This week has seen us reach the Autumn Equinox and with that I have found myself noticing the tell tale signs of impending Autumn and a fading summer. I wonder quite how this season will play out this year, under restrictions that will by necessity impact upon the social activities that usually take place. The festivals, the gatherings of family and friends will no doubt have to be abandoned this time round or played out in a variety of remote versions as we adapt to this new way of things. Though I, like others, may find this difficult, I am striving to focus on the positives of what I can still do and perhaps the need to do things differently will have some results that are beneficial. Beneath all the trivialities and over consumption of some of the holiday celebrations, the central components are those that matter to you and whether in person or through technology, those people are still there.
A year ago, life looked different for us all. If nothing else, this year has caused me to think - and to think a lot. Where am I heading? What is really important to me, when all else is stripped away, what remains of value? I know I am not alone in feeling that the circumstances of this year have led to much re-evaluation of personal circumstances and values. Being forced to look at life differently has pushed me out of my comfort zone creatively so that I am now working on a new genre of writing and discovering a whole new set of skills to develop. I hope the results will prove to be one of my proudest flourishes, I will have to wait a while to know that.
Alongside this self reflection, I have found myself indulging in a certain amount of nostalgia. Judging by the social posts I see, I think this has been one coping mechanism that helps many. In looking at our memories, we often recall positives and evoke hope of a time when we will re-visit these. For, as many have told me, this time will not be forever.
In looking back, I have been thinking about my writing achievements and re-visiting some of my thoughts. In the spirit of indulging in a little nostalgia, I would like to share a little seasonal showcase from my first book 'Finding My Way.' When I began writing it, I did not know where the process would take me or quite how much I would find to say. As this excerpt shows, I still have a flourish or two to offer, if I can just be creative enough to find ways of showing the best of me.
A WOMAN FOR ALL SEASONS.
What season would you chose as your favourite? Do you feel an affinity with any particular time of the year? Of course each season has its merits but for me, particularly in adult life, I have favoured the autumn.
Hunkering down against the elements outside, under an armchair throw, with a hot drink in hand, I look out to our garden, rich with berries and changing leaves and drink in its majesty as I sip my tea. I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to imagine some grand garden before me, laid to lawn with idyllic cottage garden beds and pathways drawing the eye to hidden follies. I may frequent such places in the books I have read or on a sunny Sunday afternoon to make my National Trust membership worthwhile but my reality is a simple suburban garden. It has a little decked area, a shed that is just about still standing and a summer house which was my husband’s project a couple of years ago – to realise a dream of having his own calm retreat space. Beyond that is a lawn in need of a bit of attention, a simple flower bed and a deteriorating wooden climbing frame at the end of garden, fading into trees behind it along with the memories of our children playing on it when they were younger.
The point is, that among the averagely mundane garden, not ostentatious by any measure, nature has the ability to still cause me a moment of awe and wonder at the scene before me. In doing so it reminds me of the cameo part I play within the epic screenplay of life. Our time on camera is limited so we should give our best performance whilst we have the chance. In my midlife years now, statistically speaking I have obviously already had some of my best scenes and seasons. I don’t intend to move into the long, winter shadows just yet though.
Into the Woods.
Autumn has long been my favourite season- it’s such a treat for all the senses. The spectacular treat of colour that meets your eyes as you walk past trees - like artistic masterpieces on show without the need for a visit to a gallery, just emerging in the sunshine or fluttering on a breeze, even being reflected in a puddle from an autumn shower. The sounds that accompany the fallen leaves, crisp under your boots to remind you of a time when adult restraint didn’t keep you from stopping in the street to scoop up an armful of leaves and throw them high over your head to watch them fall all around you.
Then there are the tastes and smells of autumn - many I am sure are inextricably linked to my childhood experiences. The smell of a bonfire reminds me of standing in a dark park, wrapped up in hat, scarf, gloves and coat waiting for the fireworks display. The joy was not the process of slowly chilling to the bone but knowing all the while that when you got home, Mum’s sausages and jacket potatoes would be ready to warm you up, along with a cup of cocoa. Nowadays it’s hot chocolate, rather than cocoa. That may sound like a subtle difference but the cocoa of my childhood was a simple affair whereas today’s offerings are one of luxury velvety chocolate, cream and marshmallows towering above the drink below.
The clocks turning back time at the end of October signals the shortening of days and to some seems a foreboding signal of darker times but this has never worried me. Without dark there is no beauty in candlelight, flickering bonfires or twinkling fairy lights that adorn homes and gardens during the festive season. Autumn has its own beauty, in nature’s display and in bringing people together, sheltering at home from the cold or sharing time together in celebratory mood whether that be for Halloween, Diwali, bonfire night, thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas - indeed any other festival or celebration that brings family, friends and groups together. There is something about gathering as a group at this time of the year. I have always liked the colours that appear on the autumn fashion rail and the sparkles that scatter themselves across the party outfits. Perhaps I just get caught up in the romance of it all? It is also an annual reminder of life’s ongoing circle, an outlandish flurry of colour and splendour before winter’s metaphorical sleep and end, whilst beneath it all is the promise of the first snowdrop and a spring awakening fresh and renewed next year.
As I write this, I am taken up with the question of whether I am now entering my own autumn. The Spring of my youth is certainly long gone, although glimpses of those carefree days have come to the forefront of my mind as I have scanned through old photo albums or discussed memories with my own teenage children when they ask those recurring questions of ‘What did you do when you were that age, Mum?’ The spring-like eagerness you have when you are finishing school, finding work, getting married and looking to the future seems somewhat naive with hindsight sometimes, but it sees you through the difficulties of setting up your adult life.
Summer - known by many for its long days, idyllic peaceful retreats with opportunities to paddle in the waves and eat ice cream, has also its fair share of pests: persistent wasps at a picnic, hay fever hindering your enjoyment of the outdoors and sometimes a humidity and heat that is almost too much to bare. All in all, a good metaphor for the adult life I have had so far - nurturing a family, married relationship and a career path through all such highs and lows.
Now I stand in my metaphorical autumn wood. It’s my chance to be outrageous with a splendid colourful display, to kick up the crunchy leaves from beneath my boots and sink back on to a sofa sampling the velvety smoothness of a hot chocolate. Whether anyone is stopping to watch the display before them or they are too caught up with their own daily demands to notice another middle-aged mother with something to say, something to offer to others, that is not for me to decide.
There is a certain joy to the slow realisation that over time you have started to lose some responsibilities and that you can carve yourself a bit of time and personal space. When you notice that your kids don’t need you in quite the same way anymore it can feel a little like you’re a kite whose string has been cut on a windy day. The twists and turns of the journey ahead can leave you plummeting towards the ground some days and soaring through the clouds towards the sunlight on others.
If this is my autumn, then I am going to emerge myself in all that it brings and show all that I still have to offer. There are some things in life that I cannot control but there are others where I have choices to make. Now is my chance to show my true colours, as the song states, and I intend them to be vibrant russets and golds - the very best that an autumn can show. I may even climb a few trees!