Playtime: enjoying the season

I’m taking a week to enjoy autumn – now it’s finally beginning to arrive.

It’s just dawned on me that school holidays offer that possibility.  There’s the summer break – that’s obvious.  But then there’s October half term (autumn); Christmas and February half term (two opportunities to experience two faces of winter!) and then Easter and spring.

It’s so easy to barrel through life, head down and not looking to right and left.  I’m going to take a week to look up, and to left and right, to play in the leaves and let the wind tangle my hair.  See you in November.

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Unexpected October blessings

So far this October is not only proving that life is seasonal, but that you don’t always get the season you expected either.

We expected crisp, cool mornings and maybe even a touch of frost in the early hours.  We’re getting warm, humid ones in which you can still go outside in pyjamas and bare feet at 7am to feed the rabbit.

October generally involves cosy boots and woolly jumpers.  This year I’m still slapping around in flipflops and leaving the cardi at home.

Ah, the autumn colours: red, gold and russet leaves spiralling down in the slanting sunshine.  Not yet; not this year.  Many trees are still as green as June and the rest are only just beginning to fade and curl.  At least there are conkers – we’re thankful for that.  The boy produced an enormous quantity from the pocket of his school shorts (shorts!) the other day after complaining that the weight was pulling his shorts down.  I wasn’t surprised; there must have been twenty of them in there.

October means pumpkins swelling like friendly monsters in the vegetable patch.  But my pumpkin plants came to nothing this season and I’m still wandering into the garden at lunchtime to gather handfuls of tomatoes, courgettes and green beans.

Previous years have seen me happily cramming the cupboards with chutneys, pickles and jams.  This October is busy with work and study, so there are rather more Chinese takeaways and fish and chip suppers than usual, and not a kilner jar in sight.  (Except for the one that holds the popcorn!)

I love the seasons, whatever they bring – it’s the change that’s so invigorating.  So, in seasonal changes as in all things, let’s expect (and embrace) the unexpected.

[I wrote this a couple of days ago.  Since then the expected season has arrived suddenly, with sinking temperatures, angry red sunrises, wind and rain.  Which just goes to show, seasons change and we should enjoy every moment before it turns into something else!]

Love where you live

I love Yorkshire.  That’s a given.  It’s my spiritual home as well as my former home, and its rugged scenery is beautiful.  But now I’ve decided to love Suffolk too.  Why?

Because:

1. I live here! How wonderful to wake up every morning and appreciate the place where you are.

2. The wide, wild skies of East Anglia are spoken of so often they’re almost a cliche.  But cliches become so for a reason, and it’s only recently that I’ve woken up to the beauty of the huge expanse above me, stretching miles in every direction.  You can’t possibly feel hemmed in here – there’s nothing to hem you in for miles. There’s freedom – mental and physical – in that.

3. It’s a gentle, rolling county.  Not as flat as some would have you believe (that’s the Norfolk/Lincolnshire/Cambridgeshire Fens – which have a wildness all of their own), but soothing, comforting and welcoming.  And green.

4. It’s great cycling country – and doesn’t have the aggressive hills of some parts of God’s Own County.  (That’s Yorkshire, for the uninitiated.)

5. We still have some hedgerows left, and they are amazing in the autumn, especially this year.  Everywhere I look there are hips and haws, sloes and blackberries.  I hunt in vain for hazelnuts, but I’m sure they’re there somewhere.

6. Suffolk is generally warmer and drier than the rest of the country.  I can grow tomatoes outside and regularly carry my laptop into the garden and call it work.

7. My boy was born here and has lived here all his life. It’s our home – where we live and work.

Creating a life

I think I must be a mushroom.  Autumn gives me a new burst of energy and enthusiasm, like the funghi popping up in the woods.  Maybe it’s the cooler temperature or the glorious golden sunshine, or even the industrious example of the spiders busily spinning the webs that festoon the garden.  (And my hair, every time I poke my head into the greenhouse, which the spiders seem to have adopted and fortified as their own.)

Actually, maybe I’m not a mushroom.  Maybe I’m a spider, creating a life one strand at a time.

A web begins as a single strand and looks like a thin, wispy, inconsequential nothing.  But slowly, an inch or two at a time, the strands come together to make a beautiful, sparkling whole.

In the middle of the process a new web looks wrong.  Lopsided.  Incomplete.  There’s no pattern, no order.  But I don’t suppose the spider stops to question itself: “Am I doing this right?”  “Shouldn’t it look more like Cecil’s web over there?”  “What on earth will the other spiders think?”  The spider just does the work.

Autumn is a great time for new beginnings.  New season, new school year.  Whether the return to school affects you or not, I think the ‘newness’ of September is buried in all our psyches).  We even begin to wear different clothes.

But, like that first day when you squeeze your summer-liberated feet into shoes, or even boots, new beginnings aren’t always comfortable!  There’s always something to learn, and we’re used to knowing how things work without having to learn, or create, a new system.  There are new experiences, and they can make us feel nervous and uncomfortable.  The next step isn’t obvious, and isn’t familiar, and may feel hard to do.

Growing and creating something new often feels like a mess and a muddle in the middle, but if we can resist tidying everything up and going back to the old regime, eventually we will find glittering strands of silk among the rubble, polish them up, and weave them together to create our new way of being.  Like the spider, we need to just do the work, as Stephen Pressfield would have it, and get comfortable in the creative muddle.

The beauty of change

I wish I could show you the beauty of this autumn garden.  A photo – especially one taken by me – just couldn’t begin to capture it.  Early this morning it was a dewy, misty corner shrouded in dripping cobwebs.  It was chilly and damp.

Now, as I hang the washing on the line, there is a golden haze all around and the glowing sun on my back is positively hot.  It highlights the glossy green of the chard and spinach in the vegetable patch, shines through the wings of the cabbage white butterflies marauding around the broccoli plants, and shows off the dusky grey-green of the leeks, making the chore of laundry management a positive pleasure.  It lures me into bringing the laptop outside to enjoy a late garden office day.  The sun is lower in the sky than it was a few weeks ago and I position myself carefully to avoid it getting in my eyes.

Change can be beautiful.  In ten minutes, one after the other, I experience intense heat, cool dampness as fat white clouds cover the sun, a sudden inexplicable breeze and a grey buildup in the eastern sky which threatens rain – followed by glorious sunshine once more.  In the vibrant radiance of this changing season I don’t miss for a second the sameness of summer, even as I chase my papers, which are skipping around the garden on the breeze for the second time.