Thursday, 24 November 2016


“Before the leaves change, light transforms these lucid
speaking trees”
                                          (Anne Stevenson “Stasis”)

Every day I look out of my dining room window and see the leaves changing.  This morning the sunlight filters through amber leaves on oak and beech.  The ash’s lemony leaves fell weeks ago, the golden horse chestnut’s only recently.  The birch’s coppery foil leaves have gone.  The quickthorn hedge is bare but there’s a good stock of haws for the birds.   My garden is in a state of transformation from its enclosed summer appearance (a place for green thoughts in a green shade) to its open winter aspect when I can stand at the kitchen window and see vehicles on the lane half a mile away.

That opening quotation from Anne Stevenson’s poem comes from her sequence “Sonnets for Five Seasons”.  I can never tally four seasons into the twelve months so the Scottish and Northern English idea of five seasons seems to fit my experience of the year much better.  In Scots the five seasons are Lent, Simmer, Hairst, the Back-End, Winter.  With the shift to cold frosts and stormy weather I feel we are now in the back-end, the days shortening to the Solstice, the back-end of the old year.  But the trees haven’t quite succumbed to winter.

Last weekend we had a reunion – five of us who were students together in Liverpool in the seventies.  The last time we all got together was several years ago when we were juggling childcare, work, aged parents.  I wrote about that in “Reunion”, a poem which found its way into The Art of Gardening.  Now, the focus of our lives is different.  We have mostly become the older generation, our offspring have left home and some of them have produced children of their own, most of us have retired from the day job, several of us have moved house or are planning to move.  Life has turned out differently from what we expected when we were students.   For some there was a sense of a new freedom, for others a sense of constriction.  For all of us a new awareness that we are at a time of transition.  Carol Ann Duffy’s challenging, encouraging question (from her poem “Snow”) seems particularly relevant:  What will you do with the gift of your left life?

I hope we can, in R S Thomas’s words, catch this
     one truth by surprise
       that there is everything to look forward to.

                                         (from “Arrival”)

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