From my window I can see autumn slipping in over the hills. The mornings are cold now. Daylight savings ends and the days are shorter. The few deciduous trees in the forest are bright through the fog and the damp dark camphor laurel.
Winters are usually crisp and sunny but in the middle of autumn we’re still at the end of the wet season. Just a few days ago it was dry enough for a fire outdoors but dry weather doesn’t last long this time of year. Autumn is an in between time. There are breaths of winter in the evenings and days still full of summer heat. One day can be spent curled up by the fire and the next swimming in the creek.
Throughout our respective lockdowns last year, our lives were more defined by the seasons than ever. We were reliant on sunny days to see friends for walks and in those careful post lockdown months, clear nights for socially distanced camp fires.
On the farm, life lived by the seasons is nothing new, if a little magnified by a year spent in isolation. Spring comes with first swims in the dam and lambs and ducklings. Summer arrives, loud with cicada song and mangoes and hot humid days. Now the last jackfruits are ready to be picked and the rainy days turn cool and we no longer need to be so afraid of carpet pythons stealing chickens. The black cockatoos swoop and the avocados begin to ripen.
In autumn we’re finally able to get stuck into the garden. Our gardens struggle a little over summer with the intense heat and storms and they tend to grow better in autumn. I plant my gardens on a rotational system, beginning with brassica and greens which are easy to grow in these cooler months but are heavy feeders, taking nutrients from the soil. After a season of brassica I’ll move onto alliums or other light feeders. Legumes come next to enrich the soil with nitrogen before ending the cycle on fruiting plants like tomatoes and eggplants. Today I add compost to the garden and use old fly screen doors to protect the young plants from Anastasia’s hungry and somewhat destructive ducks.
We can feel the turn of the season most clearly when night falls. A red moon on a clear night, a cold breeze off the mountains, hot pumpkin soup for dinner. I’m often driving home from work at this time of day and so autumn can also mean the last light of an ochre sunset reflecting off the puddles. It’s the shadowy silhouettes of sugar cane criss crossing against the dusk. As I catch the ferry toward home, autumn is the flood brown Richmond River turning still and silvery.
Back on the farm my headlights shine on the slippery dirt driveway. The cicadas have fallen silent but the night is full of frog song. I pass the dam, where branches trace dark shapes in the water. The air smells smoky and damp and the warm lights of the house flicker through the mist.