This time of year, if you spend time at either end of the day in natural light, over time you can feel the minutes peeling off each new day’s length compared to yesterday’s. These shards drop away like talus from a cliff, leaving a rawer, narrower outcrop behind. There is only so much left; worse, the change of the clocks approaches, like a small earthquake, to drop one half of the landscape into the dark sea, in order to bring the other half out of encroaching frosts.
This, along with the stunning sunrises and sunsets that October can occasionally bring, leads to every cycle ride at the moment feeling rather valedictory. The juicily yellow-orange light mingling with the greens and browns of the fields and hedgerows stirs up something – not quite honey, not quite lemon, not quite mint – which naturally predisposes you to look towards the end of the honeymoon, the last harvest of fruit, the falling of the leaves. Cowboys walk off into sunsets for a reason, you know: human psychology is right there in those autumnal tones.
As my final farewell to the season, a week or two ago I decided to ride once along my longest, quietest route to work. It takes in the Wychwood in the distance, and then up close; it winds over a couple more gentle hills with as many cyclists (bizarrely for Oxfordshire) as car drivers on some of the roads. It was a beautiful journey: mists and fruitfulness, sunny hill tops and chilly valleys. The trip home was almost as nice, the setting sun slanted through the trees for almost my whole route home.
Ten days later, I found myself doing the same route again. Because I could; because the late summer has yet to fully break into mid-autumn, and the high, undertrafficked roads are still clear and bright. Yet the crisis still approaches: Sunday 30 October remains a fixed point in time; but even before then the weather must surely break. If not next week, then the week after, there are inches of rain predicted on some days. Winter has yet to blow its truly icy blasts, but autumn is clammying up its hands in glee at the prospect of gathering us unto its grim bosom.
And so every commute right now, I try to imagine it being my last in the sunshine before the winter sets in. I try to extract as much joy from it as possible (which is why today’s events were a double shame), as though I were about to be sent away, or abroad, to leave all of this behind. I live sharper, perched on my wobbling two wheels, and inhale deeper; I try to embrace the landscape with my eyes; and in this way I slowly, day by day, express my five-month-long au revoir to the light.