October’s blue skies

For a week now the pressure has been rising here in the northwest, bringing an extraordinary period of still, summer-like weather.  There have been beautiful mornings, with the low equinoctial sun illuminating the reds and golds in the autumn leaves as I walk the dog in the park.  On other mornings it has taken an hour or two for the sun to burn off the overnight mist.  But every afternoon has turned to cobalt blue skies, with the temperature rising above 20, better than most days in August this year.

There’s a poem that captures the sense of days like these ‘when skies put on/ The old, old sophistries of June’:

These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June, –
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!

Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

– Indian Summer, Emily Dickinson

It may be warm by day, but the rapid chill of the evenings is a reminder that the autumnal equinox is behind us:

October is marigold, and yet
A glass half full of wine left out

To the dark heaven all night, by dawn
Has dreamed a premonition

Of ice across its eye as if
The ice-age had begun its heave.

The lawn overtrodden and strewn
From the night before, and the whistling green

Shrubbery are doomed. Ice
Has got its spearhead into place.

First a skin, delicately here
Restraining a ripple from the air;

Soon plate and rivet on pond and brook;
Then tons of chain and massive lock

To hold rivers. Then, sound by sight
Will Mammoth and Sabre-tooth celebrate

Reunion while a fist of cold
Squeezes the fire at the core of the world,

Squeezes the fire at the core of the heart,
And now it is about to start.

–   October Dawn, Ted Hughes

It’s become a cliché, but days like these do call to mind these lines:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

–   To Autumn, John Keats

A fortnight ago, after more than three years on the waiting list, we inherited a weed-infested and bramble-ridden allotment. So these recent sun-blessed autumn days have been spent slashing and strimming, burning and digging: ‘slowly falling/into the fund of things‘:

To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. Against the shadow
of veiled possibility my workdays stand
in a most asking light. I am slowly falling
into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass. It is the mind’s service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth. And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.

–  To Enrich the Earth, Wendell Berry

Burning the small dead
broke from beneath
thick spreading
whitebark pine.
A hundred summers
snowmelt rock and air
hiss in a twisted bough.

–  Burning the Small Dead, Gary Snyder,

4 thoughts on “October’s blue skies

  1. A gorgeous post, Gerry. It is already much colder here in Yorkshire and winter is beginning to encroach, so it is good to see those blue skies in your photographs and
    I love those first two lines of Ted Hughes’ poem, ‘October is marigold, and yet
    A glass half full of wine left out…’ – sums the season up so succinctly. x

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