Autumn is late this year by about two weeks, apart from in coastal Suffolk (my homeland) where autumn has been early.
It looks like she just refuses to perform to schedule. Summer and winter and springtime and harvest are indeed manifold witness to mercy and love, but will we still be singing ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ when the schedule is not what we expect?
We celebrated Autumn day here on Friday, a relatively new family tradition where we take the time to enjoy an autumnal meal and indulge in some crafts to suit the season. We had guests, made lanterns, mulled cider, roasted vegetables and lit a fire in the garden. I like to think I’m making memories for them and reinforcing a little family identity amongst the business of our changing lives. Lucy moved on to high school in September and we re-decorated her bedroom. Edward started his GCSE work, he played Minecraft and developed a hair style that adds several inches to his height, making him nearly as tall as his dad. Jonathan started college and it does him good, from what I can see it’s all Marxist social theory and ancient Greek architecture. Peter is now in his final year at uni. He loves Liverpool and has a passion for building church there that makes us proud. Andy lost his job, started a company and spent a little more time doing household chores than is usual. We have had more time together and it has been good. Mostly it’s people who make the difference. We hung out with friends as we get to know them better and we said goodbye to other friends which was sad. We watched with interest the great shifting patterns we call family, work, home and church unfold before us, asked our questions and shared our thoughts on pasts unexplained and futures yet to be.
It isn’t unusual to see autumn as a gloomy time of year as we bid farewell to the long days of summer’s pleasures and plenty and we prepare ourselves for the trial of winter. Yet autumn has a splendour all of its own. Gloriously each shed leaf tells us that a tree knows how to protect itself against the cold dark months ahead. The days get shorter and the leaf, robbed of light, can not stay green. At the base of the leaf, cells laid down in spring have accommodated the flow of water and food but now swell to block that flow. The chlorophyl, that makes the leaf green, disappears and the character of the leaf is changed. Within the boundaries of its original shape the leaf takes on fine hues of fiery red and purple, yellow and orange. Glucose trapped in the cells of the leaf are helping the tree cling to life for a little longer, helping the tree lay down the stores of energy it will need, deep in its roots, to last out the winter. A tear line appears between the leaf and the tree, until the leaf is finally blown off in the wind or simply falls under the force of its own weight. Some leaves will even cling there until spring, when the growth of a new bud coming through will finally push the old leaf to the ground.
I have been loving autumn. The relatively mild weather and bright sunny days have pulled a little extra colour into the leaves of the ash, beech, field maple, horse chestnut, oak, rowan, silver birch and sycamore before they finally fall. And I continually resist the urge to draw parallels between seasons of my life and the changing seasons of the year. As if grief and loss, trials and disappointments could be reduced to a simple comparison with a tree that sheds its leaves. But I will observe as the naturalist observes, the changing seasons of life in all their detail, the predictable and the unpredictable. And I will name them where I can, that, like the sons of Issachar long ago, I too may know the best things to do in every season of life. For we can not escape the seasons any more than we can escape the turning world, for all thing change and move on and we must too.
In the cold and the dark of winter, a tree never forgets what it is like to be clothed entirely in green, leaves upturned like basins to capture the sun.