Monday, 7 November 2011

Beauty and busy-ness

I think the autumn this year is the most beautiful I can remember since I have been here at Kew.  The first fall colours began to appear in September, but here we are in early November and everywhere I look I can still see spectacular leaves and berries.  What is more, unless we have a high wind, it looks set to go on a bit longer yet, for some trees are still green and unaffected.  Because of the weather has been mild and still for weeks, trees have held their colour.  Because we haven’t yet had a hard frost, every species has turned slowly, at its own pace, rather than all going over at once.  It has been a long, slow passage over from late summer into fall, and it has been as quiet and measured as the rising of the tide.

As I walk through the Gardens here at work I am surrounded by riches.  Scarlet and crimson, brick red and Indian red, chestnut brown, golden brown, golden yellow, ochre, Naples yellow, gamboge; everywhere  I look are these magnificent colours.  Every leaf of Virginia creeper is marked with brilliant patterns, like Venetian millefiori glass; the berries of a crab apple swing over my head like gobstopper-sized jewels, and the Grass Garden is a tapestry of pale golden seed heads and soft, feathery brushstrokes of colour...

Actually I cannot imagine, brushstroke metaphors or no, how on earth one could paint this.  It is staggeringly beautiful, but so much of the beauty is dependent on the immeasurably fine gradations of shade and the tiny details of structure.  One couldn’t use swathes of colour without losing all that delicacy; every tree looks like a mosaic with each leaf an individual fleck of gold or ruby glass.  Yet if one painted every leaf, compulsively, one would lose the sweep and scale of the view, and the result would look obsessive rather than beautiful.

Near the back door of the office I work in are a cedar that has been gilding the pavement with pale golden pollen; a camellia covered with bright early flowers in shell pink; a golden-orange maple, and one that looks as if it has been dipped in grapefruit marmalade.  Moving through the Gardens I am blessed by colour.  Dodging back indoors again as the rain starts, I can carry, held quiet within me, the beauty and delicacy of the autumn trees, and their grace.  Not just the grace of physical beauty, but the spiritual grace of yielding to autumn and flowing with the cycle of the year.  Trees are a model of grace.

Of course from a phenological point of view the cycle of the year is a little askew; here is a link to an article by Kew’s Mr Arboretum himself, Tony Kirkham (who knows a heck of a lot more about trees than me!) on the subject:

It’s been a hectic weekend; all the usual jobs like grocery shopping, going to the bank, running the washing machine, gardening and so forth, plus a heart-rending performance of “Manon” at the Royal Ballet (Marianela Nuñez surpassing herself as a subtle, tragic, ravishingly beautiful Manon, Nehemiah Kish partnering her beautifully as a devoted Des Grieux [& on a more carnal note I see with satisfaction that he still seems to be resisting the fashion for chest-waxing!] and Thiago Soares a superb, powerful, charming Lescaut [I have never cried at Lescaut’s death before]); plus tea with my stepmum Jane, plus an absolutely spectacular firework display.

Now I’m back at work, and the whole office is being plagued with computer problems.  Strangely the internet isn’t behaving too badly; but our office email system is really not doing well.  Ah well, these things happen, in the modern office; but sometimes I long for the days of handwritten ledgers and paper correspondence.  So much less liable to technical faults!

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