Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Autumn cleaning

What is it about the sight of dried leaves on the path before me that gladdens my heart? It shouldn't - when the leaves start to fall, I know that the long, cold, dark nights are ahead. Already, the sun is below the treeline for most of the day; soon, I'll only glimpse it through the trees; and that will be that for six months.

And yet, as I set out to walk the paths of my wood, my heart leaps at the sight of those dead leaves on the path. Is it memories of one of those key events from childhood - kicking through piles of leaves on a cold autumn day in your wellies, holding tight to your mother's hand? Partly - kicking up those leaves as a child was one of the rare occasions when you were allowed to be destructive; and oh! the satisfying noise those leaves made!

I think that we of the northern climes are particularly attached to autumn. I love summer but it doesn't feel as though it fits me in the way that autumn does. When the leaves begin to fall, the colours of tree, grass and plant become gentler after the dazzle of summer flowers; the sun is lower and the light it casts is golden and dappled. But it's more than that; I think there is a sense of satisfaction and connection as nature begins to tidy up for winter. When the leaves fall, the air is cooler and the beasties, including the dreaded midges and ticks, disappear so walking is a pleasure again; the grasses and plants die back to the clean earth, the form of the trees is revealed - I think there is something deep in the human heart that appreciates autumn as the tidying-up of the year; the storing, recycling of nutrients. Just as we pickle and preserve and stack logs and stock larder shelves, or at least we used to, we see the same process reflected in nature with ripening conkers and rose hips and leaves falling.

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