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Ode to autumn

There’s a time, around now, when we stop shutting the warmth out, and start letting it in.

All summer I am fanatical about shutting up the house. Our house is weatherboard, and the inside temperature only stays bearable if you shut it religiously every morning and open it at night. So one of the most important chores is to close windows and pull blinds down early, and then the reverse at the end of the day.

There is a day, though, around the end of March, when I am shutting and pulling as I’ve been doing for months and stop, mid-action. I leave the blind where it was. I re-open the window. I let the sunshine come flooding back in. It’s that time. Autumn is here.

People have different theories about when the season turns. Firm theories, passionately held. Like those who swear by anything you care to name that your tomatoes must be planted on Melbourne Cup Day, or they will do no good in the summer to come.

Others reckon that Anzac Day marks the turning of the seasons. After April 25th, you start to batten down the hatches and prepare for winter to come howling in. My birthday comes when we’re putting our watches back, and it’s often hot, so I know that there are still little tail ends of summer well into March. But by mid April, most years, there’s a perceptible shift in the air, and our mood shifts with it.

Maybe it’s the end of daylight saving that heralds the cooler weather, and makes our thoughts turn to fires and jackets, thick soups and warm drinks. I’ve always been confused about time changes. The only way I can remember which way to alter my watch is by thinking that the compensation we get for the coming of winter is an extra hour of sleep.

But I don’t really feel that compensation is necessary, because I love winter. I love summer too, but one of the best things about living in Melbourne is the changeable weather. I couldn’t bear to live somewhere that was warm all the time. I like hot Christmases, cold Julys, autumn and spring that are in between.

I love the unpredictability of Melbourne’s weather, the four seasons in one day, the dramatic cool changes. I love the way you never know what the day will bring, you never know if what you put on in the morning will be completely inappropriate by afternoon.

People say ‘talking about the weather’ disparagingly, but I like to talk about it. I grew up in a country where the climate was exactly the same for four months in a row, so Melbourne’s weather is endlessly fascinating.

If I had to choose a favourite season, though, it would be autumn. I’ve lived in the north-east and the south-west of this state, and it was my favourite season in those places too. In alpine Mount Beauty the autumn air was so crisp and pure it practically seared your lungs, you could take great gulps of it and feel it doing you good. The skies were clean and the mountains stood up against them with unbearable clarity and beauty. In coastal Portland, autumn was the least windy season. There was a lovely lull, a serene time of windless sunshine, while we drank in the last of the warmth and prepared for the wild gales of winter.

I think part of the attraction of autumn is that it’s a season of melancholy. The poets celebrated this: the feeling that inevitably seems to come with this time of year of things passing, of death and decline and decay and the fact that we are all, inexorably, growing older. I get weepy in autumn, for no apparent reason.

I suspect this melancholy is particularly poignant in Australia, where summer memories, especially of the beach and the long ago Christmas holidays of childhood are positively drenched in nostalgia. We recall the hot days by the sea, the crowds, the ice creams, the children’s voices, and then we walk along by the water in early autumn, and the beach is empty and the crowds and the laughter are gone, and we feel strongly the passing of all things: youth, beauty, life itself.

And autumn can be so achingly beautiful: cold moonshiny nights when at last you can put away the fan and snuggle under a doona. Followed by clear cool mornings blossoming into sun drenched days with just the tiniest hint of chill. I sit in my garden at the beginning of autumn and wonder if it’ll be the last time that I can sit out there without a jacket. I drink it in, stocking up the light and warmth against the short winter days ahead.

This was published in The Melbourne Age 18 years ago.




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Reader Comments (2)

And tonight it’s the first night of the doona for us after an evening sitting outside
by our fire! So we know exactly what you mean and love your descriptions.

March 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJane Zagorski

I wonder whether the delightful seasonal experiences you describe will be lost through global warming Clare. The extreme variables of summer are already changing my looking forward to summer.

March 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRod

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