Autumn is the slow decline of the year toward the winter, a slow lingering death from the height of summer into the cold and dark. Yet autumn is far from miserable. I love the unexpected warm days. I love the colours of the season and the wind and rain feels quite energetic and powerful. It has always felt like a season of portents and omens, birds are flocking, deer are rutting, autumnal colour is everywhere.
So how do we write what autumn feels like?
Autumn is nothing if not atmospheric. Countless horror movies are set at this time of year, no better demonstrated than it the cold and imposing forests of The Blair Witch Project and The Village. These are films that use Autumn atmosphere to maximum effect. It is the perfect time of year because death is a constant reminder. It is getting colder and darker; leaves are falling from the trees. There is a chill in the air overnight, frost on the ground in the morning, mist and fog in the air. Dry, dead leaves crunch beneath your feet and clouds appear when you breathe out. There is still a lingering warmth but always a constant reminder of the cold to come.
It is also the season of Halloween and in the Commonwealth, Bonfire Night. Those five days between the end of October and the beginning of November is, for me, the beginning of the build up to the Christmas season. People actually begin to enjoy the colder weather and the darker evenings as it reminds of the what is to come.
Autumn: Life and death
Autumn smells of frost. Yes, I do think frost has a smell and I do not find it unpleasant. It is a dry, sharp, prickly smell that you can experience first thing in the morning, within the first hour of sunrise. It is also the smell of fruit waiting to be picked or that which turned rotten before falling off the trees/bushes/shrubs.
Autumn smells of woodfire, bonfires and the gunpowder of firework displays.
Despite the slow descent towards a seeming death, there is still much life in the old year yet. Before they all drop off of the trees, leaves turn dazzling colours of ambers, reds and yellows creating images like this.
The English countryside is famous for this sort of scene throughout the autumn. It is also the season of fruitpicking: apples, pears and to any child… blackberries! These are not just colourful but a reminder of the pinnacle of the livelihood of the season at the end of the year.
Also think about the sort of clothing that people might wear at this time of year. Scarves, woolies, larger coats, sweaters. For men, jackets more often than not. For women, the fashion seems to be in boots a lot more, cardigans. People are wrapping up warm but not wrapped up so tightly just yet.
And don’t forget the flocking birds.
Autumn is noticeable for the absence of birdsong mostly and with leaves dropping off, you won’t hear wind rustling through the trees for very long.
What are the autumn sounds? Whistling wind, roaring wind, heavier rain. For those of us living in the countryside it is a season of shrieking foxes, of the calling of deer for the rutting season. Small mammals such as badgers and squirrels scramble through the undergrowth during the darker evenings and overnight.
Give a serious think to the sort of foods that will be available at this time of year and how personal preferences might change.
Aside from autumn fruits, it is associated with heavier or more filling foods. I tend to drink more coffee in the autumn and winter and more tea in the spring and summer. My beer tastes also change. I prefer something a bit more full-bodied at this time of year, ruby ales, Newcastle Brown, darker and heavier beers as opposed to spring and summer where I prefer golden ales and sometimes lager. I also tend to drink more red wine at this time of year and prefer them full-bodied. It is also the season of mulled wine – though I don’t tend to want to drink this until Christmas lights start making an appearance.
Most mornings, everything outside is damp with dew. Goosebumps raise on bare arms. Feet crunch on and swish through piles of dead leaves. On the really cold days, feet crunch on frozen earth. Also, on those warm days think about how the sun feels on your skin. It is a very different feeling to that in spring or summer.
So over to you, what signifies the autumn for you? How do you identify the arrival of this season?