Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Autumnal notes

My thanks to my brother Marek, who many years ago told me about the Japanese notion of mono no aware, the awareness of the transience of things, the bittersweet sadness at their passing. And to my parents, who early this summer told me (entirely independent of my brother) about the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi, the aesthetic of transience.

It is at this time of year, as summer slowly passes into autumn, that the aesthetic of transience becomes most acutely felt. This morning, the sun rising over the misty fields, highlightling the dew-covered cobwebs of the large garden spiders, engendered just such a klimat.

Before long though it was warm enough to leave home without a jacket and cycle into work, enjoying the September sunshine. As I cycled in, my thoughts strayed to similar mornings in the London I grew up in. I am very grateful to Jonathan Wood, who archived this e-mail from me (9 September 2003) and sent it back last week:

It's that time of year again. The Japanese claim that the feeling of the earliest intimations of the onset of autumn is the most profound and beautiful that a human can experience. The sense of mortality, of summer fading away, passing by like life itself, manhood, glory... On a day when the sun shines in the morning, but it's getting colder outside; there's dew on the lawn and the leaves on the trees are just starting to lose their green, you can feel it.

The past four days in Warsaw have been just so. Cloudless skies, warm days, cool mornings and evenings, the clear skies letting go the warmth of the earth as soon as sun sets.

Back in London I had my own ritual for the early days of September, which I have observed since the age of 15, when some unknown calling prompted me to take the day off school and board a 112 bus from Ealing Broadway heading anti-clockwise around the North Circular until the bus reached its last stop, by a pub (The Tally Ho!? The Cock, at Palmers Green? The Manor Cottage Tavern?) For some reason, the feeling of the onset of autumn, I reasoned, is best felt in north-west London. From Willesden to High Barnet, from Stonebridge Park to Hendon on a sunny day before September becomes too unambiguously autumnal, the sense of Mono No Aware was there; strong and absolute. Year after year I'd go, wandering by bus to Cricklewood, by tube to Finchley Central or Southgate to Cockfosters thence by foot onto Trent Park. Returning to London after four years of Midlands studenthood, I renewed my habit of pilgrimage. Bunking off work for a day, or taking the opportunity to visit a client or supplier with a London NW address, I would never miss the chance to experience Mono No Aware in this particular part of London.

Chance would play an important part in these ramblings; the unexpected secondhand bookshop, a welcoming pub, a quiet park set back from the noisy main road, an interesting architectural elevation. There was no sense of taking a map; planning the trip would kill any prospect of serendipitous happenings. Taking a camera was also taboo; these were atmospheres that no 35mm SLR could possibly capture; the late warmth of the sun on my face, smells of diesel exhaust on the North Circular, taste of Watney's barley wine, Ponder's End. Thirty years on from the first such excursion, I look back with unabashed nostalgia at London North-West. London the Great, London the Big Onion where layer on top of historical layer exists to be peeled back and explored, away from the business of the outer skin. Today I feel like going somewhere - but where? Warsaw's outskirts are too rural or too post-communist to draw me from my desk...

Since 2003, I've located plenty of magickal places in and around Warsaw where the feeling of the onset of Autumn can be felt, loud and clear... (click label Autumn below).

Time to listen to Ralph Vaughn Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, which captures the essence of autumn coming unto England.

The River Thames between Henley and Marlow is also replete with autumnal atmosphere when the sun shines onto riverside trees, their leaves turning red. Another place I'd love to travel out to at this time of year. "Soon, it will be autumn in Buckinghamshire..." There's Vaughn Williams working his spell!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Autumn is the crucible for our palpable and meaningful philosophical life rituals denoting our inner consciousness, our awareness and understanding of transcience and the knowledge of the unstoppable 'moving on' into the next phase of our mental, physical and spiritual skins, awash with that most human of emotions - sadness, loss and longing mixed with understanding of the purpose of this process. I have a simple ritual in Autumn; on a Friday night, after a commute home by train. I alight from the train and stand and watch it depart from the platform and then linger watching as it snakes itself up the track, lights visible at the rear, until it passes out of sight under a bridge and round the bend. The silence and gliding energy of its motion and the faint red dabs of its lights are singularly emotive and seem to draw from me wholesome reverie. I stand staring at the empty track, the shadow-arc of the bridge and feel elevated in the knowledge of the trace element of myself upon this journey and its moving on.The symbolic value of this simple ritual for me is very life-enhancing. Minute examination of the changing nature of my garden too, where webs hang lucid and sparkling, but possibly more fragmented that two weeks ago and where rose bushes and shrubs intermingle with that which is about to 'go over', always strikes me as a keen reminder of the spectrum of change and dying and the knowledge that next year, it will be just the same. Autumn has a palpability about it as if one could carve the feeling out of the air. We all have special places to exult in Autumn's visitaton - london parks, suburban streets awash with leaves and silence, the approach to the countryside as we move in our cars or on our cycles from the fevered core to the powerful outer rings, where city falls helpless into town which tumbles into outskirts and into the rural spectrometer of fecund ochres and burnished hues and brooding thickets! Move in transition and feel the distinct differences as you move from one ring to the other; be startled by the timbre of the air and its awareness of you as you change too!

We are unable to stop our constant [e]-motion and as we travel with this particular 'constant' and thereby get older, so we understand the unique and powerful symbolism just that little bit better. Your entry as every is highly stimulating. I shall expound more upon my own feelings when my own blog is unveiled.

Fr'Atom {Archivist}