I have a row of small bottles and jars on my kitchen worktop, glowing with autumn colour. Three orange nasturtium flowers, an aster, softly purple with a bright yellow centre. There are two heads of dainty young green fennel seeds, replacing the tiny yellow umbel flowers of summer. A drying sprig of purple Scottish heather, two leaves from a plane tree, rich in shades of red and orange ribbed with green, and a solitary William Shakespeare rose of velvet crimson, smelling gorgeous.
In the garden, looking upward as I hang out my washing, the quality of light has changed since summer and the surrounding sounds are different. The blue of the sky has lost its intensity. The colour is thinner, delicate and, today, wispily streaked with white cloud. In contrast to the tart green of spring, the leaves of the lime trees are mellowing to soft butter yellow. In summer the buzzards languidly soar and mew. Now, in autumn, skeins of geese start their daily commute to and from a lake in the east to a local estuary in the west. I hear them first, chattering and squawking, and then they are overhead, their V-shaped flight formation constantly adjusting as they progress across the east coast sky.
The hedgerows are heavy with vermilion rose hips and wine-red haws. The elderberry bushes are drooping under the weight of clusters of tiny black-purple berries. Beech and oak trees are heavy with masts and acorns; birds and woodland animals will not go hungry over the next weeks as we move toward winter. In the lane, beneath the chestnut trees, the scuffed shoe of a schoolboy kicks at a yellowing green sputnik and a mahogany conker tumbles out. It is quickly snaffled and stowed in his pocket. The casing falls into three segments, creamy white and soft as kid inside.
The leaf litter in the wood is deepening as this year’s leaves fall to the ground. Windy days blow the leaves into dancing swirls down the lane. On a quiet day you can hear their landing. It is a soft sound that says ‘pad’. Autumn fungi push through the leaf mould and their subtle colours make the mushrooms and toadstools difficult to see amongst the dead leaves, orange and varying shades of brown. There are exceptions. A horse mushroom glows, luminous white, on the roadside verge and, in the wood, the Fly Agaric is bright red with little white spots, a favourite for illustrators of children’s story books about fairies and woodland folk but, in truth, poisonous and hallucinogenic.
The seasons move through their colour wheel. Spring is fresh, dressed in yellow and white, summer, gaudy and bright in hot pinks and mauves. Autumn employs a wider range of colours from the paintbox. Woods of ochre, wine and sienna; fields of burnt umber before the viridian spikes of winter wheat poke through. Blackberry leaves edged in cerise. Nature’s final fling before the plants start to shut down for winter.