The change has already begun.
You first see it in the fading evening light, a little earlier each week. The palette begins to shift – subtly at first, then more quickly. The sunlight itself, low in the sky, darkens.
Colours reach saturation, losing the simple brightness of the warmer months. Nature deepens, in keeping with the seriousness of the matter ahead: the transition between the seasons of light and darkness.
The leaves begin to turn; always one tree, weeks ahead of the others. Greens become yellows, and reds, and browns. Then one by one they begin to fall.
The air sharpens. Still warm enough, but no longer balmy and soporific. Breezes change allegiance. In the human world, paces once again begin to quicken, and our clothes follow the foliage. Light colours fade away, and out come the vivid and the dark: red, burgundy, navy blue, brown, and black. Materials thicken, layers multiply, and coats lengthen. Even as the woodland animals prepare for hibernation, our scarves and gloves are wakened from their own long slumber.
There’s a crispness about the world. Edges are razor-straight. We’re still far from Winter, but we faintly hear the first heralds of its approach. We feel a tilting-forwards, and know we’ve passed the lifecycle’s zenith; our destination now its silent, frozen nadir. The Sun is in retreat.
Autumn is nature’s other festival of welcome, as we once again enter the austere reign of the Moon.
We’re powerless to resist the change; we’re only animals ourselves, after all. Every cell feels the transition. As the world around us slows and becomes sombre, our thoughts naturally turn inwards. Seasons bring their own moods, and we’re inevitably held in their sway.
As the evenings darken – dinner barely finished before we close the curtains to hold in the light – we’re confronted by the idea of endings, and of renewal if we live on long enough. We remember that a clock is always ticking, everywhere, each moment of our lives. We once again confront the unsettling realisation that for a regrowth to come, there must first be a slowing, and a withering, and a dying-off.
We don’t have to look into the cycle’s most harsh and unforgiving face yet; that season of frost and silence is some way off. Sköll’s howl can’t yet be heard. But his day will come.
As we wash our scarves in readiness, and perhaps search for new boots and thicker socks to line them, my thoughts creep outwards in time; as much to the past as to the future. Summer is a season for the present, whereas the falling leaves bring contemplation of other days. How did I come to be this way? What might happen to me once the year turns?
The sky darkens and then is closed away behind the safety of our brightly-coloured barriers against the expanding night, so the vistas we contemplate must come from within. For me, these discordant, mortal seasons are a gateway. Spring is a call to waken, and Summer is a picture to see. Slow down, it says; stay a while. We have all the time in the world.
Autumn’s breeze blows away the consensual illusion of endless warm days, reminding us that somewhere, a count is still being kept. Hurry up, it says. Hurry and stay warm, while there’s still time. And Winter is our dark mirror, wherein we must yearly confront the truth of our own brevity.
We don’t have to be afraid, but we must be aware. We borrow those long days under the sunlight, and pay for them as leaves crunch underfoot – all brown now, and rimed with frost – our hands thrust deep in pockets, hurrying onwards to find sanctuary before the light goes.
It’s a healthy thing to know that our time is short.
One fewer Spring ahead, as the street lamps burn like embers, and the radiators begin to clank. A sense of urgency is a gift, for those who want to do, and to make, and to one day be remembered. A very fine gift, whose price is that very quickening – the unsettling realisation of time passing by – while we hurry from here to there. Still on the tree, for however short a time, awaiting our great flare of colour before we inevitably wither, and then fall.
If Winter is our memento mori, then Autumn is our reminder of change, and ephemerality, and that beyond the sunlight, the nights ahead are always drawing in.
These impending months are still just a season for me; a stage of the year, but not yet of my life. That time will come soon enough, I’m sure, but I don’t fear it. It’ll have its own beauty – of red and yellow and brown; above, and also scattered below – to compensate for the shortening road beyond.
For now, there’s still time, and hope, and optimism for what might yet be.
I live still, and my work is not yet finished.