Falling in sync with natural rhythms, finding respite in the autumn air, and sharing the fruits of the season could reap many wellbeing rewards
The sweet smell of woodsmoke drifts through the cool air as I walk the pale gravel path this early autumn day. I’m taking it slowly, studying the overflowing bushes to each side of me, hunting for blackberries.
“There’s more over here!” my husband calls, pointing. I join him, and together we gently pull large, ripe blackberries from the bush, careful not to catch ourselves on thorns.
We spend half an hour doing this, our fingers stained purple. We fill tubs with the fruit, ready to freeze and then bake into crumbles, or to enjoy sprinkled over porridge on a cold winter’s morning. We don’t take all that we find – we leave enough for hungry birds readying themselves for the cooler months, or for others out blackberrying.
For me, early autumn conjures up vivid memories of foraging for this fruit. Growing up, my family would take to the fields on a sunny day like this, clutching carrier bags to fill with our finds. And while it’s a nostalgic tradition, it’s also a mindful one, as when I’m picking blackberries I’m very much in the present, searching for the juiciest fruits, and carefully tugging them off the bush.
You’re probably familiar with the idea of autumn as a time when we celebrate food. It’s a traditional time of harvest. I have a fond childhood memory of how, near the start of the school year, we would gather food for a harvest celebration, gifting tins to a local charity as a reminder of both the abundance of food at this time of year, along with how many unfairly struggle to get what they need – which feels even more pertinent in present times with the burden of inflation and the cost of living.
It’s that balance of light and dark, bounty and struggle, warmth and cold, that epitomises autumn. For years, I’ve been drawn to the pagan idea of the Wheel of the Year, which acknowledges the changing seasons through a cycle of eight sabbats, or festivals. The autumn equinox, this year celebrated on 23 September and known in the Wheel of the Year as ‘Mabon’, is seen by many as the start of autumn. It’s the day when hours of light and dark are equal, and afterwards, it tips in favour of darkness, with the hours of dark longer than those of light.
So, as the nights draw in, it feels like a time of reflection; a chance to take stock of the year so far. What came to fruition over the summer? What do I want to take with me into the winter months? What can I celebrate and nurture further? What has supported my wellbeing, and what can I do to help myself through the winter? In what ways can I support others over these challenging months?
Much like the animals around us, we can use this time to prepare for the winter ahead, readying ourselves for hibernation. This could be decluttering or sprucing up your home to make it more inviting, or bringing nature inside by thinking of indoor plants you could nurture over the winter. Winter can be hard, so it’s worth thinking about how we can help ourselves, and others, in advance.
And, whether it’s pumpkin patches, hearty soups, or a harvest feast, this is a season heavily associated with food. So, to connect more with nature, you may want to ask yourself how we can nurture our bodies in a way that’s kinder to the planet. I try to eat local, or seasonal, food – and, thankfully, the harvest season brings lots of choice.
But for those struggling with the rising cost of a weekly shop, this might feel beyond their budget. So, if you’re able to, consider what you could do to help. With this period of reflection and taking stock, it’s a chance to pull together, and share what we can with our neighbours. That could be baking for a friend who is struggling, or donating to a food bank. If you have a vegetable patch, and more supplies than you need, could you share them with your community and offer those in need a free, nutritious gift?
Last autumn, I passed a house with a bowl of apples on the front doorstep and a sign that read ‘Please take as many as you like’. The kindness of this act struck me, along with that of a friend with an allotment who regularly gives me excess crops. There’s something so satisfying about enjoying food in a way that seems gentle on the planet, connects us with nature, and has been cultivated with kindness.
Thinking of loved ones, I’m conscious that this time of year, after months of barbecues and al fresco drinks, it can be easy to let socialising slip. For me, spending time with friends and family is crucial in supporting my mental health. And it’s likely to feel like a more lonely time for others, perhaps less able to get out and about in the changing weather, or share a warm greeting in passing while everyone is bundled up in scarves, hoods, or under the shelter of umbrellas.
But retreating indoors to the warmth, doesn’t have to mean retreating alone. How about inviting friends over for a home-cooked meal? You could all bring something, and spend the evening enjoying good food and each other’s company.
Or you could make the most of autumnal activities; this year I’m going to a pick-your-own pumpkin patch. Since my teenage years, I’ve loved everything about Halloween, and I think a big part of that is how it captures the magic of autumn. So I’m going to have a day out with friends picking pumpkins (here’s hoping there’s a maize maze, too). As the days get colder, it’s all too easy to stay curled up inside, so finding reasons to get outdoors seems all the more important. Even making the effort to smile and greet passersby could be the warmth and connection another person needs as the frost approaches.
Whether you’re roasting pumpkin seeds, baking bread, or simply enjoying a warming cup of coffee as you wander through a woodland of crunchy russet leaves, autumn is the perfect time for us to connect with food and the turning of the year, and be inspired to share some kindness as a strong community spirit draws in through the air.
If you’re struggling at this time of year, services like Citizens Advice can assist with getting support in place, and referring you on to places that can provide help. Visit citizensadvice.org.uk.