And all at once, summer collapsed into fall
Summer gives in without even a whisper of a fight, giving up the pretence and fleeing as soon as August is over, and I walk out of the door on September 1st into a world transformed overnight. The damp pale light and lukewarm showers of late summer are gone, and the slow-dawning September sun streams through the trees in honey golden shafts and shadows. It is as though some vengeful weather witch, having lain in wait for the very stroke of midnight, has sprung from summer hibernation to wave a wand and paint the world in pumpkin orange and bonfire gold. The air snaps and holds my breath in clouds of fog, lingering in the cold and brittle light. Already the leaves are tinged with Autumn, the edges smudged russet and orange.
I am Autumn’s child, born in the twilight of early November, and whilst mistakenly embracing the meagre attributes of a dreary English summer I had forgotten how much I loved Autumn’s cold sunshine and scent of wood smoke, her golden leaves and wet pavements and early drawing evenings. I love the slowing pace, the winding down for winter, the hibernation state of leisurely cooking and cozy nights in. A slow riser and perpetual night owl, the darkened months of Autumn suit me; with no guilt inducing get-up-and-go sunshine streaming through the curtains I can justifiably burrow beneath my sleep warmed duvet with tea and toast and await the mid morning light.
I am trying to let Autumn’s nocturnal pace inspire my own. When I am travelling I find it so easy to keep my balance, a centrifugal stillness bourne of perpetual movement; but here, amidst the thousand attention vying elements that make up a day; I find myself pulled and knocked, pushed from the interntional to the mundane by a multitude of modern life irrelevancies. I catch myself rushing, frustrated at people that get in my way, eager to get from the station to my desk in the shortest possible time so that I can re-open my laptop and continue the work I started on the train. I question my urgency, and find that it is unfounded. My anxiety feeds from it, and makes me sullen and distracted, my eyes turned inwards and closed to the world around me.
So I make a conscious effort to stop. I walk more slowly and take in my surroundings, breathe, look up through the golden trees to the cold blue sky. I don’t open my laptop on the train, instead I read Paul Theroux and sip from a hot flask of breakfast tea. I don’t sigh at people around me when they block my path, I smile at them instead; because there is no joy to be had in being irritated at everyone around me. I start to reclaim my time and my sense of what is important within it, to have time on my hands for thinking and dreaming and talking to people instead of trying to fill every single moment with mindless productivity. I feel happier almost immediately.
I am reading a copy of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ that I found in Mumbai, nestled in the middle of a towering stack of second hand books on a street corner. I curl up with it in the blue and white striped hammock in my garden one Sunday afternoon, cozy in thick wool socks and a pile of blankets amidst the falling leaves. It’s a 1975 edition; the cover is ripped and the pages smell like old library books, and on the inner cover page is scrawled a message that reads; “Dearest Shibami, happy birthday and happy reading. I hope you discover yourself. Love, Ekla”.
I think of the beautiful simplicity of this message, the hope and love entwined in the statement. I wonder about Shibami and Ekla, how they met, what kind of friendship they had. I think about writing my own message, my sprawling hand dancing across the page for another curious stranger to find one day, but I can’t think of what to write. Maybe I need some more time to discover myself first.
One showery morning at the end of October, Rikki and I pile into the car with flasks and sandwiches and head for the sea. We drive North through a morning made grey and ugly with rain, the side of the road thick with leaf mulch; but as we approach Bamburgh the rain dries and the sky is lifted. By the time the sea appears ahead of us, a thin strip of bright navy on the horizon, the fields are striped with low afternoon sunshine.
We walk by the sea, down the cliff path that blows with wild grass and purple flowers and through the rock pools to the damp sand. Across the expanse of inky water stands a white lighthouse on an island populated by birds and seals. We are buffeted by a strong wind that shivers through the dry grasses that line the dunes and sends cloud shadows racing over the sand. The air tastes like salt and sunshine, and every mile of this beach holds a memory for me .
We talk about everything that enters our heads as we walk, jumping puddles of seaweed and peering into rock pools. And then on the beach, in the lengthening shadow of the castle that stands on the cliff edge overlooking the sea, the boy from the hostel in Bali kneels in the sand and asks me to marry him, with a golden topaz ring in a small black box. And I say yes, obviously.
We travel back the next day and everything is different. I look over at him in the driver’s seat and wonder at the fact that I had 25 years of life before I even knew he existed, and now I have promised to be his. Everything changes so quickly, soon it will be December, and there will be food and gifts and twinkling lights in soft snowfall. And after that, suddenly it will be a whole new year, and too soon the day when I leave again – flying across the world, no longer solo but engaged, travelling alongside my fiance – and all at once, everything will have changed again.