In the dark of the year, the landscape glows. I struggle through mornings that seem deeper and darker than last year, into luminous dawns of pastel pink and baby blue. The sun is low molten gold, infusing stones and leaves with honey. The air is chill but the scenery warms my soul. It is as though nature knows that we need the memory of autumn’s fiery patchwork to warm us through winter.
The maples are autumn’s show-offs. If my eye is caught by a particularly vibrant display I can be almost sure it is a maple, with its blazing sunset palette. Horse chestnuts offer fat golden fingers edged with rust. The lindens are wisps of tissue against dark branches, leaves becoming transparent as they turn. And the beeches are a radiance of colours from delicate greens and yellows to glossy bronze. Paths become tunnels of gold, carpeted in fallen leaves and overhung by burnished branches. The ground disappears beneath a crust of copper. To walk through autumn is to walk an uncertain path, hidden by drifts of kaleidoscopic leaves.
In this season, the old cemetery is a gilded place. Pools of gold against a canvas of fading green. Shafts of sunlight striping the fallen leaves. In the old part of the cemetery, eroded stones slant under saffron foliage. Fallen markers lie broken among sprinkled leaves. Some graves have become melded to ivy, its roots like foliate inscriptions accenting the words. Those graves that lie within their own shallow enclosures brim with leafy coverlets, as though the occupant has drawn up a comforter.
I’ve come to the cemetery on the Eve of the Dead. Halloween is when our ancestors are honoured and invited to visit. I have always loved cemeteries. I find them neither sad nor scary. They are places of peace, of undisturbed nature. This is the place where my parents’ ashes were scattered and where I have said goodbye to others I have known. I’m struck, suddenly, by just how many people lie here. In a way, they are all my ancestors: not of blood but of place. A community of people that shaped the town that shaped me and birthed the people I have known and will know. The parts of them that remain are only imprints, but their breath is in the breath that stirs the trees, their essence is in the earth on which I walk.
I wander the old paths to the gentle caw of crows. A magpie scolds me from the branches of a sycamore and follows me to the next. A robin flutters in and out of a hedge. I have a pebble in my pocket that I took from the beach at spring equinox as a symbol of the light half of the year. I had no plans what I would do with it, but I’m drawn to a small moss covered gravestone that tilts towards the ground, forgotten in a dark part of the cemetery. I place the stone on top, leaving a little of its light behind.
Halloween has always been my favourite festival. Its symbolism has all the complexity of autumn. The old year is gone, all its hopes and dreams stripped away. But the new year hasn’t yet begun. This night has a fluidity, a sense of what was and what might be. It is the start of the dreaming darkness, full of possibilities that haven’t yet been imagined. As I walk the old paths, I am walking through layers of history. This is a place that has seen the turn of many years, the turn of countless leaves. It is a place where the stories that have ended endow those that are to come.