As we plunge towards winter, I take some compensation from the light of these autumn days. The window of daylight is short at this latitude, so my workday runs are done in the glare of streetlights. Only my weekend runs can give me my fix of daylight and the great outdoors.
Last Sunday was one of those crisp, dry autumn days. My route-a familiar one-took me past ploughed fields and hedgerows, down to the canal and on by the river. After a week of rain, the going was too muddy for my liking but I kept an eye out for some autumn colour. Shades of russet, scarlet and yellow always gladden my heart.
The week`s heavy rain, however, had stopped the colour play of the leaves. From deepest green, it seems as though they`re set to run straight to brown. Drier days are needed for them to sport their full palette of autumn colours.
That said, the light was still a joy. Hanging ever lower and more distant in the horizon, the sun rendered everything in a softer, more painterly light. Stepping through the woods, was like running through a watercolour painting. But it was a painting without a frame, a whole visual experience within a softly coloured sphere, from the pale blue sky, past the greens and browns of trees, down to the deeper muddier colours underfoot.
I ploughed on. My eye was drawn by the sudden turn of a cormorant`s head in the canal. He cut a v of ripples as he swims on, frantically scouting the river bank and the waters below with sudden jerks of his head. Then, sufficiently frightened by my plodding feet, he suddenly rises from the murky water and takes flight.
An interloper this far inland, he looks almost supernatural with his large, black ungainly body and silent, steady flight.
He reminds me that this is the season of the púca, where mists and long shadows and darker days conspire to conjure up the ghouls and ghosts from their graves.
Misty autumn light to lends itself perfectly to ghostly imaginings and makes fertile ground for the tellers of tales. Darkness and cold brings a deep sense of foreboding to many of us anyway, as ancestral quests to survive through the harshest of winters are lodged deep in our DNA. We are ever watchful, fearful, and willing to believe the worst.
Who knows what lurks in the misty haze of these autumn days? What spirits are rising from the ground in the long dark shadows? What ghouls will take over if the sun falls of the edge of our earth never to return?
We are foundering between the richness of harvest time and the impoverishment of winter, of darker nights overcoming the brightness of the day. We are in the twilight zone between the bright heavens and the murky underworld.
Our Celtic ancestors saw this well and celebrated Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) at this time of the year. They knew that fairies abounded now, and that souls were free to visit their living relatives. They lit bonfires and, in later centuries, set candles in gouged out turnips left on windowsills, lighting the way for ancestral spirits.
Running through the woods, I can feel all of the ancient magic that invoked those ancestral spirits. Autumn can come in more subtle hues, than the fiery reds that I seek. But subtle colour changes, soft mist and dull light add a magic of their own.
Púca=Irish word for ghost