Autumn. It is definitely here, with trees changing colour, the mornings and evenings becoming chilly, the nights drawing in and the fruit ripening on the trees. A lot of people don’t like Autumn and see it as a sad time. Summer is over. The weather is getting colder and wetter. Everything is dying. Life is preparing to sleep for the winter. But, here’s a thing: I love Autumn. Ever since I was a child, Autumn has been my favourite time of year. This may well be connected to my birthday in Autumn, but it has always been more than that. It is at this time of year, more than any other, that I feel most connected to the natural world. So, birthday aside, why do I love Autumn so much?
First of all, there are the colours: glowing reds, oranges, yellows and browns. The warm colours of the spectrum suddenly erupt. A huge scream of colour not seen at any other time of year. My favourite colours, the warm, happy colours. In dying, leaves reveal their outstanding beauty, hidden in life by chlorophyll.
Then there is the frantic activity: little creatures bustling and hustling to store up food for the winter. The birds emerge from their late summer eclipse with new feathers, and a new purpose. Many are stocking up on food for a long migration. Swallows swoop low over our meadow, collecting the last few insects before making their way over thousands of miles, some for the first time in their lives. Fat pheasant and partridge are seen in increasing flocks. And there are arrivals too: at the seaside, the waders arrive from the artctic, in the woods, we see the first fieldfares of the season, and the finches arrive to eat thistle seeds in large numbers. Little rodents make their nests and hibernate: indeed, a little field vole made a lovely nest from chewed cardboard inside the radiator grille of our tractor!
Then there is the harvest: as a child I absolutely loved “nature study” as it was then called. Every week we had to find something to take into school to draw, and study. Autumn was the very best time of year because there was so much to see: acorns, conkers, sweet chestnuts, beech mast, sycamore seeds, ripe crab apples, rosehips and hawthorn berries, blackberries, the fruit of alder, and a never-ending supply of colourful leaves, as well as the wonderful toadstools that grew in the woods. Growing up in London, there was little evidence of the agricultural harvest, but that natural harvest was all around. Now, there is the agricultural harvest to add excitement with tractors, combines, cultivators, balers and other pieces of machinery transforming the countryside in a matter of hours. It is a very exciting time. Christmas, Easter…all very nice, but Harvest Festival was always my favourite time of year, even though we didn’t get any presents.
Finally, there are the hints of renewal. Autumn is not about death, it is a celebration of life, and an abundant life that can find time and energy to make beautiful colours, create delicious fruit for humans and other animals to eat, and best of all, renew itself fresh the following year. In Autumn we see the beautiful black ash buds forming, and hazel catkins are already forming, as well as the wonderful sticky buds on horse chestnut trees.
It seems to me that Autumn is saying “this has been a great year, but just look what I’m going to do next year!” To me, Autumn is a time of great bounty, great beauty and great hope. That is probably why I love it so much.