16:31 EST, 18 October 2013
16:31 EST, 18 October 2013
What’s the best time of year in Britain? Now there’s a question. Surely a front-runner is a balmy summer’s day, with the hum of insects, the clink of ice in a long cool drink, and the thwack of leather on willow?
No? Too cliched perhaps? How about spring, with the hedgerows coming alive and blossom appearing from the shadows in deep forests? Undeniably beautiful, but all a bit too soft-focus and mellow? Maybe winter, then, deep and crisp and even. No? Too chilly and bleak?
By an astute process of elimination, I think you can probably tell the inevitable direction of this week’s column. The best time of the year – for me, anyway – is autumn.
This is partly because for the last decade or so our summers have been so abysmal it’s been nice to get them out of the way (although this summer was spectacular of course).
Yes, summer was a scorcher for once, says Monty Halls, but autumn is nature’s finest spectacle…and it looks like Reubs is already making the most of it
But the real power of autumn is mainly to do with change. Here we have one of the most abrupt transformations of all the seasons, like some celestial switch has been flicked and the party is over. This year it’s been particularly apparent, with the passage from warm summer mornings to chilly dawns happening in what felt like an instant.
One moment I was in flip flops and a towel to let the chickens out in the morning (a distressing sight for any animal first thing in the day let me tell you), and the next it was wellies and a big woolly jumper.
Autumn’s most magical trick is a treat for the senses, a conjuring act to rival anything in nature anywhere in the world. Gone is the uniform green of our forests, to be replaced by yellows, oranges, reds and browns. How can anyone say this isn’t the most beautiful of all transformations? The science behind it all is really quite simple, and yet – as ever – contains a touch of elegance and romance.
Autumn’s most magical trick is a treat for the senses, a conjuring act to rival anything in nature anywhere in the world, says Monty
As every schoolchild knows, leaves are green due to the presence of chlorophyll, which aids in photosynthesis, a word that translates as ‘putting together with light’.
As the nights draw in, light becomes less readily available and potent, so the chlorophyll breaks down to reveal the other chemicals that make up the leaf. These include carotene (orange), anthocyanin (red) and all the variants of the two along the spectrum.
The result is a patchwork of different colours, a defiant, multi-pigmented blaze to see out the summer. As we push towards late October, there is also a carpet of fallen leaves in our woods, softening your step and rustling at your passing. Reuben creates his own vapour trails as he runs, with clouds of leaves rising in his wake as he hurtles through forests gilded by low autumnal light.
And finally, autumn gives us the chance to indulge in something denied to us by a hot summer. It gives us a chance to be cold. This in my opinion is greatly under-rated as a pastime. Can there be a finer moment than crashing through the door of a pub, stamping water off the wellies, pulling off a scarf and woolly hat, and making your way to the fire glowing in the grate?
The very best days are those when there’s a nip in the air, and the best place to be on such a day is outside, breath fogging and fingers tingling. It should be just cold enough to turn the tip of your nose slightly red, a kind of external indicator which I use as a thermostat to tell me it’s time I went somewhere that serves hot chocolate (or a pint, depending on whether it’s a survival situation or not).
So, let’s not lament the passing of summer, glorious as it’s been. Instead, let’s embrace autumn in all its multi-coloured glory – a sensory feast that celebrates change, and reminds us that there’s so much more to life than boring old sunshine.