Thursday, August 09, 2007

" Not the yellow Provençal August...

... of the English imagination." ( Iris Murdoch, again, from 'The Sea, the Sea'.)

I never much cared for August. A rank, flyblown time of year, the stale fag-end of summer grudgingly conceded to us by British school holidays, while over the Channel and the Atlantic, we knew, they played and basked all through July as well. The roads crowded, the service tired and jaded, ice cream sticky in the sand. High summer, in the sense that things are high when they start to smell. Sticky and dusty, by turns hot and dry and thunderous and torrential, and sometimes miserably, disappointingly cold, the sea shiverous. Never comfortable.

Yellow like ragwort, that sneaky plant that lures unfortunate animals with its persistent juiciness when other greenstuff dries out, then mercilessly poisons their livers.

I believe there is a kind of fractal pattern in the year and the day. Just as there is an Hour of the Wolf, that time of wakefulness in the stretches after midnight and before dawn when all one's fears and demons seem to have been lying in wait ready to prey and torment and pursue and do their worst, and one longs for light and morning for relief, so, a half-turn around the twenty-four hours, there is a corresponding Dog Hour, that mid-afternoon low point, not dark and menacing like the Wolfish time, but sluggish, apathetic, dull of sense, filled with a mood of pointlessness, and, for me, though it can be shaken and evaded by action and detachment, only really turned at that time of the evening when the working day is officially put away, the dog is fed, the wine is poured, the kitchen comes to life and all is wrapped in animated cosiness.

Similarly, there is that lean and Lenten time early in the year, in February or March, when the days lengthen but the cold and harshness seem to bite just that bit harder, when, even in these well-fed, centrally heated ( for some of you!) times, one feels the fear that one's reserves, the spiritual woodpile, may just not last, that the Wolf, who is hungry too, may really, at some deep ancestral level, be at the door. And, of course, the 180 degree point around the circle from then is now, the Dog Days, la canicule, caniculares dies. The time when summer is tired and grouchy, the nights perceptibly draw in, things lose their sharpness and savour, and I think of fires and the scent of chrysanthemums.

August used to make me long for autumn.

Now, though, I'm coming round to August, its baked-goldenness, and brightly peppered weedy wayside flowers. It helped when I discovered it was autumn. That is to say, Celtic autumn, the harvest and gathering season. Not Fall, not the colourful, smokey, nut-filled, first-frosts time, but Lughnasadh, Lammastide.

The Celtic seasons have an offset rhythm with regard to the traditional ones, and can seem rather unsettlingly previous in their expectations. Early February, Imbolc, Candlemas, (Groundhog Day even...), is surely too early to call spring, yet there is that sense of shift, of turning, of hesitant awakening. And it never seemed quite right that Midsummer Day, solstice, the longest day, was also the first day of summer, when from then on the days would shorten. But if one thinks of summer not as the full, hot, lazy time, but the time of growing light and full blooming, it makes far more sense to begin it at Beltane, May Day.

The descent into winter and darkness takes place from Samhain, Halloween, when the veil between the worlds is thin.

This year too, I appreciate especially the last heats of August however patchy and moody, which, after the non-summer in this part of the world, are less of a last gasp and more of a gracious bonus. And I always enjoy September, now it no longer means returning to school, at least personally - my current teaching resumes in October. It is Tom's birthday month, and we usually get away somewhere; most things are still open but the holiday places are usually more relaxed, more empty, heaving a sigh of collective relief, and the weather is often delightful, but with just a tang of sharpness, one's perceptions stirring with the earth's changes.

We have had the camera for about a year now, I realise, as the first pictures I took were of fields of wheat and barley, round bales of straw and gatekeeper butterflies on knapweed. It seemed frustratingly difficult at first, but some of them weren't too bad. I felt a little sad thinking that now I had covered all the seasons, as I had looked forward to new things to photograph with the changing year. But of course there will always be new things... and always the same ones.


meggie said...

Another lovely, illustrated post, to read, then savour, & read again.

Anonymous said...

Great meditation on time - or so it seems to me because I have had many of those same thoughts!

Fire Bird said...

Yes, yes, but August just doesn't seem itself this year after the cool wet weather. Something is missing - it isn't as heavy and worn out as usual. I feel a bit like I do when winter isn't cold enough - a bit cheated. A bit disoriented in the cycle that used to be predictable.

Lucy said...

Yes, that last is true, I feel we should be makin the most of any bit of summer, but it doesn't feel right, I ought to be wanting autumn by now instead of hoping for a bit more of anything resembling summer.

Lee said...

I love the dandelions. Such a simple flower, beautifully presented.

And, AND, you have depth of field. So rarely seen nowadays!

Jan said...

Lucy, WHAT can I say?
This is very beautiful.

apprentice said...

Lovely post. This is a non -year for summer, everything is a jumble here, cold nights have turned some leaves on the high ground already, yet the heather hasn't fully flowered yet.

But I do like August here, save for the biting beasties, as it's arable land and the whole landscape goes golden and that makes the whole sense of the place change.

I prefer September though, as the light is better for photography, the slant and shadows are more interesting.

Lucy said...

Lee, I think the camera has made me look closer still at things; the yellow flowers are something other than dandelions, though very similar in the shape of the flowers, and with clock seedheads, but much taller, many flowers to a stem, coarser leaves and of this season. I've not noticed them before but there seem to be a lot this year.
Depth of field: my technical ineptitude and ignorance about photography is a perpetual embarrassment. Your comment prompted me to look up the matter, and 'circle of confusion' described nothing so much as my mental state! I imported the brain of my resident physicist to work on the matter, he protested optics were not his field but nevertheless with his help I understand better now. However, it's all more by luck than judgement; the camera (a Canon Powershot S31S) does a lot of clever things of its own accord, though I sort of find ways of messing about with angles and distance, using the zooms etc that seem to produce different effects... I've never messed about with aperture settings etc, though I might now start, so thanks for the prompt!
Jan, Apprentice, thank you. so many things are out of kilter, aren't they? One of the things I've always loved in this month was the simultaneous flowering of marjoram with the mass emergence of gatekeeper butterflies, but it doesn't seem to be happening this year, the butterflies seem to have been really knocked...

Lee said...

There is something about digital cameras and depth of field. With the 'old' cameras it was very easy, not so with the new digital ones, especially the point and shoot type. Yours is obviously a good camera. I did read a few sites once about the issue but it made my brain ache when the tried to explain the physics of it all. Photoshop lets me cheat a little bit and fake depth of field but it is not the same. Cheers.

stitchwort said...

The single leaf is a wonderful picture.

As for the yellow flower, it might be a sow thistle or a hawkweed.

julie said...

What a lovely post! I'm reminded of my own childhood in England, when the thistles were full of down. They grew along the chain link fence behind the houses in my neighborhood, and we children would shake the fence to release great clouds of fluff into the air. I'm sure the farmers didn't appreciate it, but it was great fun for us. There was also a strawberry field near our house, and my Mom would sometimes take us to pick buckets of the biggest, reddest, juiciest strawberries I've ever seen. Delightful!
Thanks for the memories :)

Lucy said...

Thanks Stitchwort, yes, I liked the leaf, a cropped closer-up of it without the edges looks like a map. They aren't sow thistles, but might be a hawkweed, I'll go looking.
Welcome Julie, lovely recollections, thanks!

Zhoen said...

Poor wolves. They were never the enemy, they just howl so unnervingly.

Lucy said...

Yes, Z, that's true, and none of them, at least that didn't have rabies, ever really attacked a human. It's one of the great tragedies of our relationship with the wild, at all times and in all continents, that we demonised them so.

leslee said...

Oh, this is wonderful. I've bookmarked in Bloglines to read it again when I have more time.

September makes me a bit sad, though it is my birth month also. End of summer, though still warm and beautiful I admit. Too full of ragweed pollen, usually, which can exhaust me and make me irritable. Maybe there will be less of it here now that I'm away from the countryside.

Glad you've found something of August to enjoy. Photographing, especially on a regular basis, does make one notice and appreciate so much.

Avus said...

I thoroughly agree with your thoughts on the Celtic seasons - so much more apt.
AS to "depth of field" - for close ups, put the camera on "manual" and select a really wide aperture (say f2.8 if you have it) which will give you a focused object with a blurred background - which can give spectacular results if you have also selected "macro".