4/10/2015 A friend came to visit two weeks ago and we started talking about the seasons. It was a beautiful day, but one of the first to feel definitively like autumn rather than late summer, having been preceded by a few weeks of cold, rainy weather that felt like no particular season at all – the light seems to be so central a factor in the feel of the seasons that when the sun doesn’t shine you can lose your sense of what season you are in, regardless of the air temperature or the day length.
My friend said that she loved autumn, and that it felt to her a hopeful season. ‘Hopeful?!’ I replied, rather surprised. I’d never thought of it as hopeful; rather as full of loss, death, increasingly short and chilly days and leading up to the inevitable: winter. And this was in spite of the fact that since moving to the countryside 4 years ago, I have appreciated each different season that little bit more every year.
Spring, especially the months of May and June, was always my favourite season, despite half a lifetime of association with exams and revision, and even moving into summer felt like a wrench, a departure and a loss. I would be desperately trying to cling on to it, and feeling the grief and frustration of the inability to do so. Perhaps it feels like an ending partly because of the shortening days: no sooner does summer arrive than the the longest day of the year has already passed and you feel like you are descending into winter again. But it is also to do with the departure of that fluorescent greenness and the all-pervasive smell of flowers and blossom in the air.
Since living in Suffolk, however, I have settled into the rhythms of the year, and felt a connection to each of the seasons in a way I never really had before. I think I am at heart a seasonal creature, and much better at appreciating things, and sustaining an activity or interest, on a seasonal basis, than on every day of the year with no change. I suspect we all are, but somehow it took me until I moved to the country to discover this about myself, even though the changes in day length and the lack of seasons were the only things I really missed during my times spent in the tropics.
For me now, autumn brings a new serenity after the frenzy of outdoor activity in spring and summer, with peaceful, dark evenings, beautiful leaves and berries, poignant smells and special light, crisp mornings and the contemplation of when to light the first fire. The sound of pheasants and the smell of fires are some of my other pleasurable autumn associations. It is not without its own frenzied activity though: this time it is the urgency of picking and storing or preserving a huge quantity of fruit that becomes ripe at once, and many evenings are spent peeling, chopping and stewing fruit for the freezer or making jam.
I love autumn more now than I ever did before, but still I had never, up to that point, thought of it as a hopeful season. Shortly after my friend’s visit, I got out Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, as I often do when I want to find renewed inspiration, or appreciation for the month I’m in, and happened upon this entry for October: ‘Autumn – sense of loss, putting extra demands on our capacity for hope’. Clearly Roger Deakin didn’t find autumn a hopeful time either.
I pondered this question for a whole week of beautiful sunshine, and also some grey, rainy days, whilst also wondering if the swallows had left yet, which always brings another sense of sadness and loss. I finally came to the conclusion that I agreed: autumn feels hopeful. When the air is still and warm, and the sun is shining, of course, but even, somehow, during a period of wild autumn gales. When the day almost forgets to dawn and a cold, relentless drizzle falls, perhaps not, but I don’t think even spring has a superior capacity to feel hopeful in these circumstances.
But why should autumn feel hopeful? I still don’t know. Is it because the year has come into fruition? Everything has been leading to this point. All the young have fledged. It is a time of bounty: delicious fruit is everywhere and waiting to be picked and eaten, or stored for enjoyment or (in the case of the creatures) survival through the dark days of the year. And there is new and always astonishing beauty in the light and the colours – it is a season of inspiration for poetry, art, photography, and probably also music. Or is it that the world has become calm, we can enjoy the prospect of log fires and cosy evenings, and there is space and darkness for reflection, planning and dreaming for the new year ahead? More likely, though, I think it may be something as simple as the fact that any kind of beauty is inherently hopeful, and autumn is full of beauty.
Perhaps I’ll be pondering this question for the rest of my life. And maybe this new idea will change forever my perception of autumn. I hope so.