Reading Paul Evans’ Country Diary in the Guardian this morning in which he describes autumn leaves ‘fiery as metal blades in a blacksmith’s forge’, I was reminded that in recent posts I haven’t mentioned the extraordinary autumn we’ve been having this year. After an indifferent few months, summer burst upon us late, and from the last week of September through the entire month of October the weather was governed by a large area of high pressure that remained motionless over much of western Europe.
Given the time of year, that meant quite a bit of morning mist, and later on in the month that often persisted throughout the day in increasingly foggy conditions. Now it’s November and the weather is unnaturally warm (last week parts of Wales recorded temperatures as high as 22C). Even today, with blustery, grey conditions, it’s around 15 or 16C here in Liverpool. I blame those crooks at VW.
The autumn colours have been outstanding this year – perhaps, as Paul Evans suggests in his Country Diary, due to a ‘bright, mild autumn; cold but not freezing, bright but short days’. From Wenlock Edge, Paul Evans writes of the ‘psychospiritual’ significance of autumn leaf fall – but also of its scientific causation:
Sweet chestnut leaves reddened against the sky before the weather came: a moment of fire and glass before they flew. The long, saw-edged, leaves of the sweet or Spanish chestnut, naturalised in Britain since the iron age, had all the autumn colours in them.
Some were still green, but the cells where the leaf stalk attached to the branch were forming a dam, blocking the flow of sap and nutrients between leaf and tree. Each leaf was now on its own although still attached.
As photosynthesis used up the remaining chlorophyll, sugars in the leaf began to react with proteins in cell sap to make pigments: xanthophyll is yellow, beta-carotene is orange and anthocyanin is red. These pigments were strengthened this year by a bright, mild autumn; cold but not freezing, bright but short days.
For their moment the leaves held the light to become as effulgent as stained glass, then fiery as metal blades in a blacksmith’s forge, hammered on an anvil. For each leaf, there was a moment when the dam in the stem broke and it left the tree. This individual falling felt, to me, full of meaning: leaving and loss, mortality and decay. It was melancholy but also full of beauty and wonder.
There had been a steady but gentle rain from the trees for weeks. Drifts of leaves to kick through brought back memories. Down one lane the scent of leaves mixed with something I couldn’t identify, but it immediately transported me through decades to an emotional and physical place I had forgotten.
Leaf fall is about recurrence, a signifier in the temperate world of a rhythm that is as psychospiritual as it is sensual and deeply mammalian. It is bulking-up-for-winter time, foraging for food and aesthetic sustenance, a creative burst.
When the jet stream spun these storms in, wind and rain roared through the trees, thrashing out leaves. The ground is full of colour: ochre, gold, copper, blood-red leaves still holding light in their pigments, glistening wet. The beauty of rot and the making of soil is also the falling of wonder into memory.
The photos here are of autumn colour and misty mornings in Sefton Park. I’ve been separated from my camera this last month, so these were taken on my phone.