Seasons of mist and mellow fruitlessness

Reading time: 4 minutes

This month, Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, reflects on the beauty of autumn as a new term at the University begins.

Two days in a row I have woken to thick sea fog cloaking the gardens. My view from the window is foreshortened; as I return Hope from her morning amble my footsteps sound thicker than usual, a subtle quality, the sound contained by mist. As we round the corner, turrets, grey and magnificent, loom out of the haar. It’s Sleeping Beauty, The Enchanted Castle, Beauty and the Beast. Not for the first time, I reflect that Edinburgh knows how to keep a woman in thrall.

So it’s with an involuntary and unfortunate grin that I recall – as I do at the beginning of autumn every year – Daniel Cleaver boating with Bridget Jones, mis-proclaiming Keats with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitlessness,’ he bellows. Seconds later, he is in the pond. As he emerges, dripping, the fag – if bent – is otherwise undisturbed. As a teenager it was one of my favourite moments of television. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitlessness!’ I yelled at my sister over the dinner-table, in our regular game of guessing the film, naming the character. ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary!’ she yelled back. It was too easy. It was great fun.

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s these registers – the mist-ical and the mischievous – that coexist as this season begins. There’s the verdant beauty of the allotments, the raspberry bushes heavy with fruit; and the thriving exclamation marks of weeds thrusting up the sides of the pavements. There’s the plump gleam of apples on the trees, and the fat cheeks of busy, over-burdened squirrels. The pensive potency of mist, and the childlike glee that comes with play at hiding, going unseen. The beginning of autumn is always delightful, and it’s the textures of delight – what makes it so – that interest me this year. Beauty and the sense of something sacred; play, giddiness, and spike-edged revel, whether in handfuls of sharp blackberries or the soft hues of an ever-creeping-earlier twilight.

Daniel Cleaver, it turns out, is all mischief and no magic. His topple into the pond, an ironic homage to Colin Firth, spells out in that very irony that he is, ultimately, all dunk and no Darcy-esque hunk. The fact that he can’t accurately quote Keats should, surely, have sent Bridget running for the hills; the word ‘mischief’ literally means a ‘bad happening’, and boy, does Daniel deliver.

But this sense of ‘mischief’, say the etymologists, has softened over time. Once wrought only with terror, the word now evokes a playfulness, a trickster quality alongside. The passage of centuries, it seems, inclines toward a happier ending, with that kernel of warning at the core. That’s why, perhaps, my sister and I laughed so uproariously at our recurring game: because for Bridget, all turns out well – and it might have not.

Photograph by Chris Close

Laughter is a mutable thing. We laugh for joy, or surprise. We laugh, too, as a thread to hold onto when mischief in its darker form begets only fruitlessness. The Pickles and Messes of university life, the betrayals and disappointments of what happens elsewhere: we find ways to joke, to make fun, where none might else be found. That’s another reason why Daniel Cleaver’s subversion of Keats’ Ode to Autumn might provoke a wry grin. For autumn carries with it always the reckoning of summer, and the impending shadow of winter. When fruitful, we give thanks. But fruitlessness contains darkness, a presage of hard times ahead. It’s then, under empty boughs, or on burnt earth, that we learn to laugh anew: because the cad looks ridiculous with his bent, dangling cigarette; because play, or giddiness, can offer just enough space that grieving becomes possible; and because laughter, even as we reckon with loss, waste, or fear, weaves a dew-sparkling spider thread strong enough to carry us forward.

Because even the worst mischief, a bad happening, is but one season among many. The grey turrets in the mist enrapture not least for their longitudinal looming. The fluffy seeds of thistle and rosebay willow-herb, wafting across George Square Gardens under skin-pinkening September sun, contain the green multitudes of a day that’s yet to come. As long as seasons turn, the haar rolls in from the Firth of Forth, bramble proffers its luxurious berries, the leaves drop golden and scarlet on the Meadows, and a fresh-faced crowd of young minds descends in trepidatious hope on the old stones, volcanic outcrops, and aerated concretes of Edinburgh – we’ll find ways to laugh, laugh darkly, and find our way back, in due course, to delight.