Four days after I left hospital, I was walking along a hilltop in North Yorkshire in search of the last of the purple carpet of heather before it fades into autumn which has now officially begun. It was strangely silent without a living soul in sight. I expected to see walkers on a fine Bank Holiday Monday at the bitter end of summer, the last day of August. Just one couple and a dog on a day of intermittent sunlight and superb cloud formations slowly travelling over the wide-open skies. Silence, except for a solitary helicopter, perhaps looking for non-existent fires. A strange, almost uncanny stillness. Where were all the walkers, cyclists, even motorcyclists breathing in the last of summer breezes?
As we walked, sheep bells rang in time with the bobbing heads of a few grazing sheep. Autumn sunshine, pale but still warm, seemed to give nature a pause to bask, before settling down into winter. Without seasons, would one have a happier, more even state of mind? I thought of Equador, perched on the Equator, with twelve hours of light and twelve hours of darkness unchanging all year round. The sun sets punctually every day at six in the evening and rises at six in the morning. Crops are harvested while others are sown. It is like an Alice-in-Wonderland fantasy for real.
‘Bulbs are key to our economy here,’ our Equador guide told us. ‘They are for export.’ Strange, I thought, but we do need so many to light our homes in winter. ‘Aeroplanes are filled with them,’ our guide continued, ‘timed to arrive for your Christmas markets.’ Well, it is dark in winter, so that makes sense. ‘Red is the most popular colour…’ At last I caught up with him. Red carnations, gladioli, whatever flower you can think of that grows out of a bulb, packed in spring in Equador and so ready to burst into leaf and flower out into the depths of winter from European Christmas fairs. Will that happen for a pandemic Christmas season this year, or will Equador’s red gladioli and carnations be another tragedy in these un-natural times?