This morning was as misty and mellowly fruity as you could imagine. The grey tendrils were retreating from Witney as I left and ploughed out northwards, and the intervening countryside was largely clear. Only when I made the far side of Finstock’s hill did I see that it at least was still decked with blankets and pillows of white fluff, covering brown fields and making them glisten in the autumn dawn with watery peachs, lemons, oranges and russets.
Rolls of white were billowing down or maybe up the hillside; along with the greener fields undulating off towards Charlbury they provided a slightly staged landscape, like a painted theatre set of varying greyed colours. Butts, clints and slices of trees, grassy banks and hedges glowed with gradually lowering levels of saturation as each clump and lump receded into the distance.
The days have shortened ever faster all season, until only a week or so ago. Every year the equinox takes me by surprise, hurtles past me like a freight train of days, passes at peak velocity and only just starts to apply its solstice brakes as I step back, startled. Yet from now on, while each successive day will still be shorter than the previous one, but that shortening will itself foreshorten: shorter by four minutes, by three, by two, by one.
There’s still enough evening light to make my way home by, although a raincloud or a clear sky has begun to make all the difference. No lights if I leave work on time (ha!) but a chance of lights if it’s after six p.m. Soon I will be unconsciously measuring the moonrise, spotting my eerie, monochromatic shadow on milky hedgerows and tarmac made pale by the sky, and expecting easy or challenging journeys home based on lunar rather than solar days.
My sleep pattern is already a mess. Confused by ongoing back pain keeping me awake, my circadian rhythm has stretched like the coasts of the Atlantic, morning and evening fatigue pushed apart by the tectonics of my confused hypothalamus until a mid-Atlantic ridge of sleepiness has begun to form. In short, just as the dark mornings and evenings begin to convince me that I must be waking too early and going to bed too late, then my lunchtime wakefulness has started to flex back on itself and become fatigue instead. In even shorter short, I want to have a nap in the middle of the day. Every day.
Still, cycling a lengthy commute helps me avoid the total and disruptive sleep arrhythmia I used to sometimes suffer from at college: awake at four in the morning, sleeping through dinner. It tires out my body by bedtime, once its refreshing effects have long since worn off. Being on the bike gives me a morning dose of sunlight throughout the winter, certainly once the welcome return to Greenwich Mean Time kicks in and I can once again leave the house of a morning in – mostly – bright daylight. Autumn has come; winter is following. Hold on tight.