This autumn I have been so caught up in the whirl of living that I haven’t had nearly enough time to look at everything that has been happening in the world around me.
Luckily I have had this little book, and it has been a lovely reminder of the things that make this season so very special.
The introduction captures it perfectly:
“Autumn is a time of transformation. Crisp, clear days mark summer’s close and usher in a new season with its rich scents and vivid palette, leaves flaming red and gold by day, bonfires and fireworks lighting up the lengthening nights. There is abundance, as humans and animals make stores for the winter; and there is decay, which gives rise to the next cycle of life.”
The array of pieces that follow make wonderful sense of those words.
There is poetry and prose; I think a little more poetry in this volume than there was in spring or summer anthologies, and it was lovely to read them and to realise there are so many wonderful poems that celebrate autumn. Some are new and striking; some are older and wonderfully familiar.
That leaves less room for lovely extracts from classic novels this time; but fortunately, with each piece just a few pages long, there is room for a great many nature writers.
All of the obvious old names are there; many familiar contemporary names are there too; but the pieces that really spoke to me this time came from writers I hadn’t known before I picked this book up.
Here is a detail from a lovely painting in prose, by Annie Worsley:
“In the woodlands the first trees to betray summer are silver birches: splashes of yellow dapple their fine, shimmering greenery. Here and there, long wavering larch tresses begin to change from deep green to orange and ochre. Gradually the azurite, ultramarine and Verdigris of late summer is overlain by Byzantine bronze, copper and gold, and even on days of dull, grey cloud, the oranges and deep russet reds glow as if hot. Slowly, steadily leaves begin to fall: silver birch and aspen leaves descend in gentle cascades like confetti, oak sycamore and beech leaves spin down crunchily ….”
Just a few pages further on Caroline Grenville caught my attention with an account of life in an around her home that was simple, real and vivid.
A few pages after that Louise Baker won me over with a wonderfully descriptive account of being out in the world on an autumn day.
As the book went on I saw nature in the town and in the city. Jo Cartnell was had the luck to observe bank voles. Kate Blincoe’s gave an account of foraging for giant puffball mushrooms. Julian Jones wrote of his fascination for eels. Janet Willoner offered an account of pressing apples into juice Lucy McRobert was enchanted by dolphins off the Scilly Isles ….
It was lovely to share in so many observations and experiences.
There was wonderful writing from the past too; my highlights were Nan Shepherd walking in the mountains, Claire Leighton at Harvest Festival, and Richard Jefferies walking down country paths.
I was pleased that the credits come at the end of each piece and that I could read each one without preconceptions. Much of the time I couldn’t have told you if I was reading words from a known or an unknown writer, if I was reading words from the past or the present, until I came to the name and date at the end of the piece.
It was good to be reminded that some things don’t change, and that we can look at the natural world is that we can see the same things and feel just the same as generations who have long gone.
I wasn’t quite as taken with this anthology as I was with the two that preceded it – Spring and Summer. I think that was because the format is familiar now and because this is ‘my’ season and I’ve thought and read more about it than the other seasons.
Luckily there are many familiar words that will always be magical:
“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonize. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
That is one of many reasons why I can say this is a delicious collection.
The pieces are diverse but they sit together quite naturally because there is much that unifies them; and I am sure that they will speak both to those who at home in the country and to those who are interested but don’t really know what they’re looking at.
The book is beautifully produced, it would make a lovely gift, and I’m sure I will pick my copy up again next autumn.