Of all seasons autumn has most effect on me. I love spring and summer with the flowers and big warm days. Don’t like winter or its approach. The ninth month of the year is getting close and a time, for me, of dread.
Last winter was particularly hell-like and my lockdown escape consisted of drives to local walks as usual, then sitting in my car to read. Psychology, philosophy, and Chekov. I like being outside with a book. I spent a lot of time reading about an ancient philosophical system called the enneagram. It was popularised as if it were sun sign astrology, consisting of nine character types. There’s an inside teaching which is mostly unknown and includes, among other things, a description of two principles called ‘hazard’ and ‘shock’ described as factors of life. Hazard refers to the unpredictability of projects, growth, plans and desires. As with chess, we play the game but don’t know what will happen. Shock refers to impact which occurs from external factors. Both of these were and still are evident with the terrible Covid virus.
I missed the pleasures of the heat wave this year because I didn’t have a car. I walked and read outside but not so much and not further afield. August arrived more characteristically British with grey skies, lots of rain, cool temperatures. People started talking about autumn because that’s how it felt and orange leaves were apparent. But, I said to a friend, the trees are still green, they’re not fading yet, what we’re seeing is the result of rain. Reach the ground wet then they wither and die. I saw someone thinking about winter, I hope we get snow he said, another wondering about autumn clothes. It distresses me because I don’t want summer to stop and there should be, could be, many more weeks of it. August is traditionally hot. September can be glorious.
The seasons affect me more than most because of winter. Sunshine and warmth cheer me, dark night at four is like curtains, inside, drawn over for the year. It’s tolerable if the day is bright but in Britain it usually isn’t. Dark followed with dark and no respite. I’ve wondered about living in Scotland but not sure if I could. The temperature gets above sixty for about one week of the year, an Edinburgh resident told me, and I didn’t dare ask about sunshine. This is not clear as it used to be, now the weather is unsettled and extreme. On one of my trips Torridon was gloriously summery while Kent was sodden with rain. But it remains the general pattern. The idea of the north, beguiling as it is, in reality means cold and dark. Odin, Thor and Freja are wonderful characters but don’t party like Dionysus. It’s too cold.
Spring and autumn are seasons of transition and we see it in the weather. It’s often unsettled with wind, showers, sunshine one moment if you’re lucky then cloudy the next. The tilt of the earth means short sharp change. Light comes, light goes. Spring means summer is coming which is glorious. Autumn means winter is next which is not. People say we talk interminably about the weather. We do it for good reason. A day can be good or bad, a month idyllic or appalling. I’m quite extreme about it because that’s how I feel. My mood reflects the weather. It’s not a “disorder” to be seasonally affected. There should be a Greek god with weather related powers. Spring and summer he casts spells and laughs with joy when snowdrops appear. In winter he lives in a cave, tries the spells, but they don’t work. There’s a reserve of inner energy which counters light and dark and keeps us even. How much energy we have varies constitutionally.
We fantasise about the next season because of novelty. The tweed jacket we’ve missed, boots we like but it’s been too warm, snow climbs not grassy meanders: these are fun and I suppose this does make for an interesting country. Californian blue is surely tedious. The artist David Hockney said this – he missed the seasons and came back to Britain – and there is a wonderful pleasure finding sunlight, warmth, spring greenery again after dismal months. But I don’t like British gloom and would, if I could, live elsewhere. Southern France probably, with access to the Pyrenees and easy countryside for strolls. About the same population as Britain but thinly spread in a larger country. With French speakers, the best way of learning a language, and I could read The Elegance of the Hedgehog properly. They like philosophy in France. Dans le train en route a les Pyrenees I once saw a girl reading Georg Simmel. Presumably part of her school curriculum.
I’m marked with last winter. Weather, mood, darkness, lockdown, lost life, reading in a cold car not because it was pleasurable but because it allowed me some escape. For the same reason I watched Jean de Florette one night, Manon des Sources the next, six landscape hours, and wondered about Sicily scenes in The Godfather. I don’t want winter again. Not now, not yet: preceded by autumn.
Autumn is itself beautiful, and there’s a walk I particularly like in the Peak District. But it’s a time of loss as another year fades. Nature sighs, resigned, drops the leaves because you can’t hold on.
I write like this is a magazine column. With research, references, and a lot of time. If you like it, perhaps you would support me.