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A time of contrasts; or, the turning of the leaves.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 02 October 2013
Out in the world, this time of year is filled with news from the party conferences, the creak and limber as the political world starts rolling again after the long summer break. In America, there is high drama as recalcitrant Republican members of Congress decide to bring the entire government to a halt. (It’s very hard to know exactly why, since none of the ostensible reasons are the actual reasons; sometimes I think it is just because they can.) Here, the various three-act operas revolve mostly around the arts of darkness admitted by Damian McBride in his oddly revelatory book, and the furious row over the Daily Mail and Ed Miliband’s father.

As my broadband signal winks in and out (possibly due to the gales which are coming roaring in from the west), I follow all this at a genteel distance. From time to time, I get worked up and yell at the radio. Then I fall to contemplating the much more important matter of the exact turning of the leaves.

The turning of the leaves, with a rather black Scottish sky behindThe turning of the leaves, with a rather black Scottish sky behind

Every year I try to work this out and every year I fail. Is it a hot summer which means the more vivid colours, or is it a wet one? Shall this long spell of dry mean that there will be no wild display, but autumn shall give way to winter with a sense of weariness and anti-climax? Is the changing of the season late this year?

I examine the trees with scientific interest and aesthetic hope. The beeches are still, in some places, as green as if it were July. There are one or two trees, too distant to identify, which have already gone a singing scarlet, and some, the chestnuts mostly, which are in an indeterminate state of yellowy nothing. The rosehips are the colour of rubies and the elders have their full complement of indigo berries. The sheep, who have no interest in leaf action, lie down crossly in the west meadow, as if they are staging a sit-in. The horses, ahead of the game as usual, are developing their teddy bear winter coats.

The elderberries.The elderberries.

I have an odd push-me pull-you life at this time of year. My desk work is demanding; I spend a lot of time at the computer, wrangling with words. I have a deadline coming and I squint furiously at the screen, willing myself to think faster.

Then, in complete contrast, I pull on my muddy boots and take Stanley the Dog out for his walk, where he hysterically chases pigeons and digs up perfectly enormous sticks. I stomp down to the field to see to the small equine herd, and everything is very earthy and about as far away from technology as you may imagine. It is then that I become acutely aware of where the weather is coming from, of the exact state of the leaves, of the direction of the wind, of all things elemental. It is then that the political bickering and the state of world events seem as distant as if I were living in 1913, not 2013. There are even moments when I gaze at the elderberries and think I should make them into cordial. (I think this every year, and I am never enough of a domestic goddess actually to do it.)

The beech avenue.The beech avenue.

And then I go back inside, where all the 21st century machines hum and blink at me, and the miracle of the internet turns me from parochialist to citizen of the world, and the external reality comes back with a rush, and I remember that there is a whole other parallel universe going on, where nobody much gives a damn what colour the beeches are. I quite like that I maintain a faint obsession about the leaves. It’s a bit hello clouds, hello sky, but it feels like a rooted sense of reality in amidst all those shouting voices on the radio. The voices come and go, but the trees endure.

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