the lesson of trees

To take a train north from Malmö in mid-October is a little like boarding a time machine, accelerating into the oncoming autumn. At the outset, the deciduous trees are only lightly touched with reds and russets, but with every mile travelled they blaze into orange and yellow, and later the ochres and burnt umbers of the winter that has yet to reach the south. Today an overcast that started somewhere near Kalmar emphasises this prophecy of the dark months to come; Malmö is far from the perpetual darknesses of the far north, but my city tends, as if to compensate, to a cloudy shroud that will likely last through to late March in the year to come, by which time I will be unconsciously awaiting that first moment when, walking east toward Möllevången, the spring sun kisses the top edge of the buildings above me, and I recall that there is colour in the world.

Summer is my season—and saying so earns smiles and laughs from Swedes and non-Swedes alike, because why move to Scandinavia if dry days in the upper twenties Centigrade are your thing? But Skåne, I tell them, has had plenty of those days in the few years I’ve been here, and will likely get more in the years to come. I’m trying to shed the guilt that attaches itself to finding any upside to the climate crisis; I firmly believe that, if we refuse to allow ourselves to enjoy anything, we will never adapt, never get to grips with the downsides. But this is hard: a hairshirt nostalgia for something irretrievable is baked deep in climate discourse, and may soon become more of an obstacle than denialism ever was.

Yes, summer is my season—and as such, autumn always felt like the fall that it is also known as: the fall into darkness and cold, the fall into the trough of the year. But since moving here—perhaps because it’s easier for me to get beyond the city than it was for most of my adult life, and I thus get to follow the slow-motion fireworks of the trees in a way I likely haven’t for three decades or so—I am learning to like the autumn, even if I know I’ll never love it. As I shamble into middle age, the autumning of my own life, perhaps I see at last something necessary in its inevitability. I wonder if we’ve parsed the Platonists too plainly: the circle is the purest form because the cycle is the form of all forms, the wheel within which all other wheels must turn.

This is autumn, my autumn, our autumn, because without autumn there can be no spring. Does the tree now redding, yellowing, browning see itself in the spring to come, or does the tree that bursts in green delight six months hence believe itself to be a whole new tree?

Perhaps it’s both. Perhaps that’s the lesson of trees.



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