A Contented Month
Like most teachers, the new year begins for me in September, not January. It is the time of year when I take stock, pack away the frivolities of summer and start once again to fall into the routines and order of school life. The autumn term has always been my favourite, both as a child and as a teacher. As the days gradually shorten, there is a sense of time increasing in momentum, building towards December and the enevitable joy that month brings.
There is a freshness to September, a feeling of starting over, of regeneration after the long, carefree summer months of laziness. The smell of polish on leather shoes, freshly sharpened pencils and rain soaked woollen scarves awaken my dormant mind whilst generating feelings of nostalgia. As a child I loved buying new stationary, choosing pens, rulers and erasers that would coordinate and then sitting on my bed at home and arranging them in my new pencil case. I still relish the opportunity to buy school supplies even now. Perhaps that's why I chose to be a teacher; not because I wanted to inspire young minds but because I wanted a job that would allow me to indulge my obsession with writing equipment!
The start of a new school year revives my nesting instincts. Like wild animals building shelter in which to hibernate during the winter months, I too create a safe and warm environment for my pupils to learn in. Sorting resources, labelling trays and pegs and arranging pots of pencils on the tables is a seasonal ritual that marks the coming of the colder, shorter days.
There are of course many people who don't look forward to this time of year. The thought of leaving for work in the dark and then returning home without having felt the sun on their faces is a dispiriting and bleak prospect but for my part, I've always welcomed it. I find it gives a time frame to the day with a clear start and a definite end. I like coming home, especially if I'm the last one in and walking down the path to my house. The lamps will be glowing in the windows and on a clear, moon-filled night I can see the smoke from the fire coiling up and out of the chimney, expiring into the night sky. The woody smell of it hits the back of my throat, filling my lungs with a thick, comforting warmth.
Autumn though is a time of contradictions too. The early darkness forces us to slow down, to retire the day earlier than usual. As the winds pick up and the air finds its bite, we retreat. We batten down the hatches and wait, finding solace in our domesticity. Yet I often find that this time of year brings about a new vigour, experiencing a rush of energy and creativity. The crisp days lure me outdoors where I'm not startled by a squintingly bright light but instead I'm beckoned by a low sun that is soft and unobtrusive.
As a keen gardener I do like summer. How could I not? But I am never comfortable on those hot, sticky days. I often experience a lethargy, both physically and mentally, and my creativity lies frustratingly dormant. My body does not adapt well to heat. I find it easier to warm up than to cool down. As I dress on those muggy summer mornings, I become frustrated, not being able to settle my body at the right temperature once clothed. But in autumn, I relish the opportunity to experiment with fabrics and textures. Woollens, linens, cord, cotton, jersey; the endless combinations of layers means that I am always comfortable. Then as soon as the leaves start to turn, I put my wellingtons on and I'm out in the fresh air, taking photographs of every view as it brightens and decays, often taking a basket with me to collect leaves and berries with which to decorate the house.
There are so many things about autumn that capture my imagination. There is of course the sweet scent of decay that hangs in the air; once described by John Keats as 'mellow fruitfulness'. There is the morning mist which appears as though it has been poured on to the earth from some celestial vessel that lingers high above the ground, and as it falls, it wraps itself around everything in its path. Then there is the colour palette. Each season has one but for me autumn has the most beautiful of them all. Burnt russets, browns, chestnut, ochre, vermillion, these are merciful and sympathetic colours, they do not compete with one another, they blend and harmonise, offering me comfort and a sense of tranquility and balance.
My love for this time of year can be traced back to my childhood. It probably sounds quite strange but it always seemed as though my family came alive during these months. My late father was the eternal child; serious and purposeful when he needed to be and then when he thought no one was paying attention, he would revert back to his Peter Pan state. I can remember him making conkers as late as his mid forties. His rosy, ruddy complexion would exude mischief as his eyes twinkled with glee. I remember too that he never really felt the cold. Born of Canadian ancestry, he hated having hot feet and wore shorts up until as late as November. As December approached he would become almost uncontrollable in his excitement and anticipation. My late father found beauty in the smallest of things and joy in the simplest.
I once posted a picture on Instagram of a church pew and asked why it was that I always seemed to be drawn into churches during the autumn months. One of my lovely followers gave me the answer. She said it was because autumn is a time of 'gathering in'. I had never thought of it that way before but she was absolutely right.
There is of course the obvious gathering of the harvest, bringing in the food that will sustain us until the land starts to warm through again, but for me what she said had a different meaning. At this time of year the home takes on a greater significance. We return weary from our travels, back to warm ourselves by the hearth. We put on our slippers and fully appreciate the labours of our hard work. We become a family again, nestled together sharing the comforts of home. The weekends bring a new but familiar routine. Roast dinners, homemade soups and crumbles. We nourish ourselves, feeding our bodies and our souls. Suddenly tea is being made in a teapot and bought through on a tray then drunk whist curled up in our woolly socks, hunkering down under a soft throw.
And so as I sit here at my writing desk, looking out over the fields that stretch down to the loch, I am once again overcome by feelings of contentment and happiness. The rain is pounding on the windows and wind is hurling itself across the garden, howling as it twists and turns but I am here. I have 'gathered in' the things that will sustain me, that will comfort me during the months ahead. The fire is lit, the tea is in the pot and at this precise moment in time, I have everything I need.