The pumpkin season is upon us – they’ve been in the shops for weeks and these plump orange friends, along with the ghoulish outfits and chocolate eyeballs also on the market shelves, herald the fact that the commercially busy time of Halloween is not far away. Whether you intend to hunker behind tightly closed curtains to escape the trick or treaters, or you’re likely to embrace the evening with a glass of something warm and alcoholic around the barbeque after taking the kids around the neighbourhood, I think it’s way too easy to miss the real value of the season.
Let me explain.
I’ve always disliked autumn.
Or rather I’ve tried to dislike autumn but despite myself, I’ve always found too much to enjoy: iridescent red and brown trees; leaves falling like snowflakes; hidden fungi and bright shiny conkers like gifts in the grass – all pleasures I have reluctantly and even guiltily fallen in love with.
Now, I really do love summer and I am very open and upfront about this. Where do I start? Is it the rosé left to lose its chill on a patio table, or warm sand in between your toes while catching the drips coming down a cornet or the disorientating but quietly pleasing first afternoon of the school holidays? For me, the pleasures of summer are deep-seated and long-awaited.
And then the year turns and autumn slips in while you’re not looking. New shoes are polished, shirts buttoned and hair pig-tailed for the new term, the warm sunshine always seeming to last a little longer than expected. The green lawn you battled with over the summer has become brown with leaves, the blades of grass stumpy as their growth slows.
Before you know it, October happens, leaves drop in the strengthening winds and one morning you wake to suspect that someone might have tampered with your alarm because suddenly your feet are hitting the floor while it’s pitch black outside.
For me, this is where the wait starts. With every leaf that falls is the latent desire, almost an impatience, for the buds of spring.
That is, until now.
For now I feel I understand a little more of what it’s about and it all started with a conversation about the festival of Samhain.
I will explain at this point that I am not a witch or a Wiccan. I’m pretty happy for most people to go about whatever route to spiritual delight they wish but I’m not one for being persuaded to any particular faith: I’m more of a spiritual tourist, you might say.
A friend of mine mentioned she was having a fire feast for Samhain – which, through many permutations has become what most know as Halloween. I’m no expert, so I’ll offer no comprehensive definitions here (although it is well worth a look up on the web) but what I did glean from our conversation was the notion of fallow: the fire feast being the last of the harvest festivals, the start of a new year and the beginning of a season of rest.
The fire would have served to not only dispose of the by-products of harvest but also to light, celebrate and appease – an opportunity to clear out and hang out after a long period of intense activity and hard work.
This led me to think that we have no sensible concept of rest in our modern 24/7 365 world. Even our sleep has to be discussed, prodded, analysed. Are we getting enough? Is our bed suitable? An article I read the other day asked ‘Have you scheduled downtime?’ (Scheduling ‘down time’? Surely a more obvious oxymoron has never existed.)
But fallow season? This denotes a stoppage. The trees will drop their leaves until their branches are bare. The bracken will die back to the earth. Some mammals retreat to their burrows and sleep until spring.
It’s shut down time: the earth has pressed the restart button.
I have decided this is what has always bothered me the most about autumn: the return indoors until spring. During the summer, as long as it is light, I am outside washing the car, the windows or pottering in the garden. I pop out for some shopping or hang washing at four o’clock in the afternoon, safe in the knowledge that it will be dry by ten. I run by the river, ride my bike over to the park with my daughter for a go on the swings before bed or laugh with my friends over wine, while the bees work the flowers in the pub garden.
But up until now, I have not understood that the fallow season is a necessary rest, not just a reluctant temporary stoppage. That this is not death: only sleep and a vital one at that.
It is not a time of inactivity, just a different form of activity.
It is a time to regroup, to learn new skills, to deepen and develop relationships.
Just as, below the ground, the trees will store their nutrients, ready for leaves and fruit the following year, we as human beings need to do the same. I feel like we have lost our concept of rest – light bulbs and televisions illuminating the spaces we used to sleep in during the winter. And as air freight has made it possible to purchase strawberries long beyond autumn, I believe we have lost the concept of harvest and how grateful those who have gone before have been for it.
I’m not suggesting that we go back to the dark ages before electricity and ample food but what I am suggesting is that some of the anxieties we have today (mine being the waste of time retreating indoors presents) arise from our lack of connection with the turning seasons, the cycles of life and the inevitability of death.
We need to remember that we are merely earthly observers and although we have learned to tinker (quite effectively, in some cases) with the outcomes of these turnings, there has to be more than a going with the flow – when it comes to the inevitable changes the year (and indeed life) throws at us, there has to be an active engagement.
So, in a break from what has gone before, I’m going to enjoy the fallow season this year. I’m going to dust off the board games, find my crochet needles scattered around the house and browse awhile my collection of dog-eared food magazines for well-loved recipes.
We’ll pull on walking boots and sweaters to catch the odd, brief, bright day and enjoy the sun’s ingress through the leafless branches.
We’ll laugh as we wipe marmalade muffin crumbs off our hibernation blankets on a Sunday afternoon.
And we’ll talk, reconnect, read, learn and enjoy the fallow season, all rested and ready to re-emerge in spring, ready for a new year.
What does any of this have to do with copywriting? Well bugger all really - but I wrote this years ago and I still enjoy reading it. I thought you might like reading it too.