Autumn has a sadness to it as days grow short and cold and vegetation dies all around us. Yet it has its own energy and pace; the dying plants are reproducing, new life lying in wait for the spring. Fruits and seeds feed us, feed other animals; more life arising out of death.
I have felt a childlike, secretive excitement this year, anticipating the colours and change of autumn, the season Lincolnshire has yet to show me. And as the days shorten, I feel the world racing towards the solstice, into that darkness from which we emerge into the light once more.
‘Mellow fruitfulness,’ said Keats in his Ode to Autumn. Yes, my autumns are full of fruit. But mellow? My autumns are a busy time, when I dream of jars and preserving pans.
Our new garden has just one apple tree, but the hedgerows are dripping with blackberries, elderberries, rowanberries, rosehips. And house after house has a table outside selling excess apples or plums for next to nothing.
Last autumn, sweating over chutneys in our Manchester kitchen, waiting for the house to sell, allotment produce heaped around me, I imagined this next one would be slower, quieter, with a pace like Keat’s lovely poem.
I hadn’t reckoned with the bounty of the English countryside. Once again I have been sweating, chopping, stirring: stuffing summer into bottles while partner makes wine out of everything.
Now we only have to eat it all up.
breathing ice for air,
stalks bleached bone white,
earth hard as iron.
below, seeds dream of life,
until light’s return.
doorway of the year, two-faced,
where past meets future,
death meets birth
and like a mother,
out of darkness light returns.
I won’t be making a habit of putting poems on here, as I write very few, but decided to take the risk of putting up this one which came back to my mind when thinking about winter, the dead time of the year, the turn of the year and so on.
The words first came into my head while walking on Chorlton meadows in the early days of January 2010. It was the first of those very cold winters and we had temperatures of minus 18 in Manchester. The ground was hard as iron and all colour bleached from the landscape – beautiful, but bleak indeed for birds and animals looking for food and shelter.
I remember we were going down to our allotment twice each day because the water for the chickens kept freezing over. Each morning it was hard work opening the big metal gates at the site and trying to unlock frozen padlocks; and I used to think how crazy we were to be keeping chickens as a hobby at an allotment, pretending to be smallholders. And then I used to think how much I would like to live in the country so I could have the chickens in the back garden.
At the same time it was magical to be there early in the morning in all that cold and quiet; seeing if anyone else had been down and left footprints on the snowy paths; finding a spider’s web strung on the allotment gates, jewelled with ice.
And I was thinking of my mother when I wrote the poem as her birthday is in January.
Tis the year’s midnight and it is the day’s (John Donne)**
I love this moment in the year; when we journey into the darkness of the longest night and wake to the promise of returning light and new life. The world ends and is reborn.
I love the deadness of the winter garden, its life hidden from us, mysteries waiting to unfold.
It seems a powerful time to be starting a new life in a new home. And amazingly, at last, today the rain has stopped. None too soon for some houses I saw today, with the river Slea running just inches from their doorsteps.
Another mystery – the charger for my iPad has disappeared somewhere in the packing. Will we find another in our nearest town, Sleaford? We’ll make our first foray there the afternoon. If no more posts for a few days, you’ll know our charger mission was unsuccessful.
** from A Nocturnal upon St Lucy’s Day. St Lucy’s Day is the 13th of December, which was once thought to be the shortest day, rather than today, the 21st.