Do I love autumn? I’m not sure.
There certainly a deep-rooted delight in the hawthorn bushes being covered in haws, and dog roses in hips. I like eating the blackberries from the hedges and I love the smell of freshly shorn cornfields. I even like the nights drawing in and the first time I have to turn the heating on.
But as I was wondering out loud in the crew car the other day I wonder if – as we get older – the seasons become more and more poignant?
I’m sure as a schoolboy I couldn’t hold the memory of one season into another, the time passed so slowly. A summer was so endlessly long – there was no possibility of me remembering the idea of winter. Seasons all remained distinct. Now I can hold the whole cycle in my mind more easily – the years flitter by much faster.
I’ve often pondered about the human mind’s seasonal amnesia. I often think that we are designed to forget the possibility of winter in the middle of summer and vice versa. At the summer solstice it is biologically impossible to really remember that the trees will be stripped naked in 6 months time.
This explains the constant suprise and consternation we experience when the leaves do start to drop off.
Perhaps it also explains British people’s absurd misery over the rain. As if in any other year it didn’t rain in England. As if Britain was a tropical island maliciously haunted by a temperate rain God that taunted us. Why are we always surprised and cross that it’s raining? It’s like being cross because it gets dark at night, or because we only have two hands not eight.
It seems we’re wired to forget the possibility of certain unforgettable things. Most obviously the onset of winter and dying.
Of course, winter isn’t death. The beautiful story of the seasons is that Persephone comes back up from Hades every spring. Death doesn’t win. It’s heartening. The sure-fire return of April each year reminds us that September is not the end of everything – just the shady side of the circle.
But as I get older I certainly think about the decline of the summer more.
This year I could almost grasp it as one long exhalation. The beautiful buds on the leaves in my street in April – like a pink-green haze – expanding outwards to that moment in midsummer where the extension is at its furthest. The leaves won’t get any bigger, the chlorophyll won’t reach any further. And then, like very slow elastic, the inhalation begins, the life shrinks back into the trunk. In and out.
I realise that for the first half of life – in Britain at least – we are trained to see Autumn as a new beginning, the start of school, a new term. This is a nice counterbalance to the second half of life where we tend to see it as the end.
I wonder if that’s why this morning I found myself leaping into the road to try and catch a falling leaf?