In June of last year, one morning at 4 am, the sound of The Mamas and the Papas filled our car. It was overcast and raining heavily and the M50 around Dublin already had a steady flow of traffic. Our daughter was heading for San Francisco to stay with a school friend and there was only one song for the occasion, ‘California Dreamin’ .
Driving through Laois and Kilkenny at 9.30 pm this evening, there was the encouragement of light still clinging on in the sky at the Western horizon. In the city it would not have been visible, the brightness of the streetlights outshining the last remnants of the sunset. I searched for The Mamas and the Papas CD.
‘All the leaves are brown, and the skies are grey . . .’. The Mamas and the Papas singing used to sum up how I felt about the autumn. Their song said they wished they were away from the cold north east of the United States and instead were in California. I wouldn’t have minded where I was when the leaves were brown and the skies were grey, just so long as it was warm and sunny and the days lasted forever.
I long ago gave up my dream of becoming rich and spending six months of the year in Australia and the other six months in the south of France.
I have never liked the autumn; since I was a child I’ve always dreaded the shortening of the days. I remember talking to someone in a hospital, about twenty years ago, about it. ‘SAD’, she said.
‘Yes’, I said, ‘it is’.
‘No’, she said. ‘SAD – seasonal affective disorder, it’s caused by a lack of light’.
I could have told her that. I don’t know if the clinical name for feeling miserable in the autumn has changed since then. Whatever its name, feeling like the words of California Dreamin’ remains the same.
Autumn is not really a season, though, it’s more a state of mind, as Tom Stoppard’s Guildenstern puts it:
Autumnal-nothing to do with leaves. It is to do with a certain brownness at the edges of the day… Brown is creeping up on us, take my word for it… Russets and tangerine shades of old gold flushing the very outside edge of the senses… deep shining ochres, burnt umber and parchments of baked earth-reflecting on itself and through itself, filtering the light. At such times, perhaps, coincidentally, the leaves might fall, somewhere, by repute. Yesterday was blue, like smoke.
A brownness at the edge of the day? That captures the mood perfectly.