It’s October; my favourite month of the year. There’s so much I love about this time of year, and I felt it all so clearly today. This was my first day back at my work helping with the maintenance of a local nature reserve, so I had the pleasure of being outside in all autumn’s gloriousness all day. The air was crisp for the first time this year, that I’ve noticed anyway, as I cycled down the canal out to the reserve, and for the first time this season I began to wish I’d brought my gloves. The trees glowed with colour, the birds sang, and the air was sweetly scented by cut grass and fallen fruit. Without a cloud in the sky it became a beautiful sunny day, hot for the time of year, and certainly hot for the physical work we were doing, but in the sunshine and blue sky the hedgerows were radiant with colour. The leaves of most trees are still only just turning but here and there one would already be in red or gold, and the hedgerows were jewelled with blackberries, hawthorn berries, sloes, apples, rosehips and guelder rose berries. I think I spent almost as much time foraging wild fruit today as I did working! I cycled home past all manner of flowers having a last go at blooming before the winter, regardless of their ‘proper’ flowering time – buttercups, vetch, mallows, daisies, hogweed, and even the apple tree in my garden! Then a gentle pink sunset setting the trees in the park across my street glowing as a great flock of rooks and jackdaws assembled in the sky above before dropping down into the trees to roost. Such a beautiful day, and such a precious time of year.
I love the autumn. It perplexes summer people, who can never understand how I could like it so much when summer is over and cold, dark winter is on its way, but I love it. Everything is changing and it feels exciting. Autumn is exuberant; summer to me seems monotonous and seems to drag. It feels like everything is holding its breath as the birds stop singing, the grass browns and the flowers fade away, waiting for autumn to come and bring the rain and wake everything up again. Then suddenly it happens, and everything breathes again; the birds begin slowly to sing again, the flowers have one last burst, the grass begins to grow again, everything produces fruit, and flocks of migrating birds appear, preparing to leave or newly arrived.
I have so many more memories of autumn than of any other time of year. I think it’s because my senses seem so much more awake and I feel alive in a new way, so I pay more attention. But it’s always been a significant time of year. It begins for me in mid August as the first signs of change appear in nature and the year seems to wake up. I remember getting excited as a child when the leaves on the trees in the garden first began to turn during the summer holidays, and the chestnut tree dropped its first conker of the year. I looked out for it each year so I could go out to thank the tree for it! Then everywhere I went I’d be picking up tree seeds and planting them to see how many tree species I could get to grow. These days, I’m out foraging blackberries and looking for the first migrating birds, trying to record the date I last spot a swift and watching numbers of wading birds on the estuary increase week by week. September is a month of reunions. There was a lot I disliked about going back to school but I did look forward to seeing everyone again – especially since I went through a couple of hopeless crushes both at school and university! And the geek in me looked forward to the new year’s lessons. It’s also often been marked by reunions of SPEAK friends too, as we’ve held a lovely chilled out skill sharing weekend together. The sea is at its warmest in early autumn, and once the schools have restarted the beaches become so much quieter, so M and I always try and make time for beach days. October gained its place in my heart early on as it was the time of year for fairgrounds, family holidays and harvest parties. Growing up in Nottingham, the legendary Goose Fair was a highlight of my year (now I have moved away I still miss it!), one of the biggest funfairs in the country. It occupies a large city park with enormous numbers of silly rides, a famous vintage carousel, and lots of great fairground food, and we used to make an evening of it every year as a family, leaving with bags of doughnuts and brandy snaps and helium balloons as it grew dark and the lights shone brightly. We often went on holiday together at half term, usually finding a cosy cottage with an open fire somewhere wild. And then harvest parties, my family’s answer to Halloween, where me and my friends would get together to play silly fruit and vegetable related party games, eat a ploughman’s meal with homemade hedgehog-shaped bread, and usually end up playing very silly fantasy games and/or dancing to the funniest song we could find in my parents’ music collection! Fun times 🙂 And then November – bonfire night and fireworks, which these days involves me and my husband cooking far too much campfire food in the garden and seeing what fireworks displays we can spot for free from outside! But there was always a really spectacular display at my first university too, which me and my friends loved going to see. M and I have made it a tradition to go on a pilgrimage to find great displays of autumn leaves in November, when the colours reach their best. And thanks to our various transatlantic connections we’ve also imported the tradition of holding Thanksgiving celebrations – even if not on the day itself! Since it’s my favourite season I like to stretch my definition of it as far as possible to capture all its magic – beginning in mid August, as defined by nature, and ending at the winter solstice, as defined astronomically, therefore taking in the very last of the autumn colour, shortening days and sparkling fairy lights before I finally have to accept winter’s arrival.
Perhaps surprisingly autumn means a time for new starts for me. I’ve three times moved to a new town, and each time it’s been in the autumn. The last move two years ago was a major upheaval, leaving my job commuting to London to move for M’s new job, moving away from most of our friends but to a lovely part of the country and a much more relaxed way of life. M and I first met properly and became friends at this time of year – now somehow 10 years ago! It was November 4 years ago I first saw Switchfoot play live, which was a profoundly life-changing experience, not just because it forever confirmed me as a megafan but also because I came away buzzing with poetic inspiration for the first time. I may still be a very imperfect poet, but it has been so freeing to be able to put words around my feelings sometimes, something I was very rarely able to do before. And although October was already my favourite month, it now has a particularly special meaning to me as every October 24th is another anniversary of the day I first met Jesus, and He saved my life, and effectively brought me to life for the first time; it marks another year of life and grace.
Autumn speaks deeply to me too in many ways I haven’t yet really managed to put words around. It’s one of the most powerful demonstrations of grace that I know of, as nature over-provides, even for those of us who spend the rest of the year fighting her; the most abused and neglected patches of land produce flowers, autumn leaves and tonnes of blackberries. The nights draw in, reminding us that the day is finite and we should make the most of it before hurrying home to warmth. Beauty rises as everything falls; imperfection is never more beautiful than in autumn, as death and decay produce the wonderful colours, scents and exquisite leaf skeletons, bare trees, mushrooms, and eventually new life. All is revealed, and it is incredible.
I could go on. What have I missed? Wild fruit and autumn leaves, colours, scents, golden light, long shadows, the constantly changing feel of the air, the light and the weather, migrating birds, frosts, mists, sparkles, sunsets, fires, pumpkins, tree hugging, fireworks, planting seeds, harvesting food, cold birdwatching trips, kicking leaves, getting the winter woollies out for the first time, real outdoor work, storms… Can you feel it?