In two days’ time the autumn equinox will be upon us. Overnight, the hinge on which the year hangs will move imperceptibly to face towards autumn and beyond. I love winter, so never dread its return, but for the moment I’m measuring out the final hours of summer, of light and warmth, like Scrooge counting pennies from his palm. The early morning reminder from the radio that time is ticking past is unwelcome, and when one day a harried presenter accidentally forgot the date, taking us backwards rather than forwards, I could have cheered.

Late August and September bring a sense of urgency and excitement to the countryside. In terms of the agricultural diary, the end of term is approaching, the final cramming before exams, the night-long revision, the mad scramble to fit everything in before the bell rings or, in this case, the rain and storms descend.

This is harvest time, the season of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, and you couldn’t ignore it even if you wanted to. The village green bears the treadmarks of a gigantic combine harvester that was going so fast it had to swerve to avoid our parked car. A wide arc of caterpillar tracks is now imprinted on the grass. I saw the farmer as he passed, his cabin almost as high as the first floor window where I sit at my desk. Out in the field, when this beast’s attachments have been unfolded and it resembles a giant bumblebee about to take flight, it is as wide as a house.

A couple of weekends ago, on a brilliantly bright Sunday, we drove to the clachan of Spott in East Lothian, near where I grew up. Until moving to Hoolet, this was my idea of an idyllic rural location: a tiny red sandstone settlement, with views on one side over fields dropping towards the coast, and the gently rising Lammermuir hills on the other. The little churchyard which I was visiting is filled with headstones dating back centuries; some are the reburied remains of those who died at the first Battle of Dunbar in 1296, on whose site it sits. The church itself is an archetypal country kirk, with a bell-tower. There’s an iron ring in the wall by the door, which I assumed was for tethering horses until informed it was for tying up miscreants. A quarter of a mile away is the stone where many witches were burned.

Despite the area’s troubled past, the atmosphere in Spott kirk is tranquil. Inside, its whitewashed walls and old wooden box pews are unchanged since, as a teenager, I used to play its organ. Its pedals had to be pumped hard to make it wheeze into life. It was like cycling uphill on a bike without gears. During sermons I’d find myself thinking of its notorious minister John Kello who, on September 24, 1570, strangled his wife before heading off to preach, having strung her up to make it look like suicide.

On our way there we were caught behind tractors crawling along the A68. Taking a long detour, we crossed the hills and at Gifford found ourselves in the heart of wheat country. If Kansas is the breadbasket of America, so East Lothian is to Scotland. My two-year-old step-grandson, who has a passion for tractors, would have been bouncing with excitement.

Everywhere we went massive combines and threshers were at work, or lined along the field top, awaiting the order to move. On narrow lanes, they weaved like drunks, trailing clouds of golden dust. At one junction we waited as a convoy of high-tech monsters passed, each leaving little change from a million pounds.

There was so much activity, it was as if the command had been given to mobilise every vehicle in the region. When we got back to the Borders, things were almost as busy. In the week that followed, it felt as if Hoolet had been relocated to an army base, and an invasion was imminent. From early morning to late evening, heavy machines whined and roared past, lights flashing, blades jangling. Empty trailers would rattle through, to return shortly afterwards, heaped with grain. While clods of earth were left in their wake, barely a teaspoon of wheat was lost. They worked long after dark, when the bedroom ceiling was lit by amber lights as they growled off into the night.

Amid paralysing angst about climate change and the swift extinction of wildlife, I found unexpected reassurance that not everything is in dire flux. A little over 200 years ago the poet John Clare began composing The Shepherd’s Calendar. Described as “the truest poem of English country life ever written”, it takes readers through each month of the rustic year. Published in 1827, it appeared in a highly edited and bowdlerlised version on which Clare commented: “Editors are troubled with nice amendings and if Doctors were as fond of Amputation as they are of altering and correcting the world would have nothing but cripples.”

As Eric Robinson, the editor of my edition writes, “Considering the number of amputations in Clare’s day, this is no small criticism.”

Now restored largely to its original glory, The Shepherd’s Calendar is a book to keep by the bedside, for dipping into as each new month arrives. Clare’s first line for September underlines that now, as then, this is the month for gathering in: “Harvest awakes the morning still, And toils rude groups the valleys fill.”

The village he describes is so preoccupied, even gossips’ tongues are stilled: “All haunt the thronged fields still to share/the harvests lingering bounty there...”

If he were writing today, I’d suspect Clare of having a webcam on Hoolet: “Full soon the harvest waggons sound/Rumbling like thunder all around/In ceaseless speed the corn to load/Hurrying down the dusty road..”

Part of what makes his rural portraits so appealing is his awareness of the teeming life going on around self-important, clattering humans. Like Robert Burns, he has a fellow feeling for lesser creatures, as in this vignette: “In the barn hole sits the cat/Watching within the thirsty rat/Who oft at morn its dwelling leaves/to drink the moisture from the eaves”.

Long before sheafs are stored below, this creature will be a-goner.