Time is passing.
My baby son has somehow turned four years old, and a very significant birthday approaches in a month’s time for me as well.
The seasons are changing. We’ve stopped watering the withered tomato vines, seen the last of our courgettes swell, dug up the final potatoes, cut down the tall sunflower canes. We collect hops for beer, windfall apples to make cider. Filling up the house with enticing aromas, we prepare chutneys and jams from last year’s harvest to make room in the chest freezer for this year’s overspill.
In various beds, the carrots, chard, celery, beets, red cabbage and peppers still yield, and there’s always a fresh bouquet on the table: roses, dahlias, passion flower. Our Florence fennels never swelled, but waiting in the wings are parsnips, sweet potato and a promising crop of quince.
I retreat to my garden increasingly as academic stress builds, even as the daylight hours shrink. I have always loved this time of year – though I never truly remember how much until it’s happened. I’ve started wearing a coat and scarf against the chill as I scuffle home through fallen leaves on the way from the station. The central heating is finally in use, and we light candles to ward off the rainy darkness.
I’m secretly horrified by the horse-chestnut blight that looks set to erase conkers from the cultural landscape of England, and am saddened that my son might not remember the last time he held a burnished, healthy specimen in his chubby palm.
My newly enlarged lab is settling in, and I am enjoying the bemused feeling of activity happening when I’m not looking, initiative being taken, self-organization processes clicking into place. I get copied into emails requesting strains and reagents from far-flung labs; the ordering spreadsheet gets populated with interesting-looking reagents when I’m looking the other way; pub sessions occur.
Tequila shots may even have been downed after our lab brainstorm session.
A new crop of students has arrived, boisterous, alive, full of potential. The course has grown from a little more than thirty students in 2014 to nearly 90 this year, and it feels good to have been in on the process from the beginning, to have helped create something new and different from nothing. Every time an entire room full of young people laughs at one of my jokes, or treats me to a round of applause after my world-famous “Reconstruction of G-Protein-Coupled Receptor Signalling Using Chairs and a Handbag” routine, I feel like a million bucks.
Grant applications go out, manuscript decisions come in. Somehow, I hold it all together.
At the moment, I’m confident, happy and riding high, yet aware of the undercurrent of wistfulness that autumn always brings.
Time is passing.