The Four Seasons

I’ve read a nice couple of essays in this Community Blog this week, about the onset of Autumn. Lopamudra was her usual beautiful, lyrical self, describing what the season means to her and her writing, as she labours away in the Sub Continent. And Marco Castel matched her with his own take on the season and its meaning to him in his Roman observatory. Lovely writing from both, and I thoroughly recommend (and thank!) them for sharing their thoughts. And thank you both, too, for some inspiration – now it’s my turn. But please, don’t expect the same level of lyricism! My scribblings aren’t like that, I’m afraid.

Much as I enjoy The Fall (as an aside, why do our American friends insist on using that term? Can it really be because, as an old Harvard graduate investment banker friend insisted to me years ago, it was simply grammatically correct, as leaves do fall from trees?) I would never suggest it’s my favourite season. I’ve always been able to find things in the others that have meant more to me than Guy Fawkes and Hallowe’en.

In winter, there is of course Christmas: too much food, too much drink, the giving and receiving of gifts (some trashy, some treasured) – and in my childhood there always seemed to be snow, deep and crisp and even, to play in. Nowadays, of course, thanks to our apparently unbreakable dependence on fossil fuels, that is rare, even in my Northern European latitudes. And that is all to ignore the deep religious significance of Christmas throughout the Christian world that I grew up in. Now, in my increasingly old age, the white snow has given way to a grey slush lasting for a week or two each January, the toboggans and skis that my kids found such joy in less than ten short years ago, gather dust in our storage room in the basement of our block. Ah, winter: will you ever return to your former glory?

Spring is a time of renewal, of showers and sunshine, grass suddenly, almost overnight, appearing ankle deep and desperately in need of a cut. The buds on the trees sprouting and almost as quickly turning from little red and green lumps on the branches to fully fledged leaves on bushes and trees alike. And Easter – another devout Christian centrepiece of faith that has been taken over by the God of Consumerism. The Passion of Our Lord (and please don’t get the wrong idea: I am not a religious man, but I have my own set of beliefs that comfort me, developed over this long and largely happy life, and some of them have their roots in the Christianity my parents raised me to follow) has been overtaken by the Passion for Chocolate Eggs, Roast Turkey and all the trimmings and trips to the Mall rather than the Church.

Personally, I’ve always favoured Summer, and as I’ve got older that preference has been enhanced. As a child, the long summer days meant hours roaming over the fields surrounding my village with my friends, splashing in the slow moving river, fishing (generally unsuccessfully) and going on picnics with my family. We would consume blackberries and raspberries picked wild straight from the bushes where we sat, piles of ham and pickle sandwiches and hard boiled eggs and my mum’s superlative home-baked cream cakes and sausage rolls and meat pies, all washed down with jugs of home-made lemonade. Windy days meant kite flying. Trips to the seaside, where we sat on the pebbly beach, my dad still wearing his shirt, trousers and cloth cap, my mum her dress, a cardigan and apron. As I grew older, summer meant cricket matches, initially with my mates (again) in the cow-field behind one lad’s house, then when I started taking the game seriously on a proper cricket field for the village team, for a few years anyway. Then marriage and my own family did for the cricket, but all the rest continued: now the dad, my clothes (mostly) disappeared on stony beaches, as did my wife’s, but everything else remained. Nowadays, in another country with another, younger family, these summer traditions continue but on better, sandy beaches, and I love them still.

So what then of Autumn? To me, it means work. That is not to say that I do not enjoy the cooler, wilder weather, the squally showers, the shortening days, the spectacular colours of the falling leaves in the forests and my garden – I do: the season is not for nothing called The Golden Autumn here in Poland. I get the same feelings of tranquillity and grace that Lopamudra and Marco do, but there is also a ton of work to do!

I live in an apartment, and our window boxes need little in the way of care and attention. But I am also fortunate to own a 400 sq m plot, a cross between a proper garden and an allotment, on a community of similar plots, close to the main airport here. It has a 5m sq wooden cottage, a patio, tool-shed and toilet, a wealth of plants – roses, mostly, with tulips, rhododendrons, lillies and others – plus half a dozen blackcurrant bushes and a big walnut tree. The plot is mainly laid to lawn, and plagued by wild dandelions and other weeds that look nice when in flower, but remain pests that would, along with the ivy on three out of the four perimeters, take over the entire place without my constant attention. So I’m busy throughout the summer, mowing the grass, weeding the flower beds, trimming the hedges and trying (but failing!) to control the wildflowers.

Come October and the winds roll in, accompanied by the rains, and the real work kicks off. As well as the walnut tree, we are surrounded on all sides by a host of other trees in the surrounding plots, and their falling leaves frequently find their way on the wind into my little oasis. So for the last couple of weeks of October, and on into November, we spend hours raking all this detritus into heaps and bagging them for disposal.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many leaves the average tree or bush contains. Nor how many nuts our walnut tree sheds every year (and we had to trim half of it away in the spring as it was overhanging the cottage and looking close to breaking point). This year, on our last visit (last weekend) to close the place up and secure it for the winter months, we spent three solid hours raking leaves (for probably the fourth time) and ended up with three 200 litre refuse sacks filled to bursting point, and stuffed into the back of our car for disposal. And two more plastic grocery bags filled with the last of the walnuts, making I think six (or maybe 7?) larger bags, in total. The crop was reduced from the last couple of years too, but still produced enough to feed all our friends and family through the Christmas season (walnuts being a Polish delicacy much treasured).

It was hard work, as ever – but as I looked back while locking the gate and surveyed the plot, I reflected on the job well done. There is something, to me at least, eminently satisfying in finding the place looking a complete mess, with raggedy piles of leaves rotting away everywhere, and blowing hither and thither in the breeze, and leaving it, three hours later looking if not pristine, at least neat and tidy, and ready for its winter hibernation.

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  1. Thank you so much for the kindness 🙂 I had been out of town for a couple of weeks. Hope I haven’t missed much. 🙂

    1. You’ve missed nothing at all from me, don’t worry. I’ve been in hospital and ignored all things tech during that time!

  2. Thank you for the great read. I have a waist-high (was chest-high) pile of yard debris in my back yard (garden) processing into compost without my help. I’m not much on doing yard work. It will probably take two years for that pile of debris to completely compost and I will have added new—next year—before it’s done. But our soil here has a high clay content so the compost is welcome. In the spring and summer I let the beautiful cat’s ear (it’s like a tall dandelion) grow tall and flower so that the lot on which our house sits looks like a meadow. Finally, but with downcast heart, I will mow it and let it start over. Yes, I like the neat appearance of our place after I mow, but I like even more the meadow.


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