I’ve been doing something differently the past few nights. Alone on the farm I take my sleeping bag and a soft foam mat out onto the terrace, park a dog either side of me, and sleep under the stars. This is how I pay attention to the season: dropping off to the sound of the loud festival happening in a village across the valley (pounding bass; accordions); my neighbours talking and singing into the night; the sporadic outbursts of hysterical barking from my dogs and the incessant buzz of cicadas and croak of frogs.
Quiet it is not. Every day I tell myself it’s madness, sleeping outside. Remind myself that I wake up throughout the night, that the dawn light wakes me earlier than I need to be up, that carrying all the accoutrements I need – water, journal, sleeping bag, extra blanket, tissues, phones, tea – outside is tedious and unnecessary.
And yet every night I look at the clean sheets on my bed, and then down at the dusty terrace, and know which choice I’ll make.
Waking somewhere new
If I hadn’t been sleeping outside I might have missed the turn. Yesterday morning I woke to an unfamiliar sensation. A dampness on my face. I had to check my clock when I stirred, because although it felt like dawn something was different. It was 8am and the valley was completely covered in mist.
I went to an Antony Gormley exhibition in London once, Blind Light, where a box installed in the gallery was pumped with the finest water vapour, recreating a sensation like the inside of a cloud. People walked slowly round in the gloom, hands held out in front of them. I remember the moistness of the air and the strange feeling of not being able to see a hand in front of my face. This was similar. Not as dense, but similar.
The dogs had long since vanished; the cat remained beside me, curled on the sleeping bag, tight as a snail. When I touched his fur the beads of moisture turned soggy. We had woken in a cloud.
It took a few hours for the mist to lift, before we returned to August business as usual: hot sun, clear sky.
Yet in that moment I’d felt something significant. The first breath of Autumn; the first hint that this long, hot, burning summer might not last forever. That the change I know is coming is beginning to seep in, ever so softly, just around the edges.
How to feel the change
We don’t all have the luxury of sleeping outside on a terrace under the stars. Believe me, I know how lucky I am. But there are simple ways all of us can connect to the season and begin to anticipate what’s coming before it’s officially in our faces. Here are my favourite ways to connect to the time of year, even in the middle of the city:
1. Watch the sky
Cloudy or clear? Static or shifting? Look up.
2. See sunrise or sunset
This is also my trick for a good night’s sleep. Being outside when the sun goes down – or just watching from a window, with the lights off – is an incredibly calming way to wind down your day, and feel into the time of year. A winter’s sunset at 5pm is a world away from a post-dinner summer dusk.
3. Ask your body
Your mind might feel like you’ve blinked and it’s almost September, but your body’s living each moment. Are you stiff? Energised? Sluggish? Why is that? Check in with your physical self and remind yourself that you’re tired because of a weekend playing frisbee, or energised because it’s light when you get up and light when you leave work.
4. Watch an animal
This is a shortcut that works for me every time. Animals don’t need prompting or reminding to pay attention to the season; they live it in their bones. It’s 2pm right now and my dogs are asleep on the cool kitchen floor. Must be summer.
5. Find a tree
Even in cities, trees are the ultimate seasonal barometer. Beyond “does it have leaves on it?” you can pay attention to the bark, to the fruit or nuts it’s bearing, and to what those leaves look like – drying out, or new and freshly unfurled? Come back in a week and notice what, if anything, has changed.
How do you pay attention to the season?
Is summer in full force where you are, or is Autumn on its way? How do you connect to the season you’re in? Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear.