IN THE two weeks since I took this photo of a tiny sumach tree – ‘Tiger’s Eyes’ – in my front garden, the multi-coloured leaves have all shrivelled to a crisp, and are now hanging by delicate threads, ready, at the next puff of a breeze, to drop and die. September’s stillness has shifted into a season of relentless change. The wind blew madly all last night. A sound I find haunting and comforting, all at the same time. It’s like being the last person alive, listening to that noise, pummelling through the neighbourhood. Very alone, but enlivened, too. I do love autumn. And, as an October baby – this is the month that resonates most deeply. It’s a thrillingly destructive time – when everything is being stripped away in a final blaze of colour. A creative time too: my source and new beginning. Even the word I find beautiful – round and symmetrical: October.
There haven’t been many Walks Back Home recently, as teaching work at the theatre has begun again in earnest, and several Big Ticket events – a beautiful family wedding, two birthdays within three days (mine and my daughter’s), and a couple of city festivals – have taken me away from any hope of quiet routine and restoring country rambles. The B12 anaemia and associated debilitations that triggered my need for a regular Walk Back to Health in the first place, still conspire to create a mountain of fatigue. Go walking, or sneak in a daytime kip instead? The latter has an undeniable sleepy charm…
But on Thursdays – today – I always look after Badger, a big and beautiful lolloping black hound. A great asset and source of doggy good cheer: and a welcome bounce, once a week, since the death of our dog Muffin in 2012 has left the house somewhat bereft of animal spirits. Because of Badger, a Thursday walk is always on the agenda. He would be happy to walk anywhere at all, he’s not fussy, so long as fetching-of-ball or chewing-of-stick is involved, ad infinitum. Finding someone else’s ball, moreover, is his greatest satisfaction. So today, we took with us a silly pink tennis ball – definitely not his in the first place, but certainly not fit for anyone else now, since it has been utterly destroyed by a set of monster jaws and paws. He runs and catches compulsively. Being a hybrid springer spaniel and golden retriever means he is hardwired to do nothing but that – retrieve, over and over and over again. It’s forever Groundhog Day with Badger. But very good fun.
Roundhay Park, a mile up the road in North East Leeds, is our usual stamping ground. (Here’s something I wrote about this splendid space in On: Yorkshire magazine). After last night’s winds there were huge piles of leaves – orange, red, yellow and russet – to dive into, head first (dog), and joyfully rustle around in (dog and human). We were, to quote John Updike, “Giving the mundane its beautiful due.” Sky. Earth. Leaves. Wind. With the colour of countless autumns falling about our feet, we traipsed along aimlessly, and happily enough. Taking a natural break from an over-busy mind (mine), and satisfying an animal need (his) to run and run and simply wave that wonderful tail. Just one blowy, ordinary, meandering October day. Enough.
For more on animal spirits and the delight of small things, read Old Dog by Barney Bardsley