Autumn has been totally skewwhiff in Sydney this year, devoid of its customary cadence and meter
In the southern Australian cities where I’ve spent most of my life my birthday on the second day of autumn has always been synonymous with gentle seasonal transition.
It’s no coincidence that the beginning of autumn in March is my favourite time of year. First comes the softer light. The mornings grow darker and slightly crisper.
In Sydney where I live now, March usually relieves us of the wicked humidity of January and February just as a soft russet dusts the canopies of the deciduous trees. The daybreak dog walk becomes a comforting joy, a soothing celebration of the dawn instead of summer’s sweaty race against the blazing sun through damp, hot air with panting animals.
The older I get (into the mid-autumnal stage now – or so I hope) the more I regard autumn as a languid time of planning and organisation, a muse ahead of what words I’ll aim to assemble and reassemble through winter’s chill.
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Boardies and T-shirt are mostly still good for the glorious golden daytimes. But the evening walk would likely require getting out the trackies and a light jumper. And the old footy socks to ward against the chill of the floorboards (Sydney houses all usually become deceptively cold about now). And we’re usually under the doona by now, too, and closing the bedroom windows for sleep.
March is synonymous with footy season of course (NRL and the real one, AFL; I am a deep southerner by birth and remain so culturally despite the glittering allure of Sydney). And March is also about getting the Christmas ham bone from the freezer, making it into soup. Figs. Baked with prosciutto and cheese. The first batch of osso buco in the Dutch oven for the year.
But there’s been none of that this March where I am. Well, none of that except the footy, that is, where we’ve watched players in both codes struggle dangerously with temperatures into the mid- and high 40s. (Watching footy on the telly, meanwhile, feels irreconcilable with the blasting of the air-conditioning.)
After a very mild December, January and February – a non-summer here really – March has come, not characteristically considerate and kindly, but unforgiving, scorching and oppressively humid. Autumn 2023 has so far been totally skewwhiff, its opening score devoid of its customary cadence and meter.
Forget the slow-cooked food for now. Don’t de-pill the trackies just yet. Barefoot is fine, still.
When so much of emotional rhythm is seasonally influenced as it tends to be for many people (ardour and joy in spring; carefree hedonism in summer, forbearance in winter) it can be discombobulating when March comes by without bringing its usual atmospherics.
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On the buses and ferries and trains, in the dog parks and shops and on the streets, people complain about feeling unsettled, exhausted – about the “weirdness’’ of it. Weather analysts and scientists talk, naturally, about climate change and extremes. Of fire and flood and drought.
We know that the globe is teetering irrevocably on the edge of climate damage that requires immediate remedying. Action that the world, for the most part, refuses to take because global and national politics are singularly incapable of meeting the challenge.
All of the “weirdness’’ people worry about – the climactic and seasonal variations, the droughts and flooding rains, the fish kills, the marine extinctions – have lineage in human-induced climate damage.
As I write, one tantalisingly cool real autumnal March day has given way to another with uncomfortable humidity. Tomorrow will be hotter and stickier still.
Is it too soon to be nostalgic for all those soft, gentle Marchs? Here’s hoping not.
• Paul Daley is a Guardian Australia columnist