Autumn revisited

_DSC080316/11/2016 After last year’s wondering about whether autumn was hopeful, this year I decided to anticipate my reluctance at the change of seasons and try to embrace the autumn spirit in advance of its arrival. Towards the end of August I bought a newly published book, Autumn: An anthology for the changing seasons (edited by Melissa Harrison). Even admitting to myself before the end of summer that it would arrive was a big step forward for me, but I had been encouraged by a little surprise not long before: I had caught in myself a moment of rising excitement when I noticed just a hint of autumn on its way – I don’t remember whether it was a sight, smell, sound or feeling, but the reaction was instinctive and unexpected.

The book, though I found it lacking in certain anthological respects, did a good job. Its beautiful cover design alone provided a direct line to autumn’s wonders, and I started actively to look forward to the season and to let summer go. By the time I reached the end of the book, my ambition for this year was clear – to learn to feel the way George Eliot did about autumn:

‘Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.’
(Extract from a letter to Miss Lewis, 1st October 1841)

On the plane home at the beginning of October after a few days in Spain, I was reading South Facing Slope, a collection of articles written for Country Life magazine by Carla Carlisle, one of the owners of Wyken Vineyards in Stanton, north Suffolk. It was an opportune time to happen upon her recollection of a 12-year-old friend’s expression of doubt, in a school English assignment, over the opinion that autumn was a decline. The reaction of the teacher reading her work was not complimentary; a demonstration, in my opinion, of the teacher’s lack of imagination, not the pupil’s. This was followed by Carla’s own corroborating adult view that autumn was a beginning, not an ending. Seeing this from her uncommon perspective of wine making, it is not a stretch to consider the harvesting of grapes as the start of the wine-making year.

Even without wine making in my calendar, it does feel like a beginning in some ways. The time to become more quietly industrious after the excitement of summer, and to feel I am in with at least a slim chance of catching up with the garden before it goes wild again in spring. And, for that matter, with the house, while substantially more hours a week can comfortably, even preferably, be spent indoors.

Stepping off the plane into the mild and bright October morning was the perfect moment to make my reacquaintance with autumn. I had left behind late summer just a few days before, and returned to a new season: it was the smell and the light that defined it, more than the temperature. On my way home via a scenic route chosen spontaneously to celebrate the beauty of the day, I was surprised by a swallow. A wild flutter of joy – then yearning – then letting go… until April. Farewell, little bird who flies about the earth seeking successive springs.

Leave a Reply