A hand holding a blackberry

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Facebook is awash with brambles just now. Brambles in tubs, brambles being picked from the bushes in the Castle Grounds by children with pink-tinged fingertips and equally rosy cheeks. Brambles in pies, brambles in jam jars, brambles bubbling in pots on the stove.

Brambles in booze, even, if you’re my neighbour Ep and have enough left over from making your jam to stuff some kilner jars with brambles, fill them up with vodka or gin, and leave them fizzing in the cupboard until Christmas (mmmmm… I know who I’ll be visiting…).

It’s Instagram perfection. The Lewis mammies are armed with brambles right now and there are plenty of pictures to prove that we’re now in the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” as Keats wrote so perfectly in Ode to Autumn.

This is the image of Autumn just as surely as Summer’s is the one of the children on the beach, playing in the surf in perfect blue sky weather. Who could knock either experience? These are moments that really are as lovely as they look — the stuff that memories are made of — and places where happiness can be found living.

Bowl of brambles and two jars of bramble alcohol
The fruits of Ep’s bramble ramble. You can see my crutches in the background — can’t get far without them. All pics taken on my iPhone on location in Ep’s kitchen.

I love Autumn. I love the crispness of it, the clarity, that cool after the warmth of the summer and the reflectiveness of it. For me, it brings thought after play and, being intertwined with the harvests, it brings thankfulness. This is the season of Thanksgiving.

I have been thinking a lot about the seasons lately. There are two rather prosaic reasons for this. The first is that I’m laid up inside with a broken foot (I had an operation but I’m mending nicely, thanks), so I cannot get outside and experience the feel of Autumn properly yet.

There’s also the fact that Strictly is back on the telly and that has always felt like a marker of Autumn, beginning in September and taking you through to the week before Christmas, to the Winter solstice and a time when twinkling fairy lights throw the darkness outside into sharper relief.

But that’s a television schedule marking the passage of time, not the Gregorian calendar and certainly not the equinoxes or the solstices.

To really feel the changes and be in tune with them, you have to be outside. How I would love to be able to go for a walk round the Castle Grounds just now.

Close-up of brambles

Autumnal days, particularly those mornings when the low drifts of mist creep in — the name for them in Icelandic literally means “valley cat” (a fantastic fact gleaned from Robert Macfarlane on Twitter this week) — might just be my favourite days of the year. Although I think this about perfect Spring days too. And Summer. And Winter.

The question of favourite seasons came up on Twitter the other day, when someone (that week’s curator of the Highlands and Islands Voices rotational Twitter account) put up a poll about it.

As it turned out, most people voted for Spring, with 44 per cent of people saying it was their favourite, followed by Autumn on 33 per cent, Summer on 15 per cent and Winter on 8 per cent.

I couldn’t have chosen, though. I like them all in their own ways. It’s a bit like being asked to choose between your children — an impossible task and each with their own distinct personalities.

Nothing is cosy like Winter, hopeful like Spring or so much fun as Summer when it’s beach perfect.

“Yes,” said the Highlands and Islands Voice, agreeing it was hard to choose. “Perhaps the real test would be whether you felt the same at the end of the season, too.”

Close up of bramble alcohol
Drink me, drink me…

That was such a good point, I thought. Maybe we naturally feel good at the start of a season because of that promise they bring. There is hope and expectation.

My hope, then, is for sweet brambles, that will still be ripe for the picking when I am mobile again, for Autumnal mornings where the valley cats stretch out languidly across Stornoway harbour and over the floor of the moor, where they lie low across the River Creed.

Where the maturing sun, now slightly lower in the sky, casts a longer shadow and the Hebridean light is at its most enchanting, ethereal and enduring.

It is a lovely time of year.

I do have to admit, though, that I don’t always feel completely tuned in to the experience of living here, much as I love it. Sometimes there is a disconnect.

A lot of that is due to some of the narrative, particularly on social media. It gives me something of an out-of-body sensation, where I feel I’m looking down on commentary at a far remove. The mosque story was a case in point. I find it bewildering that any church would urge people to pray that people of another faith would be prevented from having their own place of worship.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that, either. One of my friends commented privately that we were “living in strange times indeed”, while another suggested that the best antidote to the feelings of discomfort that such difficulties create is to regroup, to take strength from one another.

Indeed, the cure for disconnection can only be reconnection — and that happens in two spheres, rooting us where we stand, like a tree in the Castle Grounds, and reaching out our branches, until they touch those around us.

Bowl of brambles, jars of bramble alcohol, hand holding bramble

We have to connect to others, to our friends as well as our family, strengthen the ties that bind us. In simple terms, it’s always reassuring to know that others share the same world view as you do. It’s good to know it’s not just you.

The other connection is, hippy as it sounds, that communication with the land. Being part of something bigger than yourself and seeing, feeling and smelling when the seasons change. It makes us happy, too. Researchers consistently find that being in nature makes us happier. But we don’t really need anyone to tell us that.

Stand on top of a mountain and notice how happy it makes you. How alive you feel. How mindful you are — how much you are in the moment — and how much you are at one with your surroundings, realising that you are a tiny speck in an infinitely huge cosmos and that your time here is very fleeting indeed.

In the spirit of harvests, Thanksgivings and Mother Nature growing into her beautiful early middle age, with the progression of Autumn, I am reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for.

I can’t do Autumn yet but the best of it will still be there waiting for me, hopefully, in a few weeks. Until then I’m still looking back on Summer.

Everybody else is picking brambles but I’m still at the beach.

It was a good summer and it was good to us and, for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on — maybe I want to freeze frame my children’s childhood; they seem to be growing up so fast — I don’t feel ready to let go of it quite yet.

I’m scrolling through all the photos of all the beach days we enjoyed. For just a little while longer, Autumn will remain at arm’s length. I’m seeing it through a pane of glass.

A little bit disconnected still.


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