Of the four, autumn is perhaps the most capricious season.
Weathers of all kinds arrive in fits and starts, now temperate, now tempestuous. A mild afternoon breeze might snap into a crisp evening chill, a sunlit morning into a stormy night.
This fickle weatherscape whips up paradoxical responses from us human beings: we watch with a certain melancholy as rusty leaves and ripened fruit fall from their branches (the Northern Americans don’t call it ‘fall’ for nothing); as the fertile energy of the summer wilts into wintry stillness; as greens turn to browns, blues to greys.
There’s a temptation to turn inwards – both physically and mentally – at the time of year that was once (unflatteringly) called “backend” in Northern England.
But autumn is also the season of abundance, of the fruits of labour being gathered in harvest. A time that John Keats (more flatteringly) dubbed “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”.
In a letter to his friend (likewise named John – this time a Hamilton Reynolds), Keats waxed lyrical on the aesthetic impressions that an autumn walk had made upon him, so much so that he decided to write a rather nice piece of poetry about it. In his letter he writes:
“How beautiful the season is now – How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it […] I never lik’d stubble fields so much as now […] Somehow a stubble plain looks warm – in the same way that some pictures look warm – this struck me so much in my sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”
The peculiar pleasures and paradoxes of the season have also been mulled over by the great French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (better known as Colette), who considers autumn a beginning, rather than a decline.
The way it stealthily “steals unseen through the impassive summer” is a gesture of its superiority over the other seasons, not of its wishy-washy, fence-sitting dithering between summer and winter.
So it would seem that autumn isn’t the backend of the year after all.
And, let’s be honest, there’s nothing better than frisking your way through a great heap of crackling leaves now, is there?
“A Beginning, Not a Decline: Colette on the Splendor of Autumn and the Autumn of Life”, by Maria Popova