn begins. Now is just the countdown to Winter. There’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment, on many different levels. I have no idea what the future will bring but I just hope that the situation improves. The years are passing by faster than I expected. I’ve now been here in East Slovakia for 22 years – I’ve listened to many stag ruts, and I’ve seen the great white storks come and go year after year. I’ve seen Summers yellow the grass and Winters whiten the landscape. I’ve watched my children grow from babies into young adults. Part of my old life died this year because of the global crisis, and I haven’t yet found what will replace it. But I do know that every morning you wake up can be the beginning of a new life. All depends solely on what you choose to do.

Do What Thou Wilt…






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