I’m out here again, as much because I need to be as because I want to be. In spring, during the first lockdown, our garden became very important to me and my family. In long hours out here, and only here, we got to know it more intimately than before. Noticed more. Felt the changes more acutely in its trees, leaves, its other residents – hedgehogs, bees, red kites passing overhead – as spring thickened into summer.
Now, at the opposite end of the year, those things are thinning. Before, I tried to stand in one place, to deepen my observance of a suddenly smaller world.
Now it’s autumn and, again restricted, I try to do the same, differently. I close my eyes, engage my other senses, and let them wander around the landscape surrounding my home.
From a sensory point of view, autumn is my favourite time of year. There are the sights, of course: the way the sun rims the edge of everything, all day. Colours richer, or the light on them, or both. Morning mists; evening glow. But tune these out and you find other things easily eclipsed by those vivid sights.
Sounds build a collage of the season. The hard concussion of a neighbour chopping logs.
The rattle of leaves dry and curled in the canopy of the sycamore, and the creak of the horse chestnut’s naked branches, both enlivened by a wind that seems to come from a colder place than the air. This comes and goes, making the landscape breathe with an ebbing, collective hiss.
I lie on the ground, palms to the grass, and feel with fingertips the damp soil – soil that won’t be dry now until spring. I smell the acrid dew-damp leaves on the ground, that subtle odour of slow decay. And on the wind, woodsmoke from other houses; for however long, still the signature of winter.
I look, too. It’s necessary in the windy season, if only to check the trees for damage. I find a little: a branch blown from a silver birch lies prone on rusty leaves, the shape of a tuning fork.
Like spring, autumn is one of those directional changes. Here, the seasons meet a junction and the year takes the colder, darker, sketchier road.