I’m sure most families have them – customs that originated somewhere, somehow: but that no-one can really remember when or why. In the Bardic household, we have a small cupboard, at eye level, that features a blackboard on the front. Inside, as well as the multitudinous keys – which also hang from hooks beneath it – this armoire à clés also conceals a box of coloured chalks. And, as the seasons change, one of us (often on a whim) will wipe clean the period’s previous illustration, and sketch out a new one. Currently, therefore – magically appearing one morning, in the last few days, in parallel with the cooling conditions – we have a deciduous tree, beginning to shed its leaves: accompanied by the phrase “The nights are drawing in!” (reflecting the Lady Bard’s annual discomfort at the shortening days); replacing (my slightly pretentious, perhaps) “Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!” (You will be pleased to know that I have so far not capitulated to the compulsion of superimposing an image of either curtains, or a punning pencil, on aforesaid tree….)
It’s not really a longstanding tradition: the cabinet was purchased on a whim from Pillerton’s Shabby Shack only three or four years ago. But I can’t see it ever ending – and, although, it’s not ‘officially’ autumn until the day of my mum’s birthday (coincidentally, International Day of Peace), meteorologically (as well as being marked by the number of fleeces I needed, walking through Tysoe at two o’clock, a couple of nights ago – three, if you’re interested…), the ‘fall of the year’ began on the first of the month.
Additionally, the horse chestnuts on the Banbury Road, towards Stratford, have been bronzing for some time, through what little August sun we sustained; and are now losing their sadly-sickened, once-impressive, charred‑brown palms – a premonition of the new season – caused either by the leaf-mining moth, Cameraria ohridella, or perhaps leaf blotch, Guignardia aesculi. (It’s hard to tell without stopping and having a closer look – not advisable, when cars and vans are whizzing by at well over the speed limit; and often on the verge of control, on the wrong side of the road….)
Every time I pass the cupboard, unbidden, therefore, comes to mind (and mouth) the music I sang, as a four-year-old, for my cathedral choir audition: the eleventh of fourteen Round the Year Hymns for Small Children (and I was very small), Autumn Leaves (professedly written for November) – comforting words and music by Marie Cleeve Dainton. The inch-wide Sellotape that was eventually required, from frequent use, to hold the score together in many places, has turned the same hue as the chestnut leaves, and started similarly to fragment and fail – but the melody bursts forth from the page as “Brightly” as ever!
Leaves in glory tumble down
On the countryside and town,
Golden, crimson, russet brown,
Now Autumn time is here.
God will send His trees to sleep,
While the snow falls fast and deep,
Over all His watch He’ll keep
When Winter time is here.
God will send His sun and rain
On woodland meadow, hill and plain,
Trees He’ll wake to live again
When lovely Spring is here.
September marks the beginning of what is for many people the most beautiful time of the year.
– Ron Wilson: A Year in the Countryside
I adore autumn – and always have (hence my choice of song, I think): possibly because of the time of year I was born. But, as Wilson states, above, I’m not the only one – for instance, I had an American friend, a couple of decades ago, who, at a moment’s notice, used to (and may well still) hop on a plane to visit his folks’ farm in Vermont, every single year, as soon as the leaves started rusting: just so, for a few weeks, he could hike his youthful trails, yet again, bathed in the same boyhood glow.
But I love it not only for those spectacular colour changes – there’s something instinctive, almost primordial, induced in me by the cooling of the weather; the increased transparency of trees; the mists and mellow fruit crumbles – especially apple and blackberry – and the extensive, tranformative, easing down of nature. Things, generally, just feel less frantic (well, until shop windows are decked out in Christmas apparel in a couple of weeks time…).
Of course, nearly half a century of autumns later, I shall still start to miss the birds who have so enriched summer – especially the swifts, swallows (twittering in the skies) and housemartins – but know they will return. And, as the zephyrs crispen, I begin to hanker for the occasional heavy snowfall of my childhood, as we later will fade into winter – the sudden, almost monochrome, repainting of the landscape; the grinding crunch of each footstep; the sheer, shocking freshness of the bright, blasting breaths entering our lungs.
And yet, with the cold and damp, for me, comes increased pain: as these dyadic pests insinuate themselves into my creaking arthritic bones. But it is a supplemental discomfort that I am both prepared for, and prepared to bear – compensated as I am by the rich increase in edifying delight; and a glorious visceral feeling that I am more closely connected to, and immersed in, the world around me – as yet another twelvemonth passes by.
A twelvemonth? Well, befall what will befall….
– William Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost