Wrathful wind from heaven wrestles with the sun,
The leaves leap from he tree and alight on the ground,
And the grass withers that was once green.
(Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ll. 525-27, translated)
I have not usually felt that autumn is my favourite season, though there’s an undeniable thrill when it arrives. I think that’s because I spent much of my life in a climate where autumn could be a grim betrayer – promising orangey cinnamon snuggliness and instead delivering humid sun until Thanksgiving.
But I do wonder if one reason there seems to be an autumn-fest going on everywhere – aside from its marketing possibilities – is precisely because the season can be a grim betrayer, even in a British climate where a more proper fall does happen at least for a while. Even so, it’s a season that doesn’t come to dwell; it never fully inhabits the calendar months we allot to it, never stretches itself out to the full extent of its days. Its beginning is always taken over by a selfish summer in September, its end surrendered to winter as soon as December arrives. Autumn is a season defined (to use philosophical terms) not by being but by becoming. Its very identity in ripening nuts and fruit, flaming leaves, is a movement from summer to winter. The leaves only change because they are going to fall. I wonder if the love of autumn stems partly from knowing that it will never fully arrive or repose in the way we might wish.
[Squirrel Nutkin] troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamoured of a season, but that is something like what happened […]. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible – how can one possess Autumn?) but to re-awake it.
(C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Ch. 1)