The Guardian’s take on this fake autumn: an uncanny beauty | Editorial

OneAcross Britain, the woods are turning orange. Dry leaves grow on the forest floor and roll into street corners. Hawthorn and rowan, elderberry and holly berries are all ripening, and the ferns are golden-edged. From a distance, it is beautiful. But the air is still warm and summery.

And it’s all two or three months ahead of schedule. Holly berries usually ripen in November or December. Blackberries, traditionally a late August treat, begin to ripen at the end of June. This turning and defoliation is not the usual gradual preparation for winter in temperate regions, but a stress response to trees trying to conserve water. We are now in a false fall caused by heat and drought. And it doesn’t feel right.

John Ruskin coined the term “sad fallacy” to describe the way writers relate weather to human emotions. His intention was to be derogatory, which is indeed a clichéd literary strategy. But it’s used so frequently because it tracks the degree to which even the most urbanized, screen-bound humans have atavistic connections to the physical rhythms of our world. In The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “When autumn is crisp, life begins again at the thought level.

So there’s something deeply disturbing about this graphic change in familiar rhythms. Of course, drought is not unheard of in the UK, and far too many parts of the world are sick of the more severe version. But they are increasingly happening against a backdrop of climate emergencies and unprecedented heat. The fake autumn beauty, in particular, has an emotional effect, a deep sense of mystery, something that mysteriously suggests something evil or dangerous. In that notion of evil is also an assertion of moral failure.

Cultures around the world contain rituals to invoke the weather; a sense of responsibility to the natural world—and the belief that we will be punished if we fail—is as old as humans. One of the reasons romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem “The Rime of the Ancient Sailors” is so effective is that it directly links the shooting of albatrosses—the destruction of innocent wild animals—with the effects of the weather. Horrible changes are linked: no rain, just blistering, deadly sun. We may not understand the mechanism, but it feels right on an instinctive level.

In a similar fashion, it’s not surprising to hear birds struggling. In London, young swifts are seen falling from the sky. Fewer — and too soon — nuts and berries means some animals won’t make it through the winter. Older trees with longer roots are expected to survive, but young trees may not, implying further warming. There will always be some level of uncertainty about the cause of a particular weather event, but we can’t deny that we haven’t taken care of the albatross. Now we have to hope we do enough to make sure these spooky golden days aren’t fall fall.

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