Now is the forthcoming winter of our snow ascent made merry by the arrival of autumn’s colours. Every long-range forecast across the planet seems to be suggesting that this is going to be something of a lulu El Nino winter, so one must enjoy the overture to the full.
Having experienced (just once) a New England/Boston October, I’ve been a fan ever since of the American term for autumn, ‘The fall’. On my land here, there are 37 trees, and all but four of them have leaves variously fluttering, spinning and gliding down to Earth. For the last few days it’s been a continuous process: it makes me imagine that – the wedding between summer and The fall having finally declared them Man and Wife – there will now be a very brief honeymoon followed by the cold reality of married life. The spring will produce the eternal firstborn brought to oh so mortal maturity by the warmth of summer. This analogy could run and run. And in fact it does: year in, year out, on a loop.
The leaves offer every pastel shade imaginable, and some: grey, and pale yellow from the Poplars, bright red and old rust from the Virginia creeper, maroon from the Ash, green-blue from the Elms…and forty shades of orange from the Shumach umbrella trees. The recent (much-needed) sprinkling of rain has turned the grass a darker shade of Lincoln green, but it’ll be another four days – if the Meteo is to be believed – before we get any more. This has been by far the most hot and unremittingly dry summer in the 17 years I’ve owned the house: if there is any discernible trend at all in recent years, then I would say it has been towards slightly longer winters and then a hotter than normal spring. But the memory plays tricks. The only certain symptom of whatever all this is about is an abnormally arid May to October. According to my not always reliable diary, it has rained here (by which I mean a serious downpour) some 8 times in 167 days.
I’m not going to get into why: my brain isn’t big enough to comprehend it, and my temper isn’t long enough to cope with the shoal of email certainties from both sides that would surely follow any hypothesis.
What is it about contemporary debate that seems to cause a descent into ill-mannered sarcasm and personal insults within seconds? I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect that it has a lot to do with the ‘human right’ the internet has bestowed upon tribalist beeeleeeevers to Have Their Say.
When online comment was first enthusiastically adopted by the Old media twelve years years ago, 9 times out of 10 the headline was Have Your Say. This was, let’s face it, an open invitation to ignorance in all its forms to display an arrogance vraiment énorme. HYS was dropped in inordinate haste by the press – to be replaced by several advertisements and feature article distractions until one might get repetitive click injury scrolling down to where the comments were at last to be found.
Down there in the Sad Folks’ dungeon, today we find a sort of malign anti-social club in which childish name-calling is equalled only by the daft confidence of conspiratorial assertion. Be the subject British paedophilia, American foreign policy, the Jews, climate change, economics, Putin, ethnicity, 9/11, Greece, neoliberalism, communism, socialism, Islam or feminism, opinion is disguised as fact….and alternative interpretation disguised as knuckle-dragging extremism or reactionary denial.
The internet has democratised comment to the extent that any old half-baked tosh can take a coincidental connection and turn it into a pernicious tabloid ‘truth’. This is demos turned into Plato’s nightmare, and explains the ease with which improper, robotic education (or simply intellectual idleness) can be turned against anyone targeted by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Theresa May, Francois Hollande, Wolfgang Schäuble, or George Soros. To paraphrase Harry Truman, monied power can destroy any seedling before a leaf is on a single tree.
The later more demonic Roman leaders gave the Mob the right of life or death over gladiators. Today, we give Sun readers the right to condemn any untried person to death. Down that road lies the death of everything we have achieved since Imperial cruelty invented crucifixion.
We need ideological believers to leave the stage, and leave us to apply new ideas to the next stage. But in the meantime, here in Lot et Garonne seasonal nature continues its annual demonstration of death prior to rebirth. In this process, there are no Harriet Harmans, George Osbornes, Diane Abbotts, Jeremy Hunts, Donald Trumps, Hillary Clintons, Mario Draghis and Wolfgang Schäubles to put forward their hubris-fuelled visions of life as seen through a twisted prism: there is only the falling of leaves, sacrificing themselves to help the tree survive the cold, dry air of winter.
Homo sapiens has a lot to learn from leaves.