As I walked home from school the other day, the trees shedding their leaves like confetti around me, I looked down to see something that I haven’t seen for over three years. Lying at my feet was a small but perfectly formed acorn. An acorn! I could barely conceal my excitement – indeed I went straight onto Facebook for Android to share my excitement with the world. Well the 323 people that I have as my friends on Facebook that is. I was even more excited when two days later I saw conkers! The reason for my excitement is simple: for the last three years I have lived in a country where Autumn does not exist.
I have always loved Autumn – summer is obviously my favourite season but Autumn comes close second. Of course I mean the kind of perfect Autumn day where it’s bright and sunny, with clear blue skies and light breezes: not the cold, damp, gray ones! Despite my dislike of being cold, Autumn is great as you can wear fashionable coats, knee-high boots, hats and scarves but without needing to be so wrapped up you begin to resemble the Michelin man. When I was a child Autumn meant wearing my favourite pixie-boots, kicking piles of leaves around on the way to school, playing conkers, and singing ‘Autumn Days’ in assembly.
Clouds that look like familiar faces
And winter’s moon with frosted rings
Smell of bacon as I fasten up my laces
And the song the milkman sings.
It was the only song that we ever sang with any enthusiam (unlike the boring ‘One more step along the world I go…’) as we all loved the chorus where we sang “so I mustn’t FORGEEEEEEEEET, no I mustn’t FORGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET…” with gusto. Autumn was the time of the Harvest Festival where we’d all bring in items of food to give thanks for and then donate them to less fortunate people. I remember looking at the huge pile of goodies on the table and wishing that I could eat the chocolate. Some things have not changed.
When I moved to Vietnam I was drawn by the prospect of heat as I wanted to live in a hot country. Although I had been told that Vietnam only has two seasons – dry season and rainy season – it didn’t really occur to me that there would be no seasonal variation whatsoever. Having lived in Asia before, I just assumed it would be similar.
Indeed, Japan does the four seasons extremely well. In fact Japan does Spring, Autumn and Winter so well that they totally eclipsed the summer for me. In the spring Japan becomes awash with the pale pink bloom of sakura (cherry blossom), and in the Autumn the country glows red and gold with abundant maple.
Yes, Japanese Autumn is truly stunning!
Up in Vietnam’s north the climate follows a four season cycle but in the tropical south there are only two seasons: dry – this generally lasts from about January to April; and rainy, which lasts from May-December. Although the wet season lasts longer than the dry season it doesn’t necessarily rain every day and it is possible to have fairly long stretches without rain. Dry season is better for arranging outdoor events and rooftop terrace parties if you want to guarantee good weather because when it rains in Vietnam, it really rains!! However, the temperature change between the two seasons is minimal and Vietnam retains its lush green foliage all year round.
The lack of an Autumn season was made most explicit to me in my first year when I was teaching poetry to my Year 13 IB class and we were studying Keats. When we came to ‘Ode to Autumn’ I delivered what I thought was a pretty good lesson and was surprised when my usually bright class seemed confused and couldn’t answer even the simplest questions. I put this down to Keats’ intricate and elaborate language and tried my best to help them to understand. Part way through the lesson a girl raised her hand and asked “what IS Autumn?” which is when I realised that a) they had never personally experienced Autumn and b) they are only familiar with the concept through the American term, ‘Fall’. How much I had to learn!
Anyway, here I am in Sweden and I am loving the Autumn. From seeing deer standing swathed in curls of mist in the morning sun, to walking through the park kicking leaves as I go. Last weekend I went for a walk down to the harbour with Jordan and it was the perfect Autumn day.
So that was my Ode to Autumn, I’ll leave you with Keats’ far more eloquent ode.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.