Today it isn’t misty. The hills beyond my back garden are clearly visible through the trees and the apples still left on the branches are a rich red against the green, with crescents of shadow where the sun catches the leaves. Birds are cheeping and chirring (don’t ask me which ones) and the sky is an almost clear blue, only faintly veiled lower down. There’s plenty of mellow fruitfulness. Apart from the apples there are raspberries – aptly named Autumn Bliss – and in what’s become the vegetable jungle I’ve got courgettes, squashes, runner beans, salsify and even a few embryonic cucumbers. I didn’t realise ridge cucumbers were so spiny in their natural state (prickled before they’re pickled); you have to shave them before you can eat them. And I’ve had lovely mottled borlotti beans, like eggs in a pod, and a few wild strawberries too.
The Jewish New Year has come and gone, and so has Yom Kippur. I don’t celebrate the festivals formally but I’m usually aware of them. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is among other things a time for reviewing the past year, making amends and beginning the new year with a clean slate. An autumn New Year coincides with the equinox, more or less, and of course with the start of the academic year, a time that for many of us still carries the hope (or dread) of new beginnings. For me there’s a wonderful freshness about the sharp autumn sunshine, the chill in the air that starts and ends the day, the shades of green that are not quite on the turn into softer yellows and browns. A freshness and a sense of transience: the days are getting shorter, plants in the garden are coming to the end of their flowering (though some of my poppies are having a late resurgence) the moon hangs low and heavy in the sky.
I’ve always found autumn particularly poignant, poised as it is between new hope and mourning for what has gone. Here is an autumn poem I wrote a long time ago, that perhaps expresses that moment on the cusp between the two. It’s one of those ones that I’m not sure would be publishable, so I’m happy to share it here.
Sharp autumn light exposes
the clear shapes of trees. Last rags of leaves
soften the edges of an epiphany.
In this light I am stripped bare.
Sharper than spring, it awakens
longing for newness in a time of death.
At winter’s approach I am made new
old ambitions ready to shoot again
before they blow away like leaves.
Autumn returning, I find myself
once more within the heart. The clarity
of the late glow calls me home
reveals the shape inside the bones
The season gone, now winter leaves me
lost in my new woollen gloves.
This year I’m particularly conscious of autumn as a time of change. A lot in my life seems to have shifted over the last year, some things subtly, some less so. I haven’t been writing so much lately but am still editing and sending out: it feels as though I need a time of consolidation before the next step forward. I’ll shortly be going on a two-week retreat – not very long, but long enough to mark a break between what has gone before and whatever comes next in my life. Time to reflect and let go and be with the exquisiteness of autumn with a mind that’s cleared of some of the debris, embracing the beauty and impermanence of everything with a heart that’s more open than it was, more aware of the bedrock of love and the inevitability of grief. Big words, sounding bigger perhaps because I’d rather not be too specific. Some spaces need to be protected, like the nuns’ graveyard in the grounds of the retreat centre which is accessible only to their families, but is still enfolded in the love that permeates the place.
And what of writing? While I’m on retreat I’ll write a little in my journal and see if the odd poem comes. After that there’s the novel I still want to finish and the poetry manuscript to start putting together. And who knows what else? I’ve yet to see what fruit this autumn will bring.