Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Savour the Days

Oxford has shifted from late summer to early autumn with amazing rapidity. Friday was blissful: a friend had the idea to hire a Canadian canoe for four hours. On the Thames, water and wind were quiet; honeyed light angled through the trees and brush.

Few people were about and fewer boats, though traffic increased as the day unfolded. We had no sooner left the waterside park than we passed a series of ancient stone quays: circular steps, mooring space, a place for a grand barge overhung with willow and crusted with age. Ghosts of Regency ladies and gentleman laughed and swirled in the shadows. Anyone and anything could have emerged from the radiance behind the weeping branches. Magical doesn't even begin to describe it. Eventually we tore ourselves away and in silence dipped our paddles against the gentle current: we were Ratty and Mole consorting with the god Pan.

We idled upstream for a couple of hours in the languorous warmth, a little breeze cooling our exertions, visited by heron and doves, and once the flash and rattle of a kingfisher. At the confluence of the Thame we stopped and ate our picnic, talking little about not much and reveling in the ephemeral day.

Too soon we packed up and began the float home, letting the current play with us—until we realized we were uncertain of our time and, for the last mile or so, poured on the power, in the end arriving promptly, wishing we'd had more time.

What a difference a day makes: the weekend was cold and cloudy; Monday the showers began to blast through, and yesterday brought a full blown autumn gale: 86 mph clocked at The Needles on the Isle of Wight. Outside my window it was, quite literally, raining sideways.

Today the rain has cleared off and the wind abated but there is no question that the year is winding down. Children and parents began the new school year this morning, and scholars have begun to trickle into the Bodleian. There is a sense of gearing up for term, the quiet desperation of o-my-god-here-we-go-again as new undergraduates come in and exhausted DPhil candidates prepare to submit their theses and face their vivas.

Monday and Tuesday the St Giles Fair was in town. On the way to the cathedral Monday morning, everything was still quiet. It was a typical English fun-fair, rather down at heel, making no effort to disguise but rather revelling in its own flimflam. Garish wagons and thrill rides, rows of stalls selling what passes for food—all somehow crowded into St Giles with military efficiency, a feat remarkable in its own way, but somehow ineffably sad.

Mercifully the only sounds that invaded the silence of our neighbourhood the last two nights were the background static of generators and an occasional voice reverberating from a tannoy turned to maximum amplification. This morning, except for one articulated blank-sided lorry, the fair had vanished, the trash had been swept—only the reek of urine on the pavement from St Giles' church to Mary Mag's marked its passing. At St John's college the gardeners were sweeping up leaves stripped from branches in yesterday's storm. Sitting here in the Upper Reading Room, now, as I write, faint incense of woodsmoke seeps through the mullioned windows.

Our little garden at the house survived the storm, though foliage is somewhat battered, exposing orange and red pumpkins, green tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans, all rushing to mature before frost. The apple tree and the pear tree are laden with fruit, the apples tangy and crisp at this early stage of ripeness, soon to turn yellow and sweet.

Autumn ... days slipping by too fast, too fast. . .


Blogger Sr. Valerie said...

Ah, yes, tempus fugit! It is amazing to me how the climate shifts, as if on cue, from August to September, summer to fall. Here, in northwest Missouri, August ended with summer's last gasp of three 90 degree days, followed by an 80 degree on Sept. 3rd, and then down into the 70s where it has remained since. The humidity left with the heat and will not find its way back until late next spring.

The mornings are gloriously cool with dawn's first light on the horizon as we walk to lauds, the last stars of morning sparkling in the clear sky. Even the sunlight during the day has a different quality and angle, softer somehow and quieter.

We lament that the autumn colors will be lacking this year, as so many of the trees have already been stripped of most of their leaves by the mid-August wind and hail storm. We were amazed at how quickly the fallen leaves turned brown. Not at all like the gradual process we are accustomed to witnessing with the onset of autumn.

2:53 pm, September 07, 2011  
Anonymous J. A. Frazer Crocker, Jr. said...

And here on the Orygun (Oregon) coast we are having most unusual weather. Some days in the high 70s
followed by others in the low 60s
(both Fahrenheit) and NO rain or wind. It seems glorious and yet--the
joys of a fire in the fireplace have
yet to be realized.

Very nice writing, Maggie!!

10:03 pm, September 07, 2011  

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