We start to lose the light this time of year and the sun moves back towards the bridges. Every evening as I watch it set from Calton Hill the sun creeps closer to the whale bone rib cage cable stays of the Queensferry Crossing. The runner beans in the backgreen have stopped searching for whatever it is they think they’re going to find up there; they’re no longer reaching higher, higher, and now they look tired, folded into an end-of-the-day slump. Cobwebs stretch between railings of an old iron gate and sparkle with morning dew and in the evening more cobwebs shine in gossamer drapes across boughs of leylandii trees. I must act quickly, this time of year, and drive down to that spot in Spott, East Lothian, to pick the blackberries while they are still plump and walk the beach at Tyninghame and wave goodbye to the gannets who are packing up to migrate south. Which makes me sad, at this time of year, not for the gannets for they are not my near neighbours, but for the swallows who skim the grass of Holyrood Park in the evening at this time of year, hoovering up insects invisible to the eye as they hair-pin around my legs in thrilling turns, displaying a burst of energy I’m empty of. And soon they too will turn south. At this time of year one layer of cotton is not enough and I pull my dressing gown on in the morning and belt it tight as I pad out to the kitchen to make tea. I think of soup, not salad, at this time of year and I think about that button that needs to be sewn onto my Aran cardigan. And Belfast – somehow, I think of Belfast at this time of year, and I can see it in my mind’s eye with banks of sycamore, beech and plane leaves blown to the side of pavement upon which I walk, a student there for a new term, above me sad skies filled with the sound of helicopters and the very last roses blooming in my Grandad’s garden when I pay a visit. This is the back-to-normal time of year, what Louis MacNeice called getting “back to the even tenor of the usual day”. Maybe, like him, I will write an Autumn Journal too. If I have the heart. If I manage to fall into step with that even tenor. If I can muster up the drive to start new projects and make peace with the evenings drawing in and listen to the percussion of the wind blowing the leaves clear instead of hearing it as sad keening, a mourning for what’s to be lost. You see, I would rather it wasn’t this time of year, a time of year when things diminish and fade and disappear and disintegrate. I would rather turn the clock back (or forward) and vault this time of year, deny what is. I will, nonetheless, lean into this time of year and remember that autumn brought me some surprises in the past, so why not again?
Autumn Journal, Louis MacNeice (excerpt)
September has come, it is hers
Whose vitality leaps in the autumn,
Whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place;
So I give her this month and the next
Though the whole of my year should be hers who has
So many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more so happy;
Who has left a scent on my life and left my walls
Dancing over and over with her shadow,
Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls
And all of London littered with remembered kisses.