Times of change
I came across no less than four combines as well as grain trailers, bailers, flatbeds and ploughs – and of course, the farmers and their helpers, all working flat out to get in the grain that will become our bread over the coming months.
The countryside has been building up to this all year, which makes it uniquely special. Farmers are juggling so much now. They have to reconcile the weather, the ripeness and dryness of the grain, and the equipment and machinery (which is often contracted out and in high demand).
Dramatic autumnal change
For most of the year, the countryside moves along at a slow and steady pace. Even spring can creep up on you almost unnoticed until the arrival from Africa of the swallows, swifts and martins in April.
However, the change at this time of year, as summer slips into the mists and mellow fruitfulness of autumn is dramatic. In just a few weeks the countryside transforms from the golden yellow of ripe corn to the dark brown of ploughed and planted fields.
You see change as well in the light, which becomes less glaring, more gentle and takes on a liminal quality as the elevation of the sun slips towards the horizon. This metamorphosis always takes place in mid-August and is noticeable because the change is far more pronounced than the corresponding unfolding of the light in the spring.
Rise above the chaos
And as you look skywards, you notice the swifts are more conspicuous in the evenings as they prepare to migrate south. They gather above the rooftops before embarking on their unbelievable six thousand foot high vesper flights.
According to author Helen Macdonald, scientists think they do this to get away from the noise and dust at the surface of the earth, and this helps them to recalibrate their navigation systems. At these heights, above the convective boundary layer, there is less disruption to the starlight, magnetic fields and wind and air conditions that swifts use to navigate back to Africa. Here, in the high, cold, clear air, they can re-orient themselves with the earth – and with each other.
And then the birds are gone, and their absence is far more noticeable than their gradual and quiet appearance in the spring, adding to the drama of this change in the seasons.
A new academic year
And there is also another significant change. Not only is it back to school; it is the start of the new academic year. New pupils are just starting, and everyone else has moved up a year. For children and parents, it is an anxious time involving new schools and colleges, new subjects, new teachers. And even those of us no longer in the academic arena feel the impact. One day the streets are full of families on holiday and the next day, rather like the swallows and swifts, they have disappeared back into their classrooms.
So it is hardly surprising that this period of dramatic change is, in my book, the keystone of the year. I encourage clients to use September or October as their annual review months. There are more changes and renewals at this time of year than at any other time. Conversely, in December and January, when much of the world celebrates New Year, the Northern hemisphere remains cold, lifeless and unchanging.
Conversely, Judaism celebrates Rosh Hashanah – New Year – in mid-September, this powerful time of review and renewal. Rosh Hashanah means The Head of the Year. And whilst the word ‘head’ can mean the start of the year, it also has a deeper meaning here not dissimilar to that of our corporeal, thinking, heads. Judaism understands that the choices they make at this time of change have a significant impact on their year to come.
Seek clarity from above
And so back to the swifts and their ‘vesper flights’. In her essay of the same name, Helen Macdonald tells how swifts can teach us about making the right decisions in the face of oncoming disruptive weather or times of change. To find out about the essential things that will affect their lives, they fly high to survey the wider scene and communicate with each other about the larger forces impinging on their realm.
Like the swifts, this is a time of year to rise above the dust and mist of change that obscures our higher vision and take a top-down overview of our lives, always remembering that change, while often cyclical, is inevitable and demands that we make choices.
Photo: Tracey Phillips / Ryedale Photography and Nunnington Estate
Macdonald, Helen. Vesper Flights. Grove Pr, 2020.
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