AUTUMN

Vienna, 31 October 2020

Autumn is a wonderful time to go a-gathering. The last of the year’s fruits have ripened and are ready to be eaten – a cornucopia of Nature’s goodies waiting to be sampled!

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In the various hikes my wife and I have been making during this autumn season, we have been taking advantage of this bounty, gathering fruits that have (more or less) fallen into our laps.

Our gathering started with grapes; not table grapes but wine grapes. I would admit, if my arm were twisted, that we took a few bunches from vines that were waiting to be harvested.

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But we soon discovered that quite often there were bunches at the very bottom of the vines which the harvesting machines they use nowadays didn’t catch.

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So we helped ourselves to those. I mean, they were obviously not going to get picked, and there was no point letting them rot on the vine, right? We ate white and red grapes indiscriminately, grapes that had been destined to become Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch in the red wines, Riesling or Grüner Veltliner in the whites. They were full of pips and had thick, rubbery skins but were wonderfully sweet.

Later on, we walked along hiking trails flanked by walnut trees

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The ground below the trees was thick with walnuts still in their blackened husks.

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So many walnuts! It was terrible to see this bounty given to us free by Nature just being left to rot. So we got to work and collected several bags’ full, which we brought home to eat – waste not, want not, as my grandmother used to say!

my wife’s photo

That being said, I cannot in all honesty claim that they were a good find. Most of them were small, hard to crack, and the meat inside clung for all it was worth to the shell, a meat that after a while left a metallic taste in your mouth. Once we had dutifully finished our trove of nuts, my wife went out to buy some commercial walnuts, to remind ourselves how easy they were to open, how smoothly the meat fell out of the shell, and how delicious their taste was – sometimes, I have to admit, the products of the agro-industrial complex are tastier than the original …

Lately there have been apples and pears. In so many spots on our walks we came across apple or pear trees growing by the side of the path, groaning under their load of fruit and dropping them to the ground.

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All these gifts from Nature, just going bad … It really broke our hearts to see this waste. I suppose the trees were planted in a time when more people lived on the land and when they grew more of what they ate. Now there is hardly anyone left in the countryside and those who are left can’t be bothered to pick the fruit from the trees their ancestors planted. Well, in memory of those ancestors, we gathered up a bag or so of both. The apples were really delicious: red-cheeked and slightly tart in their sweetness, just the way I like them.

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Not for me the vacuously mild Golden Deliciouses of this world!

The pears were not so good. A few are mixed in with the picture of our walnuts: small, green-skinned, with a flesh which was both granular and set the teeth on edge. But my wife whipped up a fruit salad, mixing them with some of the apples and adding a sprinkling of sugar and a dash of lemon juice. Mm-mm-goood! (pity we don’t have any gin in the house; a slug of that would have made the salad even more delicious).

The fruit-picking time is nearly over. Now it’s leaf-watching time. This afternoon, we immersed ourselves in a world of yellow, gold, and russet (not too many reds in this part of the world).

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We finished where our autumn adventures had started, in the vineyards, yellow now but with a dash of red.

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The leaves are falling faster and faster, driven off the trees by wind and rain. Soon it will be time to search out mugs of glühwein, the hot wine toddy of this part of the world.

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Hopefully, if lockdowns and other Covid restrictions allow it, we’ll be able to drink the winter season away, waiting for Spring to roll around again and the cycle to start all over again.

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AUTUMN LEAVES

Beijing, 23 October 2013

It’s that time of the year in the northern hemisphere when the trees begin to lose their leaves. If we’re lucky, depending on where we’re perched on that hemisphere, we can witness the glorious spectacle of leaves turning intensely red, orange or yellow before they expire and finally float to the ground. My wife and I had such luck some thirty years ago, when we went “leaf peeping” in Vermont.

vermont fall foliage

We had such luck an equally long time ago in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan

hokkaido fall foliage

And I had such luck, alone this time, on my recent trip to Qinghai province, where the poplars were turning bright, golden yellow.

trees in fall

Alas, we have no such luck in dirty, dusty, smoggy Beijing. The leaves here go a little bit yellow, or just plain brown, before dropping miserably to the ground.

The partial exception is the ginkgo.  Ginkgos are popular trees to plant along streets. They tolerate well pollution and confined soil space, admirable traits for a tree growing in Beijing. And they look handsome, in the summer

ginkos 001

but even more so in the autumn

gingkgo trees autumn

Strange trees, ginkgos. The name already is odd. It was years before I realised that the “k” actually comes before the “g”. Who on earth came up with that spelling? A Dutchman called Engelbert Kaempfer, that’s who, back in the late 17th Century. He was the first European to see a gingko – sorry, ginkgo – in Japan. When he reported it to the European world, he seems to have stumbled over his transcription of the Japanese name ginkyō: what should have been written “ginkio” or “ginkjo” somehow got written as ginkgo.

That double-lobed leaf is odd, too.

Ginkgo Leaves summer

In fact, it’s unique among seed plants. Unique, because the ginkgo is a living fossil. This fossilized ginkgo leaf

fossil ginkgo leaf

is 40 million year old, although the ginkgo is far older. It first appears in the fossil record some 200 million years ago. It did nicely for the first 100 million years or so but then it went into terminal decline. Its range shrank and shrank, the various ginkgo species disappeared, until only ginkgo biloba survived, and survived only in China.

In fact, even the ginkgo biloba probably wouldn’t have survived if it hadn’t been for Buddhism coming to China. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not the ginkgo trees currently found in the wild in China are truly wild or simply feral, that is, grown from seeds that wafted away from domesticated trees. What is sure is that Buddhist monks took to planting ginkgos in their temples as their local version of the bo-tree, the sacred fig tree under which it is said that the Buddha attained enlightenment.

sacred fig

and of course the ginkgo then got included in the Chinese Buddhist iconography – look at those ginkgo leaves peeping behind the buddha:

maitreya buddha under ginkgo

The ginkgo, having thus gained enormously in stature as a sacred tree, was carefully nurtured by all and sundry and survived – and got carried by Buddhism to Korea and Japan, where our friend Engelbert saw it.

So I suppose it’s really best to admire the ginkgo in the environment which saved it from probable extinction, a Buddhist temple like this one, Dajue temple in the western hills near Beijing.

ginkgo fall dajue temple

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Vermont fall foliage: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/dam/assets/120911072551-leaf-peeping-vt-jenne-farm-ed-sharron-story-top.jpg [in http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/21/travel/fall-leaf-peeping-autumn/%5D
Hokkaido fall foliage: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-HK-XCKr055I/UGvr1pwda3I/AAAAAAAAGc8/oe2ckytpNRk/s1600/%E7%A7%8B%E3%81%AE%E9%AB%98%E5%8E%9F%E6%B8%A9%E6%B3%892.jpg [in http://talk-hokkaido.blogspot.com/2012/10/autumnal-foliage-around-daisetsu.html%5D
Qinghai fall foliage: my picture
Ginkgo trees along the street: my picture
Ginkgo trees autumn: http://chinatour.net/member/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/gingkgo.jpg [in http://chinatour.net/beijing/tour/autumn/%5D
Ginkgo leaves summer: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f5/Ginkgo_Biloba_Leaves_-_Black_Background.jpg/400px-Ginkgo_Biloba_Leaves_-_Black_Background.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkgo_biloba%5D
Ginkgo leaves autumn: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/GinkgoLeaves.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkgo_biloba%5D
Fossil gingko leaf: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c5/Ginkgo_biloba_MacAbee_BC.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkgo%5D
Sacred fig: http://img.xcitefun.net/users/2009/09/117740,xcitefun-sri-maha-bodhi-tree-2.jpg [in http://forum.xcitefun.net/sri-maha-bodhi-sacred-fig-tree-sri-lanka-t38289.html%5D
Maitreya Buddha sitting under ginkgo: http://www.asia.si.edu/collections/zoom/F1911.411.jpg
Ginkgo Dajue temple: http://images.chinahighlights.com/2012/11/4c1ed9eaebda4d74a20d96f4.jpg [in http://www.chinahighlights.com/beijing/article-see-golden-ginkgoes.htm%5D