The Guardian’s point of view on this false autumn: a disturbing beauty

The Guardian’s point of view on this false autumn: a disturbing beauty

The Guardian’s point of view on this false autumn: a disturbing beauty

<span>Photo: Susannah Ireland / AFP / Getty Images</span>“src =” https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/MS_8FHmdGrNFp4HPe9o2fg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://s.yjimg.com/uu_K2/QrxIS3/1 -~B/aD02MDA7dz0xMDAwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/5e157467c1f0741b5cd0542373ea5590″ data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/MS_8FHmdGrNFp4HPe9o2fg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng – / https: //s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/fkgwmN23QJ_x_N0rxIS3Kw–~B/aD02MDA7dz0xMDAwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https: //media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/5e1542 “</div>
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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Susannah Ireland / AFP / Getty Images

Across Britain, woodlands are turning orange. Drifts of dry leaves grow on forest floors and swirl around street corners. Berries of hawthorn and rowan, elderberry and holly are ripening and the ferns are fringed with gold. From a distance it is beautiful. But the air is still warm and summer.

And everything is two or three months early. Holly berries usually ripen in November or December. Blackberries, traditionally a late August delight, began to ripen at the end of June. This turn and fall of leaves is not the usual gradual preparation for winter in temperate zones, but a response to stress from trees trying to conserve water. We are now in a false autumn, caused by heat and drought. And it seems wrong.

John Ruskin coined the term pathetic error to describe how writers relate time to human emotions. He wanted it to be derogatory, and it is true that this is a trivial literary move. But it is used so often because it keeps track of how atavistic even the most urban and screen-bound human beings are connected to the physical rhythms of our world. “Life starts all over again when it gets sparkling in the fall,” wrote F Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, and at the basis of his statement is trust in the universe and a profound consolation: when all else fails, nature a cycle beyond the thought level will follow.

There is, therefore, something deeply disturbing about such a graphic alteration of familiar rhythms. Drought is not unknown in Britain, of course, and too many parts of the world wearily know far more severe versions. But increasingly they occur in the context of an unprecedented climate emergency and heat. And the beauty of a false autumn, in particular, has an emotional effect, a profound uneasiness, something mysteriously suggestive of evil or danger; in that idea of ​​evil it is also an affirmation of moral failure.

Cultures around the world contain rites for the propitiation of time; a sense of responsibility for the natural world – and the belief that it will punish us if we miss it – is as old as humanity. One of the reasons why the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is so viscerally effective is the frankness with which it links the shooting of an albatross – the destruction of innocent wildlife – to a terrible change of weather: no rain, only blisters, deadly sun. We may not understand the mechanism, but on an instinctive level it feels right.

And likewise it wasn’t really a surprise to hear that the birds are struggling. In London, young swifts were seen falling from the sky. Fewer – and too soon – nuts and berries mean some animals won’t survive this winter. Hopefully older trees, with their longer roots, survive, but young trees may not, with all that means for further warming. There will always be some degree of uncertainty about the causes of specific weather events, but we cannot deny that we have not taken care of the albatross. Now we must hope to do enough to make sure these eerie golden days aren’t an autumn fall.

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