The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near.
The winter winds will be much colder
     Now you're not here.

And so it goes on ...

The sun has reached the Tropic of Cancer, and day and night pause briefly in their battle for supremacy. Darkness will predominate for the next six months, munching minute by minute into the daylight hours, as we slowly head towards winter. I am in total awe of nature, amazed that a 23.5° tilt of the earth's axis can have such a profound effect on our tiny planet, over a distance of 93 million miles. But there we have it, the beauty of the seasons, the thrill of change, the joy that suffuses my whole being - it is autumn!

Seductive autumn, with her soft evening mists rising from the meadows, her damp and dewy mornings, and the breathtaking golden light of a sunny afternoon. Nothing quite matches the exotic amber glow of sunbeams on ripe berries, beset by sleepy wasps guzzling and gorging their way to oblivion. Everywhere it is harvest, the gathering and storing, the taking stock, making ready for a long winter. Man, in his wisdom, makes jam, whisky and wine which will cheer the heart and warm the soul through the months ahead. Smaller mammals hustle and bustle and replace their coats with lusher, thicker, more luxurient pelts. Leaves twist and turn, tumble and fall, and ...

I watch the birds fly south across the autumn sky
And one by one they disappear.
I wish that I was flying with them
     Now you're not here.

Striding through the crisp, rustling mantle of fallen leaves, I sense the change happening all around me. The smell of smoke from a nearby coal fire awakens long-forgotten memories. Smell, an underrated sense, but so powerful. Sitting in my grandmother's front room now, so close to the fire that my legs become red and mottled. (Why it is always my grandparents' house I return to? I don't know, for we also had coal fires in my own home. But she was always there, constant, never moving further than her kitchen, while my parents both worked and I was often the one having to light the fire - it's not so much fun on your own.) Now watching the glowing embers collapse under a shovelful of fresh coal, seeing the curtain of thick yellow-brown smoke drawing up the chimney or billowing out into the room every time someone opens the door. Then the first flames, tentatively reaching out through gaps in the coal, the warmth growing again until the furnace is such that one can only draw back, away from the heat. Such a sense of security and contentment. Where are the old ones now, where did they all go? A sudden feeling of sadness and loss - life used to seem so simple ...

Like the sun through the trees you came to love me.
     Like a leaf on a breeze you blew away.

Life, like the seasons, is ever changing, but the cycle remains the same. Spring resounds with the wild exuberance of childhood and youth. The long, lusty days of summer reflect the time of young adults striding forth, confidant, making their mark, planting, growing and propagating.

Autumn, my beautiful autumn. If we're lucky it is a time to gather our thoughts and contemplate the fullness of life, to see the efforts of our labours coming to fruition. Of course many are not so lucky, harvests fail, fruits wither and decay prematurely and lonely autumn mists obscure the view of the world and all its wonder. Winter comes early for some.

Deep winter, like old age, may be cold, dark, and seemingly barren. This we must accept, and not despair, for nature is wise and bountiful. Renewed life stirs under the leaf mould. That damp smell of decay is merely a disguise, masking new beginnings. What appears useless, dead or dying actually protects the living, offering shelter from adverse conditions, feeding and nurturing the young lives developing in its midst. Oh, we might moan about winter, but without it the circle would break, and we would be deprived forever of the complete richness of life. We should welcome every season with open arms, and rejoice.

Lyrics from Forever Autumn by Justin Hayward