There’s a definite feeling of change in the air, the wheeling of the seasons. We’ve had an early taste of winter as cold winds blow up the Forth, driving rain so that you have to constantly angle your umbrella sideways rather than above you. When we have had sunlit days they have been different; the sun is bright, the sky a glorious blue, but you can feel summer’s last breath slipping away and autumn ascending the sky. The glowing sun (when it does shine) no longer burns as it did only a few weeks ago; already its light is becoming stretched out, the glare of summer replaced by a far softer, golden light. The quality of sunlight turns to amber and copper at this time of year in our little northern kingdom; as the leaves begin to turn, losing their greenery they too take on a coppery-red sheen.
Most canopies are still green but each bough already bears yellowing leaves; in a few weeks more the green trees swaying in the breeze will wear crowns of vermillion which glow in the golden sunlight of autumn, a final hurrah before the winds blow the leaves loose and the trees take on their bear, skeletal winter form. Although the winter here to grants beauty – devoid of their rich, lush leaves the bare branches are the perfect canvas for nature to paint upon with glittering frost. There’s always something beautiful to look at in any season if you eyes know how to look.
So once more we move into the “seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness2 and true to the old poem the autumnal mists are already rising in Edinburgh as the warmth of the autumn day meets the cool evening. Castle Rock is wrapped in soft, grey velvet as the sun sets in the west; as the lights are lit their glow is diffused, like distant suns shining in a faraway nebula. Everything becomes softer; the sharp outlines of jagged volcanic rock on Arthur’s Seat (where Hutton, entranced with the sculpted stone of nature gave birth to geology) become blurred and dissolve like a dream.
You can easily imagine Hogg’s Justified Sinner (surely a parent to both Jekyll and Hyde) with his internal torments atop that extinct volcano, just as you can imagine the muffled footsteps you hear in the wynds and ways could be those of Burke and Hare carrying another body for Knox through the misty streets of the Old Town. On such evenings in Edinburgh you could almost believe that the mists will momentarily part on a dark evening and you’ll catch sight of Deacon Brodie leading his double life or the gawkit gait of Stevenson in his velvet coat, his wan complexion reflecting the light above a favoured tavern, the moisture on the sandstone blocks shimmering like stars.