As the leaves begin to drift and decay, so too do my thoughts. Here I am once again, in stout wellies and overcoat, tending to the damp and depleted garden of my boggy autumn mind. Here comes the dwindling of daylight, and the slow creep of dormancy; the building weight of mud clinging to the boots of my thoughts.
With every sodden step I submerge a little further, and my energy shrinks deeper into my roots. My flowers have blackened, my stems begun to sag, and the instinct to grow has retreated like sap. I want only to cover myself in protective mulch and lie dormant till spring.
Goodbye to the billowy-blond tresses of the long-haired meadow grasses; to whiskery ripples of barley like green silk in the summer breeze. Goodbye to nodding froths of cow parsley, and to baked earth cracked like dragon-hide underfoot. Goodbye to freshly-mown lawns and bare feet on sun-warmed stone.
I’ve always dreaded the onset of winter. Not just its heavy depths, but the febrile brightness of Christmas too – highlighting every splinter and schism of family in its unforgiving glare. As the summer tides retreat my hopes seep quietly out to sea, exposing the familiar mud-flats of melancholy that lay beneath.
‘What’s wrong with me?’ I rail, ‘Why can’t I feel buoyant and light?’
As if the trees could simply pick their leaves up again, or the bees pop back out to pollinate! Would I scold my tomato plants for their withered October fruit, or berate my hanging baskets for their decomposing blooms? No, I’d put them in a greenhouse, and tuck them in for the night! Just as the trees shed their summer bounty and the dahlias blacken and slump, so my body responds to the whisper of the seasons; the call to rest, and to hibernate.
However much it feels like an ending, it’s simply another revolution of nature’s wheels; the patient coiling and loading of life’s new springs. Our energies simply aren’t the straight lines of productivity we so stubbornly demand. Like morning mists on a mountain, they slowly gather, circle and rise.
The mind, too, is just another deciduous shrub on the scree-slopes of life. But as the winter approaches, and the sun begins to ebb, we can still bathe our minds with our inner light. And so I turn my thoughts to the quiet joys instead; to the twinkles of fairy-lights and the smoky whispers of bonfires on cold nights; to the womb-like cocoon of a duck-down duvet, and the bloom of my breath in the cold air beyond; to drizzle-jeweled spiderwebs and crunchy leaves underfoot; to steaming mulled-wine and the crackled hum of burning logs. And to that most glittery of stipples – the hoarfrost of the night – painting the ordinary and overlooked with tiny crystals of delight.
And as I drive home, I spot a man playing violin on a bench outside the botanic gardens – almost hidden behind its great bed of decaying wildflowers. Just a few metres before him – his only audience – sits one little squirrel, bolt upright on its haunches.
The irresistibly daft charm of life’s reassuring wink!
I’ve had many surprising incarnations in this life so far; academic, nursing assistant, footballer, rugby player, au-pair, epidemiologist, fancy-dress enthusiast, ice-hockey player, circus performer, professional gardener, artistic doodler and occasional duck. But in forty years, writing is the one area I’ve most deeply yearned to express myself but rarely found the courage or pluck. And so now I’m travelling this inner journey of exploration and expansion at last, a curious cartographer of inner worlds and outer reflections in the mirrors of life, gently unpeeling layers of my created self to unearth the rich bedrock beneath. And I offer my journey here, to whoever it may reach, as a token of connection, courage, love and trust.