It’s a fresh morning: the first of the year with a thick wooly jumper to keep out the chill. A heavy dew on the car windscreen and fellow passengers on the train sporing scarves and hats over weary eyes. As the carriage rattles through the forest, the sun is up in a fresh, bright blue sky, showing trees starting to thin and leaves starting to drift. The fields are brown too: the stubble from the harvest stretching out as far as i can see. Summer may have ended, but autumn is only just getting a grip.
The brown fields are not an ending: they are the promise of the spring to come: whilst on the surface we see only faded stalks and scattered flints, below the ground the old roots are rotting back and taking the nutrients down into the damp soil. As the conkers fall from the trees and the leaves turn yellow then rusty red, the falling seeds hold promise of springtime after a long period of reflection through the winter months.
It’s odd that the academic year starts in autumn: as the landscape turns dormant and promise lies hidden inside nuts and cones, buried underground, so students start on a formal journey of discovery and growth. Maybe it’s timed to follow the harvest so that in times gone by they could help gather the crops before dedicating themselves to study: or maybe it’s so they can get a few months under their belts before the promise of spring mirrors the intellectual awakening of a second term (or more likely thoughts of student debt, new year hangovers and overdue assignments. I’m a romantic, not naive…).
Learning takes root slowly: we need foundations, we need context, we build one layer upon the last. The very word ‘development‘ implies the reworking, the reiteration of one’s self. We don’t start from new every time, just as the new crops grow in the soil formed from the remnants of the last. It’s a cyclical process.
Trains take you through the strata of society: through the outskirts of town, the industrial belt, factories and bus stations, where coaches are washed down overnight and the plumbers buy their supplies, then on past waterworks and sewage farms, the hidden edgelands of our cities, before emerging into the country, through fields, past fishermen on riverbanks, past villages and farms before hitting the wildernesses and remote corners of our island. Trains carry us in isolated splendour past it all as people bury their noses in books and laptops, discussing end of year figures and performance reviews (or the latest shades of Grey).
So as autumn steps in, the landscape takes pause to breathe, to reflect, to gather it’s strength for another year. This time for reflection is so important. Yesterday, when i was writing about storytelling, i sat with a blank page in front of me as i waited to start sketching the illustrations: the blank page so daunting in some ways, yet so glorious in others. The blank page is the potential: it’s the ploughed field waiting to be sown, holding the nutrients and water to feed and nurture the ideas.
We cannot operate at full speed all the time: we need space to lie fallow, to reflect, to absorb what we’ve learnt and ponder what comes next. That time may be on a train, on a walk, sat with a hot chocolate in your favourite cafe or whilst daydreaming in a presentation today, but find the time for reflection. Without the autumn, without winters grip, there can be no spring.