I TEND to take sparingly from the wild harvest, for while it means pleasurable eating and drinking for me, it is a matter of life or death for the wild creatures.
Sometimes there is pleasure for them as well: harmless in the case of the inebriated red admiral butterflies that have been indulging in the juices of fermenting blackberries and the last of the windfall apples, harmful if you inadvertently get in the way of fighting-drunk wasps from the same inn.
While the butterflies - some ragged from a long life, some bright and neat from a new hatching - simply party (I wonder if they have hangovers?) prior to hibernation for the very young, and death for the old and tattered.
The wasps will not survive the first frosts, and seem determined to attack anything in the time they have left.
They are a misery to dogs, flying under the arch of their hindlegs and trying to sting them in their tender groins and bellies.
The dogs snap at the wasps and risk getting stung in the mouth instead.
Here and there, badgers have dug out wasp nests and eaten most of them, leaving aggrieved sentinels cruising malevolently above and looking for vengeance. The badgers don’t feel the stings, but the rest of us certainly do.
This year, however, there is plenty of autumn food for everyone.
Even the squirrels can’t keep up with the hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts, and we can take sufficient for ourselves while leaving plenty for the small wild nibblers, who are also enjoying a bonanza of berries thanks to the absence of frosts in the spring.
If we were still in the days where every cottager kept a pig, those pigs would be waxing fat on acorns and beechmast, and we would be filling our pockets with shiny new conkers, some for the game thereof, or carving into toys, others to go in cupboards, chests and wardrobes to help repel moths.
Even now, it is hard to resist picking up a conker-case and taking out the nuts, just to enjoy their depth of colour and solid feel in the hand.
Over by the broad pond, the heron is stalking, managing to look beautiful and ungainly by turns, its predator eye and sledgehammer beak contrasting coldly with its handsome feathers all in monochrome.
The heron does not just eat fish, though its predations on fishponds in gardens are well known.
I have watched often here as one picks up duckling after duckling as they swim after their mother, or chicks from moorhens and coots stabbed and swallowed from their hiding places just under the bank.
Herons will eat rats and water-voles, even full-grown ones, and take young rabbits.
That slender white neck is deceptive, as anyone who has lost koi carp to a heron will testify, and can expand to swallow a surprisingly large range of prey.
Once upon a time, hawks were flown on herons in order to protect fish in the days when stew-ponds were a vital part of human survival, and apparently the flights were spectacular, for the heron is well-armed as well as athletic in the air.
Apparantly mediaeval apprentices objected to the amount of times they were given heron to eat; it must be vile, given its diet and also because mediaeval apprentices didn’t get much in the way of food, so had to feel very hard done by if they disliked it that much.
This heron is not going to be eaten by humans, though there is a well-grown fox cub crouched down by the edge of the pond where the brambles give way to sedges.
The heron, oblivious, stalks along the shallows, occasionally dipping its beak into the water.
The fox watches with the timeless, ageless patience of the predator. Without thought, I have frozen into stillness, the wind in my face taking my scent harmlessly back, an impartial observer to the unfolding drama.