Notice the Nature
By Katie Bagshawe
Jessica clambered out the tall white car and paused, her breath suddenly stolen from the crisp cold November air. Quickly she pulled her woollen scarf tightly round her face as unexpectedly a cloud of sparkling gold leaves drifted down from the shadows of twigs above as if snow were twirling and pirouetting from the skies. A smile escaped her lips and her scarf began to feel damp from condensation. Autumn was in full swing, in fact it was undergoing its last charade before Winter would beckon and soon the land would become frozen and vacant. The golden colours were welcoming as they glittered in the sunlight, and despite the fresh frost that traced each leaf, the woodland looked inviting and magical.
This was her season, it was filled with all she adored and loved. She hurried round through the blanket of littered oak leaves to the passenger door holding it ajar as her Papa clambered out making sure no patch of skin was left uncovered. Together they stood for a few moments. Jessica handed him his stick as he caught his breath, his piercing blue eyes adjusted to the vivid low winter sunlight that cast shadows across the pathway. His skin was pure white with a delicate map of veins that turned royal blue as the cool breeze began to skim his cheekbones. Despite how uncomfortable he looked in the outdoors, his smile was genuine and the colour of his eyes seemed to turn. Jessica had always noticed how the blue changed, when baby blue he was in distress or angry but when sapphire, his heart was full. In the distance, they caught view of ducks skating across the frozen lake, a heron stood proud and tall on an island in the shadows. His lungs had stripped his ability to walk so freely in what where he was most comfortable, getting here alone was a marathon to climb. But as he caught sight of the familiar birds and oak trees, dear Papa was content in his anguish.
“Are you warm enough Papa?” Jessica reached in the back for extra blankets and scarves but he waved her away before finding his footing and beginning to step. Each leaf crunched and creaked beneath his boots, the distinct tap of the stick as it hit the carpet of leaves. Over time he had become reliant on this crooked and twisted vine of silver birch to stay upright. At first he despised the need for assistance, but now the benefits were all too clear. Papa was able to return to the parks and lakes he loved so dear.
Together they wandered gently along the frosted forest floor, not a sound escaped their lips or that of the woodland around them. There was a pure indulgent silence that shimmered in the white dust that smothered the landscape. In the distance sunlight pierced through the tree canopies, a striking gold hue that made the last leaves glisten and cast a gorgeous monarchical colour across the otherwise Antarctic view. Every now and then a flurry of leaves would dance from the skeletal trees though there felt no wind and the striking blue sky was streaked with jet streams; the flap of swans in the next pond was the only noise to break the silence. It was if Jessica was walking through a dream, her senses were tinkering and coming alight in the lavish and opulent setting that surrounded her as she meandered along.
“I never noticed the seasons that much as I aged, yet when I was a child it was all I ever saw. The rain in April, the hot unbearable school lessons in summer and that wealth of snowfall we’d have in the village. Even the beauty of frost and Winter. All these years as I grew they began to pass me by, caught up in life that the simple beauty of nature just… well… passed me by.” Papa had a tone of sadness in his voice as he softly ambled across the matting of oak leaves. Jessica had become all too familiar with these sombre moments of reflection and of regret. His frail existence brought a wealth of questions, many of which were unanswerable. The best she could do was to provide comfort, no matter how much it made her heart hurt to see him suffer.
“We all do that Papa; the little things get in the way when we grow old. Our innocence is gone and we become more concerned with trivial matters, but nature forgives. She’ll never leave because we stopped noticing…” Jessica paused as her Papa had done so, both enchanted by the golden crown of light that lit up a flourished red autumn tree. “No, nature will always give us light. We just have to pause to look at it.” However, in these words Jessica felt truth. She had always been a unique soul who was able to see the beauty in everyday life. Even in the days when waking up was a dead weight she was unable to overcome, she managed to take relief in the striking moonlight.
Her Papa smiled at her and placing his stick in front began to once again wander across the woodland path. The frozen lake beside glistened, the mural turned blue and yet streaked with pink as the sun slowly set behind the framed forest sketch. Silence returned between them, just the tap, tap, tap of the stick as it hit the forest floor.
Jessica picked up a small wooden log and wandered down to the lake side pressing it against the panes of ice that wobbled in the clear blue water. A small collection of bubbles rose to the surface and in the distance a swarm of geese huddled close together to bathe in the last of the evening warmth. Tonight, would be cold and it wouldn’t long before these leaves would decay, the animals seemed braced and prepared for the ultimate change in their otherwise homely setting.
Turning away from the lake Jessica saw her Papa, framed in gold as flutters of oak leaves fell like confetti. He was leant on his stick watching the sky, glancing to the trees and breathing in what was left of him. Her heart jumped, aching as she knew that loss may be not far behind. A tear escaped her eye and instantly it turned to an icicle as it ran down her cheek, she inhaled sharply quickly turning her back to him. This wasn’t the time for grief. She couldn’t possibly forget that each time they came it could potentially be the last, it took every fibre of her being to remember that they still had memories ahead. But without fail Jessica was sure to wish on the first star she saw that he would hold on for a bit longer yet. To distract from her upset, her eyes darted around the darkening sky in hope of that first pinpoint of glimmering hope.
“I hope you remember in all your years ahead to take note of this beauty given to us so generously.” It was her Father; his face was lifted to the small crescent moon that was beginning to rise in the distance. His voice was fragile but ultimately wise and reassuring. “Remember each speckle of colour, each sound of word and each scent of season. We are so blessed and so fortunate that this right here is given to us. Be wise, show your children this simple artistry and if you remember to let it in, you can have nothing short of happiness.” Her Papa nodded, paused and tapped his stick by his side. Jessica smiled despite finding no stars and turned to him. “But now the sun sets, the cold seeps in and my bones are too old to manage these Winters. Let’s hurry and I’ll treat us to hot cocoa.”
“As long as there’s marshmallows…” she cheekily replied and threw the branch to the water.
Jessica smiled to herself as she photographed every memory and every word in her mind. Quickly she wiped her eyes and stepped back to the path taking Papa’s arm, both dawdled back to the car. That generous silence fell between them again but her heart had never felt so full. Papa was right, the simple elegance of nature woven with his words was enough to bring tears of joy and memories for years to come. Although Winter would freeze her skin and present darkness from light, there would always be warmth in her heart for the time she spent with her sweet dear Papa. No matter what little of it was left.
Time slipped by and before she could recognise, another cycle of seasons had turned. It was Autumn again and the golden glitter of Fall was decorating the sparkling dew dropped tarmac that ribbons through the main road of the village. Her companion was now gone, his spirit was free and his presence had forged a huge hole in her heart. Summer had felt uncomfortable, as if it were an old foe casting a humid spell across the country leaving Jessica breathless and lethargic. As if in reverse hibernation, the arrival of October had awakened her to the beautiful ways in which Autumn strikes each sense and tinkles as if playing a gentle piano.
Silence had fallen once again but it felt distinctly empty without her Papa. Mattie the ashen worn cat was glowing as he snoozed on the sheep skin rug in front of the log stove as the flames licked and flickered at the glass. There was a crackling and snapping as the wood popped and Jessica was entranced by the embers that spat and sparkled in such a small confined space. There was no radio, no television set and no music. Just the beautiful sound of the stove and the wind as it howled down through the chimney breast creating its own tune in the form of a lullaby. Jessica felt tired, but she finally felt some peace. In her hands, she embraced a warm mug of fresh brewed tea and her eyelids dipped as the sounds consoled the grief that had been all consuming in recent months.
Outside the tall Oak Trees had turned, they lined the streets and caused a ballroom of waltz as the gold and crimson leaves pirouetted to the lanes below. Leaves do not simply fall. They require drama as they release from their protector. In the wind they drift, they fly and they whirl delicately prancing down blanketing the harsh greys with a new rich vibrant colour. Occasionally the sunlight would create a glimmer on the raindrops that were still clinging, but even when the sky was smothered in a grey watercolour, the leaves added vibrance to an otherwise monochrome scene.
Candles on the apocathery table twinkled in the dark of the night and the collection of acorns and conkers began to turn to a deep chestnut colour with a layer of mould around the edges. Autumn in itself feels like a death. But Mother Nature does her best to ensure that in this final fall, there is a way in which we can observe and identify that there is still beauty to be found in the passing of our loved ones. As the rich Harvest moon hung brightly in the sky, there felt a glow across the county, a warmth that was shared deep into each home as families cuddled under teddy bear blankets watching heart-warming films and playing board games. Jessica was now alone, her dear Papa was gone and yet despite the brutality it left, the literal visual warmth of Autumn felt as if it were providing alleviation from her despair.
In the corner of the living room, Papa’s walking stick was propped against the clean cotton walls. A rogue leaf was still stuck to the bottom, it had decayed and broken but there was still a sign it held on even though a year had already gone by. Occassionally Jessica felt she could still catch a small trail of last years’ frost glisten in the firelight. As she stared to the deepest memory she held of him, she slipped to sleep and dreamed fond memories. His closeness still clung in the quiet setting of the cottage. The coats still dripped water to the floor as the boots held onto a faint route of mud from the front door. There was still even a distinct wave of musk from his scent that had failed to let go.
Jessica had kept her promise. Atop the fireplace there was a collection of leaves. All different shades and entwined within were deep berries and twigs of emerald and ruby as well as pinecones and acorns. She had noticed everything in which her Father had advised her not to ignore. Instead of blindly walking through life, Jessica had taken time to pause. She had stood in the same spot as her Father once did and she observed the changes in time. All around the cottage there were treasures she had brought home to be surrounded by these dear memories that provided comfort deep within her grief.
She slumbered on the couch, softly sleeping as the cat did just the same, the spirit of her dear departed Papa was all around. And for the first time since he passed, she finally felt a stitch thread through the gash that had been so raw in her heart. If she could imagine it, it would be that deep sapphire blue. The same colour his eyes turned when he was happy. He was gone and no words could provide comfort. But ultimately Jessica knew that time is a healer and for her, the real healer were her Father’s words and the welcoming warmth of the all beautiful and familiar Autumnal season.