It’s officially autumn, and I’m sure you’re all as relieved as I am. Autumn’s like the seasonal equivalent of getting home and taking your bra off after a long day, or your belt after a heavy meal. Finally, we can relax and let it all hang out. Sometimes people see autumn as a melancholy time of year. Summer’s over, the weather’s starting to worsen and winter is on its way. But let’s stop kidding ourselves—the weather hasn’t got any worse, we’ve just finally dropped our wildly unrealistic expectations of it. In June, July or August, a rainy day is a small calamity. Any ambitious plans we might have made to actually go outside are thoroughly ruined. A week of rain and the disaster reaches almost conspiratorial levels.

   We feel cheated by Nature itself, and that we’re being denied our fundamental right to a ‘proper’ summer. Even the sunny days we do get are greeted with mistrust and suspicion. “Today’s it, today’s summer,” we announce grimly, “don’t expect any more sunshine after this.”

    Come autumn, and the picture changes utterly. Autumn holds absolutely no disappointment, precisely because we expect nothing from it. A rainy day in late September is no less inconvenient or unpleasant than one in July, but psychologically it’s less of a blow. We don’t mind it as rain fits into our conception of autumn. Sunny days, meanwhile, are hailed as the rare and extraordinary occurrences that they are. They’re a bonus, and so can be enjoyed without any niggles as to whether the good weather will last or if we’ve had as much as we’re owed. I suspect that the weather feels that easing of pressure, and performs better as a result. I study Literature, so this theory is based purely on my own whimsical speculations with absolutely no basis in scientific fact.     

    However, it is often borne out in reality: just look at the weather the other week. There was a sudden and dramatic improvement, and we were treated to gorgeous sunshine and warmth—from that Wednesday, the official start of autumn. Coincidence? Yes, probably. This effect is most obviously demonstrated in the phenomenon of the ‘Indian Summer’.

     A Guardian article from this time last year explores the origins of the phrase, which is most likely to have come from North America and might be a reference to Native Americans’ harvest patterns. It quotes William R Deedler, a US weather historian, who cites John de Crevecoeur, an Orange County farmer and author, who wrote in 1778 that “sometimes the rain is followed by an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer; its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness.”

    Calm, tranquil? That certainly seems to suggest that the weather is more relaxed. And if my degree’s taught me anything it’s that some guy writing something in the 18th century is all the evidence I need. This relaxing of our expectations goes for ourselves and our bodies as much as for the weather. Autumn means an end to the tiresome concept of getting “beach body ready.” An end to turning down extra portions because of the imminent threat of appearing near nude in public.

     An end to costly and time-consuming beauty procedures, such as applying fake tan to make it seem as though you’ve cheated the system and received more than the nation’s allotted two days of sun. I personally don’t plan to shave my legs until mid-June. Obviously we would all be much healthier and happier if these silly hang-ups didn’t exist at all, but they do, and autumn at least means a respite from them. It’s fitting therefore that Halloween, the season’s signature event, has become a celebration of dressing up ridiculously and making a fool of yourself.

    What a brilliant time of year.

Laura Bird

Image by Chris Sorge

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