”Sounds thicken the sensory stew of our lives, and we depend on them to help us interpret, communicate with, and express the world around us.” Diane Ackerman A Natural History of the Senses
I’m going backwards. May in Australia means cooler autumnal nights. You can almost hear the heaters clicking on in Sydney as the last of the bright leaves on the golden robinia trees drop to the ground. In Tasmania, the silver beeches have yellowed, the maples reddened. In the country’s capital Canberra, feet crunch crunch on the foliage-decorated sidewalks.
Here in the subtropics change isn’t so evident. The fat wide leaves of our frangipani tree have browned and curled in a matter of days. The wind whispers its melancholic tune to the trees and the trees wave and bow with a heavy sadness.
If I look carefully I can see gentle changes in the shades of green around me and the days are getting shorter. But listening is harder. The birds seem less exuberant but are they really? This morning, the calls of the parrots and magpies seemed gentler, but maybe that’s purely the absence of the rowdy sulphur-crested cockatoos.
The humidity has dropped, the sky is bigger, clearer and a lighter shade of blue. Even the sun has lost some of its glare. I can finally wear jeans because the daytime temperature weaves around the mid 20s.
But is it May my head asks. The Gregorian calendar argues with the calendar of my senses. It’s backwards, out of place, this autumn. May is spring. May is daffodils and tulips and sunshine and warmth. April and May will always be Jardin des Plantes, my local park when I lived in on the left bank in Paris: walking through the gardens as the botanists turn the soil and plant spring flowers or tend to the rose gardens; how the aura of the park would turn from from gray to vibrant.
If this is May I want to hear the return honking of the Canada geese and the delicate sounds of the spring warblers. I want to hear the spring peepers and green frogs in the freshly thawed ponds and marshlands of Ontario. I want the woosh of rivers full of winter run-off. But I do not want snow.
Even in London, where I wasn’t so in tune with the wildlife (except the local city foxes and the deer in Regent’s Park) May was a time for opening up: the windows, the cafes and restaurants. Sounds of life traveling from inside to outside. Shedding the woolen walls of winter rains. People opening up and connecting.
Autumn in April/May makes me feel out of kilter, out of step, like I don’t belong.
And I’m not just imagining this. According to recent research by Samantha J. Heintzelman et al at the University of Missouri, people who were shown trees in a seasonal pattern felt life had more meaning than those people who were shown a random series of trees. People find meaning through their purpose or goals, coherence and patterns, and by mattering to others or belonging. According to the research if you change one aspect of meaning, such as patterns, the other aspects, like belonging, will also be affected.
In a nutshell: belonging is related to how much sense I can make of the external environment. Now the seasonal pattern hasn’t been changed, but my perception of it has because we are constrained by the calendar. If we move between hemispheres we adapt naturally, but because we are ruled by the order of 12 months, we stay disoriented much longer.
The lime tree is ready for pisco sours, the bird of paradise is flowering and I, after 12 years here, am still confused.
I water and fertilise my orchid, which has been silently waiting all summer (winter?) and watch for a tiny bit of spring in this autumn of Australia.
How long does it take to feel spring?