Tag Archives: autumn

Light through beech leaves

In the spring, beach leaves are a pale and delicate green, the sun passes through them easily and there’s something enchanting about a beech wood in direct sunlight. As the year advances, the beech leaves darken to a deep green that doesn’t let very much light through.

However, come the autumn, trees pull what they can back out of leaves, and the dark green fades to a delicate yellow, and then leaves turn a coppery colour before they fall. The impact on light in a beech wood at this point is startling.

A lot of light comes through the pale yellow leaves, but, filtered in this way it comes through as much more golden. If there are also fallen beech leaves, you get the amazing effect of honey tinted light interacting with coppery tones on the woodland floor. It’s a subtle thing, something you could miss if you weren’t looking for it. If you stop and pay attention, it’s quite a remarkable sight.

Beauty is around us. Re-enchantment is an everyday option if you go looking for it.

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First frost

Over the weekend, some places in the UK had snow – including places near me. The tops of the Cotswolds often get rougher weather than the valleys. Much depends on the shape of your location in relation to the direction of the wind. Being tucked away in a sheltered spot, I didn’t get snow.

The wind was like a knife yesterday, and although it had dropped by the evening, I had a suspicion the night would be a cold one. I don’t always get this right. Sometimes we wake to the first frost shivering and surprised. I’ve tried to cultivate a ‘Druid weather sense’ but I’m still nothing like as accurate as I want to be.

Aside from signifying a drop in overnight temperature, the first frost has implications for walking. As I walk for transport, this is something to take seriously.  From here on, the surfaces outside will be unpredictable – especially first thing in the morning and at night. A heavy frost makes the paths slippery, especially if there were a lot of wet leaves to start with.

I have mixed feelings about frost – it is pretty. However, I don’t enjoy the cold, or the slippery conditions.

What I’ve described here is a good illustration, I think, of why we have to focus on our own experiences of the seasons. Whether you had a dash of snow at the weekend or not is very area specific. When your first frost was/is/will be is also very specific to the conditions where you live. How you respond to these things may depend a lot on how nature manifests in your body. If you are a warm, hardy and well resourced creature, winter can be fun. If you feel the cold, fall easily, hurt more in winter, then these conditions are hard. We can honour nature as it expresses itself across these relationships between place, time and self. There is no reason to assume anyone else will have the same experience.


Exposed to Autumn

As I usually point out when writing about the seasons, the journey through any given season is a process, not an event. Some things of course are events – the first frost is a good example. There is a process of the nights getting colder until heavy dews are replaced by frost, but there’s a definite difference between frost, and not-frost and you can mark it.

Changes in temperature aren’t a smooth process. We may have a few unusually cold or balmy days and then the season gets back to something more expected.

This week, I passed a significant marker for the season – the nights are now cold, and walking home after dark now requires more layers, hats, and so forth.

Walking for transport gives me an immediate relationship with what’s going on outside. I walk at different times in the day depending on what I’m doing, so there are some morning forays out, some daytime excursions and at least once a week I’ll come home after dark. For most of the year, I have to pay close attention to weather and temperature so as to be dressed for it – and not only dressed for when I leave, but for when I come back. A few hours can make a surprising difference.

In this way, I have a day to day body experience of the season. Our Pagan ancestors would have had this as well. You don’t have to go back very far for most people to be on foot or on horseback, or in a cart if they were going anywhere. Insulation from the elements was for the leisured few. Dealing with weather and temperature day to day was part of the normal life of most people in a way it isn’t now. If you can set the thermometer in your home to a fixed temperature, and if outside is only a few moments between temperature-regulated home, and temperature-regulated car, then your body isn’t involved with the seasons. I’ve never done it, so I have no idea what that experience does to a person.

 


Autumnal shifts

It’s been later getting cold this year than is usually the case. I still haven’t got any heating on at home, I sit here typing wearing a long sleeved shirt, and no jumper. No doubt this is climate change at work, but I admit to feeling gratitude alongside my unease. I struggle with being cold; my body hurts more and flexes less in cold weather.

I have poor circulation and can get chilblains, so autumn always means shifting away from being barefoot, and needing to wear gloves while outside. I have lightweight gloves for this time of year, and much heavier ones for if it gets really cold. My body informs my experience of the seasons in very direct ways. In the cold half of the year I have to resist what the season does to me.  Nature as manifest in my body and nature as manifest in the season are never going to be in harmony.

Of course this isn’t just an issue for me. Some birds migrate to deal with shifting seasons. Hedgehogs and bears hibernate rather than deal with the winter. Trees drop their leaves in self defence. Some parts of nature are falling into sleepy time, other parts are gearing up for a long fight to survive. There’s no one right way to experience this, and no single narrative about how it all works.

In this as in all things, I think you have to start with nature as it manifests in your own body. If you try to work with a wheel of the year narrative that doesn’t reflect how you feel and experience things, you’re always going to feel out of kilter with the seasons. You also run the risk of turning ‘nature’ into some abstract story, something to think about in rituals rather than something to live. How we live day to day defines how we experience everything. It is your body, in your landscape, at the moment you find yourself in that underpins everything else.


How winter impacts on autumn

For most of my life, my experience of autumn has been coloured by what winter has meant for me. It’s been difficult to enjoy the many lovely things autumn offers, because of the threat of winter. Being cold radically increases my pain levels. I get chilblains. Everything domestic is that bit harder. Winters when there wasn’t enough money to be really warm, have been horrible. I can end up a lot more isolated in winter, and I hate walking on frosty and icy surfaces.

I’ve blogged in the past about how being able to enjoy the winter is a marker of privilege. It’s impossible to enjoy the lead-up to winter when winter itself is a grim prospect.

This year I find myself in a different sort of position. Despite the upheavals of summer, I’m on a really good footing financially. I’ve got the right technology in place to deal with some of winter’s practical issues. In my case that means a de-humidifier, and a really good spin drier. I’ve got good boots and a decent winter coat. I’m thinking about upgrading to an even more waterproof coat for walking in, if I can. Maybe a new pair of waterproof trousers as well. I feel very, very fortunate in all of this. I am aware that for many people, this winter will be as much of a nightmare as any of the winters before it, and for others, struggling in winter is a new problem which they don’t yet have the skills to deal with.

I’m going to make a point of writing about small seasonal shifts this year. Partly I’m doing this because I’m changing my relationship with the dark half of the year. Partly because it’s a good theme to write on. I feel that no longer struggling quite so much, I might be more comfortable talking about what’s hard in the darker months. Often it’s easier to write about something when I’m not living in it.


Autumn leaves

The horse chestnut near my flat decided to get autumnal some weeks ago. Partly because of the drought I expect, and also partly because it has some sort of tree disease and tends to shed its leaves early. Said horse chestnut has nearly bare branches already and what leaves remain are the kind of brown most other trees won’t develop for more than a month.

Around it, most of the other trees are still green. At this time of year, the green of leaves is dark and tired looking compared to the fresh, bright tones of spring. A few of the trees are also yellowing – ash and elder specifically. These are usually some of the first trees to turn at this time of year. At least here. I have no idea how exactly autumn plays out anywhere else.

I think it’s really important to observe the seasons as they occur for you, not as they are supposed to occur. Far too many pagan books tell us what the eight festivals mean in terms of nature, and are mostly wrong – because of regional variation, shifts from year to year and so forth. No one can tell you how the wheel of the year will turn for you.

It’s also good to think about key seasonal markers and what those are for you, and how they manifest around you. What kind of trees grow where you live will very much affect your experience of the season. If you mostly live with evergreens, you won’t have colourful leaves. Here it’s predominantly beech, so those tend to turn a little later than ash and chestnut, and produce intense and coppery colours. For me, full on autumn is a beech wood, but for my husband who came from Maine, autumn means maples and birch, which we don’t have in the same way. We get the odd birch, but not enough to define the season.


Early signs of autumn

By nine am yesterday, it felt like summer, and anyone not outside much before then will have emerged into another lovely, late summer day. Warm, but not too warm, with a beautiful sky.

At first light, it’s cold now. Walking in the morning I was glad of my gloves. The morning shifted from autumn back to summer, and I peeled off layers. Although I work from home much of the time, being a parent had me up and out for many years and I got to experience this change more directly. I realised yesterday that because I’ve been tending to walk later in the day, I’ve been missing this seasonal shift for some years.

One of my problems with focusing on eight rituals as the wheel of the year is that it encourages us to think about the seasons as events. What happens is a process, one day to the next. Within that process there are key moments – when the leaves start to turn, and when they fall. The first frosts. The cold mornings, seeing your breath, needing a coat to go outside. And of course these, and many other markers vary from place to place and year to year. There is no one generic model for the coming of autumn, each one is unique and each one of us will experience it individually.

A life lived mostly indoors, in cars, and with little attention can miss the small day to day shifts of one season into another, and may only notice seasons when they hit their peaks. I know this because there was a time in my teens when I wasn’t connected to the seasons and was largely oblivious to the natural world. I had to learn how to show up and notice things. What I notice varies from year to year depending on what I’m doing and when I go out. I have no doubt that it is better to notice, and to feel engaged in the day to day shifts.


Seasonal tree sniffing

One of the great joys of autumn for me, is smelling the trees. After the hot summer, it does feel a bit like autumn is coming early, and it definitely smells like it, with wild fruit ripening sooner, and all that follows from there.

Falling leaves and leaves that start to decay produce some wonderful, earthy smells. There are dry, crisp leaf smells, too. This is best experienced where you have a lot of leaves and not too many invasive smells from other sources – in built up areas, we can lose the tree smells all too easily. For autumnal tree sniffing, you really do need to be in a wood, for best effect, and as far from traffic as you can manage.

It is important to me to explore the dying away and decay inherent in nature as well as the growth and new life aspects of cycles. There is beauty in decay, as autumn leaves reliably illustrate. There is a magic in returning to the soil, and regeneration.

The smell that I most delight in, is the smell of rotting and fermenting fruit. In a domestic context, fruit rotting or accidentally fermenting is generally bad news, so it’s not a smell everyone will automatically find attractive. Out in the wild, that process is just part of what happens. It also softens fallen fruit in a way that makes it easier for some other things to eat. So does frost. If fallen fruit is allowed to just lie there, it will feed birds through the winter. I’ve seen massive flocks of fieldfares come to apple trees for the fruit left on the ground. Not tidying these things up brings enormous benefits.

Sometimes, the smell of fallen fruit in autumn is the only clue you get to the presence of an otherwise hidden wild fruit tree. If you like to forage, it can be a good indicator that will lead you to a fruit tree. Smells can travel, and if you can follow your nose, you will know where the fruit is for next year.

For me, fallen fruit smells heady and a bit intoxicating. It is an intense smell, not always an uncomplicated joy to inhale, but very real and immediate and natural, and I enjoy it in much the same way that I enjoy the heady excess of an over-ripe blackberry. Too-much is something nature does, sometimes; it isn’t all moderation and balance. Sometimes the apparent balance of nature is created by different kinds of excess. This is something I look for and actively appreciate.

For woodland foraging advice in the UK, go here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/things-to-do/foraging/


Leaves Falling

The wind is gentle here, the shape of the hill shielding us from the worst storms. As the wind comes through the valley it swirls and dances, forming tiny whirlwinds that scuttle over the grass. Leaves fall like painted snowflakes, gold from the heavens. A sky full of colour and movement, too lovely to seem properly real.

Slow to tumble, the leaves fall like feathers, turning and twirling towards a soft impact. As though a giant golden bird has flown by and released them. As though the sky is full of leaf tree birds shedding their feathers. As though a tree is a wing paused in motion, only revealing the feather nature of its leaves now autumn is here.

Amongst the fallen leaves, small birds and rodents practice their jumps and halting moves, sharp shifts as though they too are leaves blown by the wind. Feathers pretending to be leaves pretending to be feathers.


Perfect Autumn

Thus far this September has gifted me with a few days that are, to my mind, perfect autumn. We’ve had out share and then some of rain, and grey, overcast days, and we’ve not yet had the mists or the frosts, but I expect those will be along later.

September at its best means waistcoats, jackets or jumpers but not having to bundle up in heavy coats just yet. It means scarves for fun, not a shivering necessity. As most of my clothes preferences tend towards layers, this is the kind of weather my clothes best suit and I most enjoy wearing things I like.

It’s perfect walking weather – a dry and bright day, but not so hot as to make moving arduous, and with no risk of heat stroke. These are good laundry days too, and as someone who depends a lot on wind power for drying, I really appreciate that.

I also really enjoy the way it gets dark earlier but isn’t too cold to be out at night doing something – either moving about, or with a little extra cover. I had a fantastic evening in a tent, for example. It won’t be long before that kind of evening is impossible without a fire.

Every season offers things to enjoy, and every season has its own challenges. I think the trick is to make the best of the good stuff without feeling like you ahve to pretend the difficult things don’t exist.