I bristle to think of autumn.
o many people love this season, the fiery colours and bulging berries, the cosy stoves and Halloween atmospherics. But, to me, autumn feels like an ending.
When I see the first leaves dancing to the ground, I see the shutters coming down on summer. I think about nights drawing in, the sea getting too cold for swimming, the fading-out of long days when it seems there is time for everything.
Instead of relaxing, of rolling with the seasons and embracing what’s around us, I can’t help but see autumn as a time of dimming and dying. When I read Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry Picking, I’m tickled by those images of sticky palms and “stains on the tongue”. But I linger on the fermenting fruit: “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.”
Winter is coming. In our pandemic, that’s an especially chilling thought.
I know, I know. Enough doom and gloom already. I agree! That’s why this year will be different. This year, I want to hope. I am looking for ways to see this season as a beginning rather than an end.
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” as Albert Camus wrote. Normally, my eyes roll at such Hallmark-happy sentiments. This year, I am taking a breath.
Literally. Recently, while filming an episode of Tracks & Trails in Co Wexford, I met Deirdre O’Flynn of amindfulwalker.com. We hiked a stretch near Forth Mountain together, and she reminded me that you don’t need fancy techniques to snap out of Covid’s perma-stress and tune into the world around you. All it takes (apart from getting your boots on) is a focus on your breathing, an awareness of your body moving through nature, and when distractions occur, gently noting them before tuning back into the moment.
“When you’re walking, just walk,” as she put it.
Autumn is ideal for this. The blazing colours, the fresh air and the brief beauty in this changing season make for a perfect personal circuit breaker.
And Ireland wears autumn so well. Think of the Glen of Aherlow, of National Parks like Killarney or Glenveagh, ablaze with leaves that are not just red, orange and yellow, but the colours of blood, marmalade, sunburst, wine and fire.
Even now, confined to our counties in lockdown, we all know or can find somewhere to bring the wellies, go leaf-kicking and redden cheeks and noses, whether it’s a half-hour impulse outing or a planned daytrip.
The leaves are dying, but they are giving us one last, beautiful boost. The daylight is fading, but a whole world of winter stargazing awaits.
2020 has exhausted us. My energy for optimism feels like it is running out. But I’m determined to see this autumn as a fresh start, to see falling leaves as a lesson in letting go.
Nothing lasts – be it a leaf or a life, a breath, a blackberry haul or a business – and though that can be heartbreaking, it can be reaffirming, too.
Covid won’t last, either.
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