Autumn used to be my favourite time of year; now that I feel the cold that season has to be summer, though autumn still has many attractions. In the phrase of the Ode to Autumn by the poet Keats it is the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. It is the time of the most famous Beer Festival of all; not the Norwich Beer Festival but the Oktoberfest in Munich. I have never been to the German one, but I have been to our local version. In the past malting barley was getting a little scarce by harvest time, and the new crop gave plenty of grain for the brewers.
All round England churches are decorated with sheaves of corn for Harvest Festival. The crops of barley and wheat may have been harvested a few weeks earlier than in days of yore, but plenty of other crops remain to be gathered in. Apples are picked and stored for the winter and are pressed for cider making. Cob nuts and chestnuts need picking and beetroot have to be lifted.
We gently descend into the end of the year and then with a bang the clocks go back. The evenings are suddenly plunged into gloom. The snug delight of an extra hour in bed is soon over, but the dark and cheerless evenings remain. We must seek out ways to improve our mood, and what could be better than to toast our toes round the fire? Pity the poor benighted soul without a real fire; but I was one of their number until recently, when we got our woodburner.
The dark evenings reveal the Orionid meteor shower; later the evenings are illuminated by pumpkins and turnip lanterns as the young turn out for Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes. Bonfires and fireworks light up the night sky as there are hints of frost in the air. Sloes are picked now the frosts have nipped the fruit, for making sloe gin. The Brussels sprouts are still to come, also awaiting the first frosts to bring out their flavour.
With every morning you awake to new colours as the trees begin to turn. All too soon the trees will be bare and winter will be upon us. In the increasingly sombre mood of the Fall we have the bugle calls of Remembrance Sunday. There is nothing to do but put another log on the fire and dream of Christmas.
The bird life has changed; the summer visitors, the cuckoos and swallows have long gone back to Africa and the winter visitors begin to arrive from the north. Canada geese sweep in in great skeins. The robin is no visitor but as the winter approaches his breast becomes a more startling shade of red. The blackbirds a thrushes scurry about on the ground, desperately trying to find enough food to keep them warm.
The insects have crawled away into their crevices and the hedgehog has stopped snuffling round the garden after bugs. Instead he has found a warm nest to hibernate in; what a sensible way to spend the winter! Dormice are most notable creatures to spend the coldest months of the year in this way, but I have never seen a dormouse. The wild ponies of the moors must make the best of outdoor life but domesticated horses are brought into their stables, or at very least are provided with New Zealand rugs to keep out the cold and wet.
Some dislike autumn because it presages winter, but to me it is the fulfillment of the year.