It’s late-September and we are transitioning. The days are getting noticeably shorter and cooler. Distant, dull, hat-and-coat memories of last winter have been patched over with shiny, magical, bare-skinned moments of recent summer days. We find ourselves in the early days of autumn, debating whether to get the winter wardrobe out. Soon our sun kissed skin will be forgotten under layers of knit. The buzz of summer has subsided aside from a couple of hours either side of midday when the sun rays break through the trees with waning ferocity. As the sun loses its energy, I find mine. All of a sudden my mind finds a focused flow, and my fingers the flexibility and freedom to dance upon keys.
Here in the village there is a noticeable stillness in the air. The past eight nights we have been hit by a coolness before dawn for which our bedding is inadequate, and I now need to cover my arms and legs to head to the forest with Ella dog at dawn. The walnuts have started dropping from the tree that shades our house, the pomegranates are reddening, oranges ‘oranging’, avocados swelling, and the leaves that fell all winter and built up in the beds have mostly decomposed. The sun moves lower and the garden has a different glow. You can sense the relief from the trees and plants that the battle to survive the relentless days is almost over.
I‘ve always found that the air sounds different in summer. Even the moments of silence in summer, when the orchestra of cicadas takes a sudden break, have a different noise. There is a constant, almost deafening energy, in the sound of the air between July and September. As winter approaches, the ezan (call to prayer) cuts through the village sky with more clarity. During the summer months, the housing complex at the end of our lane is alive with the frenzied laughter from school-free children, tap-tapping of tavla (backgammon) playing, the general sound of holidaying. As the nights draw in, its temporary residents head back to the cities. You can just sense that there are less people around.
I realise I have not felt a strong desire to sit and write since April. Granted, I’ve been busy with numerous other projects, home renovations, entertaining guests and doing all the extra tasks that can be squeezed into the longer days. Perhaps I am a cool weather writer and the inner tree within me is focused on solely getting through summer alive.
Today is the autumnal equinox, when the day and night are of equal length. The starter flag of autumn. Locally, it is said that the summer ends on the 15th September, and this year we truly felt it. It is the first night our sleep was disturbed by the feeling of coldness, and over breakfast the following morning we resolved to get the blankets out.
With each of the seven years I have lived in Fethiye, I have become more and more connected to the rhythm of nature. I now take absolute joy in watching the transition of summer to autumn, and winter to spring. I find it sad, however, that we have all but forgotten the importance of ritual.
Over two-thousand years ago the Ancient Greeks occupied the land on which I sit and write today. The Athenian calendar year featured a succession of festivals, feasts and their accompanying rituals dedicated to various Gods and harvests. On the seventh day of the month of Pyanepsion (the month of ‘autumn’, falling somewhere around October/ November depending on the lunar cycle) the Greeks would honour the departure of Apollo (the God of summer) with a festival ‘Pyanepsia’. During Pyanepsia, children with two living parents would walk through towns and villages carrying eiresiones, an olive branch wound with white wool. Tied upon these wool-wound branches were the season’s first offerings, walnuts, almonds, pomegranates, figs and such, and perhaps small bottles of olive oil and honey. The branch would be carried to the home and hung above the door. There it would remain until the following year, when it would be burned. As they weaved through the village lanes, the children would sing…
All good things,
Figs and fat cakes to eat,
Soft oil and honey sweet,
And brimming wine-cup deep
That she may drink and sleep.
It may be a little early according to the Athenian calendar, but the past two nights have been so unusually cold that I feel it is time to bid farewell to Apollo! Today I made eiresione to hang above the front door. My eiresione features only pomegranates, though we have a steady flow of walnuts being blown from the tree in the afternoon winds. I just couldn’t figure out how to tie them securely with wool and gave up after a minor self-stabbing incident whilst trying to carve a groove into a walnut shell!
There is a void in life where ritual once lay. At what point did we stop winding wool around branches and sending our kids to sing songs along village lanes? When did flames dance around the eiresione for the last time? When did our only marker of the transition from summer to winter become getting the duvet and winter wardrobe out?
I vow to add more ritual into my life.
(Even if that means more self-inflicted injuries!)