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The end of summer

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” Sylvia Plath.

Today the clocks went back. We have gained an hour - at least that's what it seems like, even though of course we haven't. Anyway, today is, for me anyway, and perhaps this year more than some others, the real end of summer. Summer officially ended a month ago on the 1st of March here in Australia. But when the clocks go back it really signifies the end - evening closes in so much earlier - which means winter. And it is a suitably damp autumnal day today as well.

Above are the last of my very poor showing of cherry tomatoes this year. The plants, themselves, as you can see, are virtually dead, and yet there are a few tomatoes still hanging in there. The poor showing is I'm sure mostly due to my very poor gardening skills - well lack of attention above all - although Monika, my green thumb friend, tells me it has not been a good year for tomatoes. And if the price of tomatoes in the supermarket is any indication, it certainly hasn't been.

Here in Melbourne, summer has not entirely gone though. Next weekend we again reach the heights of the high 20s in terms of temperature - 27 they say, although it looks like that is it. Over the last few weeks though, in spite of pretending we can still wear summer clothes, it has actually become increasingly cool. So cool that David has laid a fire and taken the cover off the chimney, so that we can have a fire in our large open fireplace again. Not tonight though as we are babysitting. Monday will be the first fire of winter.

And yet, as Sylvia Plath says 'the new fall [is] not yet born'. Let alone winter. When we visited those gardens up in the Dandenongs last week, the autumn leaves were not yet in full bloom - just one or two beginnings if you looked closely. The Dandenongs are famous for their autumnal colours. Here in Australia the natives do not do that glorious Autumn thing. Their leaves just flutter to the ground all year. But up in the Dandenongs which the early settlers used as a summer retreat, they planted lots of deciduous trees which thrive in the cooler, damper air up there. The rhododendron gardens we visited which are famous for these autumn colours had none at all - well maybe a few just beginning to turn. Below are a couple of photos that show that in-between state from the Cloudehill garden - and three from our own garden - an unknown deciduous native and a very straggly non fruit bearing and non ornamental grape vine. There are still leaves on there that could be used for dolmades. Perhaps I should gather them and have a party. I haven't made any this year. And it's usually something I do just once a year.

Today, as I said, it is damp. There was probably mist in the morning, but I am never awake enough to see. We are virtually on the river so I imagine there is morning mist. It dripped rain all night I think, watering the garden so that the 'grass' is pretending to turn green, and also, fortuitously, soaking the very sticky, gluey dishes from last night's dinner - more about that tomorrow. David has been busily cutting up dead trees and limbs that have occasionally fallen to the ground, so now we have a healthy stack - well stacks really - of wood to burn on our open fire. Something I feel very guilty about I must say, because of the pollution this causes.

I once read somewhere that Melbourne has six seasons, so I just looked it up and found this which is based on the Aboriginal view of Melbourne's seasons. And yes indeed there are six unequally sized seasons - none more so than at this time of year it seems.

According to that we are now in early winter. Which I think indicates how the seasons have changed, because actual winter still seems some time off to me.

Summer used to really end at the end of February/early March. Well that's my memory of it anyway all based on my younger son's birthday mid March and how difficult it was to predict the weather for that event. I definitely relaxed from the fear of bush fires by March though. Not any more. These days the heat can extend well into March. As I said next Saturday is predicted to reach 27 degrees, which is pretty hot. So not time to put away the summer clothes as yet. Which is my other major sign that summer is over. My small wardrobe is not big enough to contain both my winter and summer clothes, although I do throw clothes out and have almost managed to be able to keep everything I have out all year. Which is just as well because in Melbourne you never know.

The other thing to note about that Aboriginal calendar is its emphasis on foods and the natural world - so now is the time of fungi according to them. And yes, they are becoming cheaper in the shops. And flocks of birds migrating north. Well I don't think they actually migrate as they mostly seem to be here all winter, but they are definitely flying around in flocks - even the galahs, which to my mind are almost entirely seen as pairs.

I think perhaps Autumn is my favourite season. The weather is generally mild, but cool enough to enjoy that open fire, and enjoy more hugs. A time to snuggle up with a book, to enjoy the gorgeous autumn fruits and vegetables. Actually tomatoes are usually abundant and luscious, plums too and new apples are beginning to show their faces. Not to mention those mushrooms. And the salad fever that everyone seems to have starts to disappear. Soon we shall be able to have real barbecues too - although we are not out of fire ban season yet.

"Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night.” Hal Borland.

I for one am always glad to see summer go. It is too fearful a season for me, even if it is sometimes glowingly beautiful. Not for me here in Eltham though - too dangerous and also too dry and dead looking. No, summer is for blue skies, the sea, holidays, and sunflowers à la Vincent. (After last week's excursion, Vincent van Gogh is on my mind - and he captured the seasons so well.) Here is one of his interpretations of autumn:

Possibly sunrise, but I choose to see it as sunset, just to emphasise the passing of summer.

“When summer gathers up her robes of glory, and like a dream of beauty glides away.” Sarah Helen Whitman.

I think almost everywhere in Australia summer is a time of danger and extreme heat - this year of floods. There are a number of different climate zones in Australia, but in none of them is it an easeful time of year. Yes you can party on, you can dine outside, you can frolic on the beach, but anything else is risky. Even the sea. So the coming of autumn is a relief - and obviously a joy to those who love their winter sports - and I don't mean skiing, and so on - I mean footy and rugby.

Still on van Gogh I think this one of his many masterpieces perhaps expresses for me the passing of summer and the peace of autumn, even though this is very possibly a sunrise, and since the man is sowing seed it is also very possibly spring. But, for me anyway, for we are all different, it expresses relief at the passing of summer.

Summer is glitzy, autumn is soothing and calm and winter is warm in a completely different sense. Warm clothes, warm houses, warm gatherings, warm emotions. And a warm bed - my last summer change which I shall be making when the sheets are washed this week, is to change to our winter doona. A warm nest at the end of the day.

"Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever." G.R.R. Martin.

Here in Australia autumn begins in March not September. And even after fifty or so years, I cannot get used to that. When you say the word 'autumn' to me, I automatically think of September/October. April is spring. Autumn also begins on the 1st day of the month not at the equinox. It's an entirely contrived date for change. I mean no season abruptly ends on a particular day - the glide from one to another - a continuum. And it's weird how all over the western world we stick to the four seasons, changing at the solstices and the equinoxes, when these dates actually have little significance in so many of the zones in that western world. Up there in the tropical north of Australia it's hot all the time. The temperature is virtually the same everyday. It's just the rain that changes, because it's also in the monsoon climate zone. So not even all of the tropics of the world are the same as they don't all have the monsoon, and even if they do, local geographic conditions will also change that.

Anyway it's officially autumn - Keats' 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' and summer is officially over. There is another literary quote though - this time from T.S Elliot - 'April is the cruellest month'. I must say I never really understood why April was cruel - after all April is spring - time of joyful rebirth, the beginning of warmth, and the pastel colours of flowers in bloom. In spring they always seem to be pastel to me, not vibrant as in summer - although this is, of course, not true. But here in Australia, I guess some might say it is the cruelest month - for the sun lovers anyway.

They just have to remember:

“It’s always summer somewhere.” Lily Pulitzer.


I had forgotten that I could post my Vincent slide show here on my blog. So here it is. I should have spent more time synchronising the words with the pictures, but I guess I'm lazy. After all it apparently took years for them to put together the Vincent show, where the music is perfectly synchronised with the images. No Don McClean though. I know it's corny to use his song, but it is a pretty perfect song.



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