Open Spaces

Every year I bid farewell to summer by seeking a wide-open space. There I can let it go by flinging my farewell into any blue sky I can find, preferably from the top of a hill – there are no mountains in Yorkshire – as a plea for a good number of them to come even as the days shorten into autumn. A steady breeze ruffles the purple heather in its autumn battle with the large fronds of green encroaching bracken. It is the autumn equivalent of the spring contest between bluebells and the white flowers that give out a whiff of garlic. But those are the woodland’s spring carpet, while in autumn, heather covers the wild open spaces of the Yorkshire moors and the wide valleys and hillsides in Scotland. In springtime I want the bluebells to win. In autumn, the heather. Both, I fear, are losing. Are these upland heather moors doomed to lose their purple hue and become relentlessly green?

Purple is a greedy colour, absorbing whatever light there is, but glowing too. Walking along the sandy upland paths between nature’s purple carpets and unsettling a grouse or two, one feels on top of the world, open to the elements, stepping into the future come what may. The vast thrill of space surrounding one both soothes and stimulates.

Every year around this time I return to Keats’ Odes to the seasons, and particularly to the one to autumn, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. Mists. There was one down in the valley, moving gently in humps and hollows as if it had a life of its own, drifting into the future.

Low in the valley the path along the river Dove, crowded in spring because of the daffodils, is deserted except for a few people exercising their dogs. Cows graze despondently. The grass is losing its summer sweetness. A stray wisp of cloud hangs between the two hills as if undecided whether to stay or wait for a breeze to move it along. I recall when I spent September in Ecuador where the seasons and the length of day hardly change from one month to the next, year in, year out. Sunset at around six in the evening and dawn at six o’clock too. If there is no spring, when are the crops sown, and when harvested? Harvesting happens according to the time the crop has been sown. No odes to autumn as the precursor of winter there. So when you buy flowers in winter, they will have been flown in from countries near the equator where there are no seasons as here in Europe. Given the choice, which pattern of light and dark would you prefer?

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