A few weeks ago, I read on Twitter—sadly I seem to have lost the reference—that the Welsh Hydref, used for either the month of October or autumn as a whole, originally had the literal meaning of “stag-cry”. From that, it turned into “stag-rutting season” and hence autumn. Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru lists “stag-rutting”, but not “stag-cry”.
Moreover, November, mis Tachwedd, literally means “the month of slaughter”. Together, I think they make a beautifully evocative phrase. The stag-cry and the slaughter. Winter is setting in.
I spent a while sitting outside on clear nights over the past week, hoping to see the Geminid meteor shower. Nothing much, sadly, came of it. On Saturday, though, I did see a handful of meteors in the night sky. I’ve always looked for summer meteors before, flashing across the sky in a razor-thin line; but these were relatively slow-moving, fat things. I say “slow-moving”: they still crossed my field of view in little more than an instant. Their light was a much broader line, though, tapering at start and finish. If nothing else, it gave me good inspiration for the story I posted yesterday. Hopefully I’ll have better luck when the Geminids come around again next year. This year, though, is now nearly at an end. The stag-cry and the slaughter, and winter is upon us again.
If you have a day to spare at the tail end of autumn, and the weather is all damp and misty, what better to do than go for a walk in the woods? In this case, a Forestry England wood just outside Failand, Ashton Hill Plantation. At its centre is a stand of sequoias, looking suitably mysterious in the mist. For a moment you can start to imagine you’re in some sort of supernatural horror-mystery filmed in Washington State.
However, brief glimpses of the rolling landscape outside the woods, showing off the traditional English fear of outsiders, soon remind you where you are.
Near the edge of the wood is a fairy tree, naturally beloved by The Child Who Likes Fairies, decorated with several tiny doors and various garlands and trimmings round its base. Further up, I noticed at adult head height, something that seemed much deeper, speaking directly to the fairies themselves, not there to entertain children.
A corn dolly pinned to the tree with a baby’s teething toy. Some sort of offering; some sort of old ritual; maybe some sort of prayer.
This blog has been relatively quiet this week. Clearly, finally completing that in-depth work-related post about inclusion and diversity on Monday must have taken it out of me. There are a number of things waiting in the to-be-written queue, but all of them are the sort of posts that deserve effort and energy and research putting into them, and this week has been too tiring a week for that sort of thing.
I like to think of myself as not a superstitious person, but the truth is that there are an awful lot of Dear Diary things I could have posted but didn’t because, frankly, if I do then it might jinx them and it might not happen. There are some things that have been lurking on my horizon for a few months now, but I don’t want to think about them too much in case one thing goes wrong and everything collapses. A couple of weeks ago it all looked to be going badly; this week it’s been going better, but I still don’t want to put too much effort into hoping everything will work out in the end in case that is all effort wasted.
The Children turned seven recently, which inevitably leads into thoughts of “this time seven years ago I was doing X” variety. At least, it does if you’re me: I think I picked the tendency up from my father, who would do it at the slightest potential reason. It’s strange to think that The Children were not always exactly as they are now. I don’t know how your memory works, but when I think back to my memories of people I knew long ago my brain tends to fill the image with them as they are now, not as they actually were then, which is very confusing when I think about things that happened, say, at school. It’s almost disconcerting to see things like school group photos and think “we all looked like children!” and similarly it’s strange to look at photos of The Children as babies and see that, yes, they actually looked like babies and not the children they are now. No doubt when they’re adults I will look back on how they were now and be surprised they looked like children.
A couple of weeks ago I posted about the season changing. Enough leaves have dropped from the trees now that if I look carefully I can see trains passing the end of the street again, rather than just foliage. The skies are dark at night, and on clear nights filled and sparkling with autumn constellations. I go outside, look up at Vega, at Mars, at the cross of Cygnus, and wonder what will happen when we have turned around some more.
Today was the first morning of this autumn with signs of frost on the ground. I sat down at my desk and saw the roofs across the street fringed with white at the edges of the tiles, as the sun rose in a clear blue sky. Winter is coming, and our Hallowe’en pumpkins are in a dark corner of the garden for the local slugs and snails to eat. A robin fluttered around the garden, getting ready for all the Christmas posing; I doubt they go for pumpkin. In the summer the garden was full with house sparrows, as nearly every house in this street has a few sparrow nests under the eaves; but now they are quiet and are staying inside.
A month or so ago, I talked about how awful the world of politics is, too awful to want to write about. This morning, with the results of yesterday’s American presidential election still entirely up in the air, that seemed still very true. This evening, the results of yesterday’s American presidential election are still somewhat up in the air, but not quite as awful. We can but hope.
Since the clocks changed it’s dark now before I leave my desk in the evening, and on nights with clear skies, at the moment, I can see Mars rising, the first “star” visible above the roofline on the other side of the road. It rises above them just as dusk falls, visible already as a dim orange pinprick whilst the sky around it is still blue. Over the course of this year I’ve come to know the roofline opposite my window intimately. I feel like I know all the cracked tiles and broken patches like the back of my hand; I’ve watched the missing tiles on a house down the street get worse as the year has gone on and wonder how the residents cope in rainstorms, and I’ve watched a house a similar distance up the street slowly have its roof replaced, its chimney repointed, everything tidied and neatened and primped. Winter is coming, we are a third of the way through the final quarter of the year. After that, though, things will be brighter again.
I know it can be a bit of a cliche, photos of yellow and orange leaves falling in autumn, but the park was looking so seasonally russet-hued the other day that I regretted not bringing a Proper Camera along. We fed the swans and the ducks, and caused a flurry of seagulls frenzied enough to have Du Maurier reaching for her notebook.
Naturally, the local pigeons also wanted to get involved, despite their inability to swim.
After the food was gone, all was calm again. I photographed The Child Who Likes Fairies staring pensively out across the lake, and in return she took a photo of a tree she particularly liked.
Autumn is almost here, although this year feels as if it didn’t really happen. I have been working away at a little desk in an eyrie of Symbolic Towers since March. At the start, I could see trains passing the end of the street; before long, they were hidden by the leaves on the trees, and soon, I will be able to see them again. In all that time, no time seems to have passed. At work staff have come and gone on my project, staff have come and gone in the wider company, we have rolled out major pieces of work into the real world, and in all that time, no time seems to have passed. The children have flipped back and forth between holidays, home-school, part-time school, and back at school again, and in all that time, no time seems to have passed. And tomorrow, the autumnal equinox is upon us.
Whether time will seem to start passing normally, of course, is another matter entirely. Right now, it seems like that won’t start happening for a long time on the human scale. On the scale of the stars, though, the world keeps turning, and the moon and the planets are still moving in the skies.
Maybe I will still be sitting at my desk in Symbolic Towers when the leaves start falling so I can see the passing trains again; and then when they start growing to conceal them next spring. We will see. I shall try to be optimistic, that the ever-turning world and the ever-turning skies show that life will endure, and that though some things will inevitably change, others will circle and return to their starting point.
Today, we were up in Worcestershire; and as we drove home down the dark motorway, we watched rockets flying up into the sky, from all the towns and villages along the way. Strensham, Tewkesbury; Gloucester and Stonehouse.
Back at Symbolic Towers, we have a tiny little pocket garden, almost all of it rather flammable. Now, if you read the instructions on a box of fireworks, you’re supposed to leave more space between firework and buildings, firework and burnables, firework and yourself, than we ever have any chance of having behind our house.*
Despite that, when we got home, we went through to the back of the house and stood out in the garden, the air damp and smoky, and listened to the sound of Bonfire Night. Living in a city, the dark evening was a constant bubble of crackles and bangs, deep bass thumps and high-pitched, tense rattles. Every now and then the sky would flash; every now and then there would be a rocket close enough to see. We stood out, until it got too cold, stood still, sniffed the burning in the air and listened to the noises of the fireworks. The noises of winter starting.
* Of course, the same applies to the vast majority of gardens, because you’re supposed to leave a huge amount of space for safety. But that doesn’t really alter the fact that, if we were to try setting off a rocket from our little patch of land, we – and the garden – would end up rather singed.
This week, it’s started to turn to autumn. I’ve closed my bedroom window, the mornings are getting cold, and the morning air is damp and ashy-smelling.
Today, summer ends and autumn begins; but the weather was already turning. Now we’re moving towards Yuletide, the skies darkening day by day. In a few weeks, the clocks will change, and I’ll hardly see the sun.
Tonight I drove past the steelworks, and they were doing a burn. Great gouts of flame poured out of their chimneys, high into the night sky, lighting up the town and countryside. Our own little industrial bonfire night. We light fires, and we know the sun will come back again.
It’s dark outside. It’s not night, but rain-gloomy and grey. It feels dark. Winter is on its way. Soon, it will be dark.
Lots of things have come to an end in the past year; but lots more have begun. The year may be coming to a close, but the next one will be just around the corner. So much has changed for me in the past 12 months, that for the first time in a while I’m thinking like an optimist. I’m a changed person. I might not still be sure who I am, what I’m looking for, and where I’m going, but I’ve taken several steps along the path. I’ve made mistakes, but I don’t regret making any of them.
I can’t say where I would be if I hadn’t done X, or Y, or Z. You never know how things would have changed if you’d taken a different path one morning. Driving to work today, I saw a car parked on a sharp bend, and slowed down. Its driver was stood by on the phone, and an unconscious biker was laid by the side of the road. The ambulance was still on its way. Maybe, if I’d left home five minutes earlier, it would have been my crash.
This isn’t meant to be a melancholic post, by the way. I don’t know what’s coming round the next corner, and I’m not sure I want to. I’m just going to see what happens, and make decisions as I get to them. I don’t have a strategy; I don’t have a plan. I’m probably going to make more mistakes at some point, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m not going to stop anyone else making mistakes either, because they deserve to learn things too.
You can tell it’s getting closer to winter. This morning was one of those mornings when everything under the duvet was at that perfect cosy sleeping temperature, but you just know that the air outside the bed will have a nasty chill to it.