Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (Nov. 2008)


It is autumn which is my favourite time of the year. October is my favourite month but November is not far behind.
 

Summer (I don’t like the heat) is over and Christmas is coming. Meanwhile it is
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and lovable for its own sake.
 
I have a tub of blackberries frozen that we picked from the bushes that grow alongside the footpaths but not so many as previous years. With the wet summer they ripened later and due to family illness we didn’t get out to pick them until the week they were past their best. But my neighbour’s apple tree did well and he was very generous to me with his produce. If we have less blackberry and apple pies and more apple and cinnamon, apple and clove and apple and sultana pies next year we are still very lucky.
 
The squirrels in the forest and the churchyard are very lively and seem quite plump. I know some people call them tree-rats, vermin with good PR, and accuse them of killing our native red squirrel but if Beatrix Potter was happy to write about Timmy and Goody Tiptoes as well as Squirrel Nutkin that is good enough for me. They never really hibernate in England; they just sleep for a week or so at a time then pop out for a quick reccie on mild days before another short kip. But they still need to collect and store nuts, or in our churchyard acorns, of which we have plenty. Red squirrels can’t digest acorns well apparently so are dependent on a habitat with plenty of other nuts, like hazel. There is a school of thought that believes that red squirrels were in decline in some areas years before grey squirrels arrived there and that loss of habitat is more of a factor. 
 
I love the smell of autumn. There is a tinge of bonfire to it but mainly it is leaves and wet earth and crisp air mingled. The leaves fall down around you like so much copper confetti. Then I shuffle through the piles on the path kicking them up into the air.
 
Picture by E Weatherwax October 2008 Somewhere in England.


I love that line in the 60s hit by Noel Harrison, “And the autumn leaves are turning to the colour of her hair” in Windmills of Your Mind. Does anybody other than me remember him in The Girl from Uncle? And the Kinks sang Autumn Almanac.
 
I like shiny conkers and conker fights. Mushrooms and fungi springing up literally overnight.
 
The trees may be losing their leaves and the summer flowers appear to be dieing back but now is the time to plant bulbs for the spring. I am trying hyacinths in bowls again this year to give as Christmas presents. I bought the bulbs at the Ely District Horticultural Society sale at the end of August, along with several bags of daffodils. I have put them round the trunk of a deceased cherry tree in my garden, in tubs and on my parent’s grave. Then tulips in the front garden, which I have not planted for years but for some reason I am optimistic of a good show next spring. The bluebells are well naturalised and I have given up on snowdrops. Good slug food. Since my unexpected retirement I have had time for gardening – that and the work of a colleague who has turned professional gardener as a second career.
 
My chrysanthemums are starting to flower and their smell, both leaves and flowers, is evocative of everything I have already written. They were a recent gift from another neighbour who had a surplus and I can see that they will be the bronze colour I particularly like. You can buy cut chrysanthemums all year round but this shade of bronze is only available in genuine autumn. I will buy cut white or yellow chrysanthemums in summer if that is the best available in the shop but they don’t smell quite the same.

Soon I must take my geranium pots into safety from early morning frost.
 
The RSPB reserve reports that the summer birds are on their way south. Others are on their way here from the Arctic of Siberia for the winter. I remember standing on the Norfolk coast one October and watching great flocks wheeling overhead one after the other all heading south but unable to recognise anything other than that some were geese, probably Brent geese, heading for the river estuaries of Essex. The Canada goose is breeding and thriving in England to the point of being a nuisance (cf grey squirrel above) but the smaller Brent geese are autumn visitors.
 
Then there are the festivals that take place in the autumn. Harvest festival (that’s late summer really), Sukkot, Diwali, Halloween and Bonfire night. Remembrance Sunday on the nearest Sunday to 11th November after which I will allow preparations for Christmas to begin in earnest. The Chinese have a moon festival around the time of the autumn equinox but I have no experience of how it is celebrated other than the eating of mooncakes. Trust me to know about cake.
I expect preparations for Diwali and Sukkot are tinged with the sights, sounds and smells of autumn in India and elsewhere. Harvest festival in Australia and New Zealand will be in March or possibly April. And their Christmas preparations shortly will have a summer air, of heat and the barbie on the beach.
 
But what of Ramadan and Eid which took place earlier this month? On the lunar calendar which rolls round the solar year in a 33 year cycle the scent of leaves and moss, or daffodils, or frost, or the changes of the season doesn’t herald the festival for the season for Islam, local traditions like Persian New Year and Spring in Egypt notwithstanding. Presumably the changes of the season have only their own personal significance to a Muslim, and Ramadan and the Eids have their own flavour separate to the weather or season.
 
“For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time” Ecclesiastes 3:1.

The Byrds' folk song, "Turn, Turn, Turn" is a little hackneyed but the words are true. I like the seasons and I like the cycle of the year. 
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