Derek – Friday 27 September 2020

The temperature has dropped eight degrees and the rains have come. It’s as if the equinox was the cut off, from summery weather. Meteorologically, this is Autumn. The Met office divides the year into four quartiles, whose boundaries are the two solstices and the two equinoxes.

For Keats, Autumn was an ecstatic time of year:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core

He was a Romantic, as you surely need no telling. They are either over the moon or downcast with melancholy. Certainly, you can view Autumn as utterly bounteous, with the harvest in, the red berries and ripe apples. But that is a one-sided scene, or one restricted to September, as the season has three months to run.

Annual plants are dead or dying. The cereal harvest is the reaping of a dead plant. The one living bit is the ear, next year’s seed and our daily bread. Almost all the cereals in the cereal project are deceased, departed, like the done-for parrot. The oats, barley, wheat and rye are straw. One of our wheats hangs on, the winter wheat sown by birds, probably late sown. The teff is rapidly losing its colour, just the rice is full green. But the rice never got to seed. In some warmer clime, the stalks would be bending with bounty. But here, the plant stands no chance. Darkness and cold will cull it. Along with many insects, some harmful, some beneficial. We are pleased to see the end of the blackfly, not so the ladybirds.

I enjoy the spiders’ webs this time of year. Fully spun out of the necessity to mate before the chill. I think of Charlotte in her web (EB White’s Charlotte’s Web) dying at the ripe old age of six months, so literate and wise. Far be it for me to question a classic tale, but in horticultural terms you might ponder on Jack and the Beanstalk. Photosynthesis does not take place at night. Such cosmic growth knocks any mushroom or mile-a-minute plant into a cocked hat.

I worked in the parks for four years in the 70s. For six weeks this time of year, we raked leaves. Raked them and raked them, into piles and burnt them. The next day, the fields would be full of leaves once more. A Sisyphean task, these days replaced by machines.

Leaf-fall strikes me as so wasteful. Deciduous trees strangle their foliage, depriving them of sustenance. The pretty colours are the death throes. That’s over the top anthropomorphism, I admit, but it does seem destructive to dump every leaf, each a factory producing the sugar that feeds the tree all summer long. Come Autumn, every one a supernumerary in the yearly Logan’s Run.

The squirrels rush in panic to gather acorns; they must be hoarded before the frosts come, and retrieved in the hungry season. Birds leave us. They have more sense than to stick around for the coming cold. Go south, fledgeling, follow the sun, which here sags, like wet washing on the line, until barely scraping the ground at the winter Solstice.

That’s my balance for Keats’ ecstasy. The BBC’s controller would surely approve.

An oddity in the garden is the blossom on the apple tree donated by the Irish pensioners. The usual months for apple blossom are April/May. But in those months the tree lost all its leaves and failed to blossom. I fed it, then turned to other tasks in garden busyness. And here we are, in Autumn’s bounty, a few leaves and blossom too.

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