August Interlude…

‘I love borders. August is the border between summer and autumn; it is the most beautiful month I know. Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing: when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.’

– Tove Jansson

Personally for me, it’s an impossible choice between April, May, September or October for that title of ‘most beautiful month I know’ – but there is a special approaching-the-border feel to August; a character to the month that’s slightly louche and intent on shaking loose.

It’s a wayfarer month, dusty and dishevelled, having tramped along the road of the year to a point where the clothes in the rucksack need a wash, the straw coloured hair a cut, where August’s beard is sprouting grey, unruly tufts – and the birds are quiet and moulting in the hedgerow; the swifts and swallows are turning their minds with the planet’s tilt back to warmer climes… and all is waiting for the fresh cusp of September to shake crisp and golden from the trees – and jewel-berries to fatten into glossy temptation amongst sun-curled leaves.

August is also the month of school holidays, and usual routines fading into forgetting. It’s time for far-flung family and friends – a month of get-togethers and migrations; time to explore overgrown ragged paths, and to follow late-flying butterflies as they glance the low sun on their wings. It’s time to search for lost books in dusty bookshops; to turn dry, stiff pages whispered shut long ago, and to crackle them into life again – to discover voices from times that once were ‘now,’ and which will never know that they have slipped into ‘then’ – voices telling stories that echo memories, or intrigue with new strangeness.

It’s a month when time to write slips away – but is also a brewing month, when ideas simmer, and gain flavour from sights, smells, sounds which infuse the mix of holiday experiences and places visited.

Lots of new posts for this blog are brewing – but August still keeps them bubbling over the camp stove – suspended in its sprawled-by-the-roadside, tea-break of time…

Soon, August will shake the dregs from his cup, pull his boots back onto weary feet, and take a path half hidden between the hedgerow brambles. He will follow it to where its grass wears away, sandy and parched. He will tread the slip and slide of the dunes, avoiding the sharp whip of marram grass, and stoop to marvel at the startling pink of bloody cranesbill and the humbug yellow-and-black of cinnabar moth caterpillars, chomping their way through unruly ragwort. And then, he will hear the whisper of wind and water and the harsh cries of gulls; he will look up to see the sun arrow from the sky on the white wings of terns – and follow its dazzle as spray rises from the waves – and he will amble down to the sea…

Beach Scene (watercolour) – painted by my daughter, 2012

Later, September – carrying the fruits August piled by the roadside for her to bring home (along with the billycan of brew he’d carefully kept simmering) – will arrive back at this blog, and post wayfaring August’s tales of the road…

Until then, August is a month of very few words – he reveals his thoughts through the storyteller month of September, who shows all her fruits proudly in the hedgerows and gleams words gold, red, yellow and bold from the trees…

Woodland Waterfall (acrylics) – painted by my daughter, 2011 (using pointillist technique)

Time, energy, words return with September; with a step taken across another border…

‘The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.’

Glimmers of taciturn August’s mind may break into words, if his tongue loosens in the meantime – and if the hours give him opportunity to trudge an extra mile or two. But September is hot on his heels, looking forward to gaining her time to speak. She has a lot to tell…

See you back here then, when – all blackberries, apples and ripened words – September will take her place beside the hedgerow, and pour the summer’s brew into the Bookish Nature picnic cups for all to share…

‘One summer morning at sunrise a long time ago
I met a little girl with a book under her arm.
I asked her why she was out so early and
she answered that there were too many books and
far too little time. And there she was absolutely right.’

– Tove Jansson

Sailing Boat at Sea – painted in oils by my daughter, 2011 (using rag technique)


19 thoughts on “August Interlude…

  1. This is a lovely elegiac piece perfectly capturing the feeling I have always had in August of summer being almost gone, looking back but also forward. Tove Jansson is the perfect accompaniment. I love your daughter’s paintings too especially the beach scene.

    • Many thanks for your kind words, Diana… Tove Jansson’s writing is wonderful, isn’t it – it taps into so much that hovers at our finger tips, felt but not always finding its way into words… I was just thinking, as I wrote this piece, that now would be the perfect time to revisit ‘The Summer Book’…

      My daughter’s so pleased you like her paintings – she’s seen your paintings, and she loves your work… (Sorry if this is a bit garbled – writing in haste – those August family get-togethers and migrations are afoot! Getting ready for that August road!)


    • Amy – thanks so much! It was such a boost to read your lovely comment on my return home from my August travels! So glad you enjoyed this post so much – it emerged so suddenly and unexpectedly (seemingly out of the blue – igniting inspiration in what had, moments before, felt like a completely foggy head!) it took me by surprise all round. I’ve been amazed by the response it’s had! My August Interlude from blogging continues for a little while longer, whilst my son is still on holiday from school – but I’m so looking forward to catching up properly with your recent wonderful blog posts, when time isn’t slipping so haphazardly through the brain-haze of busy days!

  2. August has been an interlude for me, as well, Melanie. As a teacher, it has always felt like this in-between time, where I’m trying to simultaneously wrap up all my summer projects and slow down enough to enjoy the days. I think this post will help me do the later this afternoon. Lovely musings!

    • Hi Emily – thank you so much! Really lovely to find your comment waiting here for me after my travels away from home! Hope you’ve managed to find some slower moments during this August in-between time of mingled retreat and readiness. I can imagine how a teacher’s time is so divided between wrapping-up and forward planning during this lead up to the autumn term’s changes and new beginnings. With my children on their school holidays, and my son needing so much of my attention, this month is a time of such busyness, when so many things have to slip by until my concentration can return to them again – that, by necessity, it also becomes a time to allow myself to pull back, let go and just enjoy going with the flow of family, brewing inspiration and summer moments…

      Really looking forward to when I can catch up properly with all your wonderful thoughts on your travels in Europe…

  3. This is a really marvellous post, Melanie, that I’ve returned to today to savour a second time. Such beautiful language, “a wayfarer month, dusty and dishevelled” and “usual routines fading into forgetting.” You’ve caught the wonderful cusp of change so elegantly here, bringing memories rising to the surface, a cloud of scents and sounds swirling about. Like you, I’m a big fan of Tove Jansson’s work, and adored reading The Summer Book last August on a quiet beach beneath pines. Her words worked with the waves, having found the same, poignant rhythms.

    Enjoy your get-togethers and migrations! I’m on my way back to the UK again tomorrow for some of the same. Lovely work by your daughter, by the way. A talent to look forward to…

    Best wishes, and thanks for journey through the tail-end of summer,


    • Julian – what a wonderful, truly heartening message to come home to! And what an apt and magical place to enjoy Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book ; your words convey so perfectly the spirit and character of her prose…

      Thank you so much for your kind and generous words about this post – it’s an honour that you came back to read it twice! It’s been a post of surprises for me in so many ways… emerging as it did on what felt like a sudden, magical wisp of inspiration – and written during a borrowed “limbo day” when we were supposed to be travelling to Northumberland! Some hazardous weather caused us to delay our planned migration to my husband’s native county and, when I grabbed the (previously elusive) chance to update my blog, my mind was very much returning to our many Augusts spent in beautiful Northumberland (hence the terns and dunes) mixed with more general thoughts and places… And yet, we discovered there the next day, a Surprise August – not with its usual ‘dusty and dishevelled’ autumn-tinged character – but with trees and hedgerows still fresh and green after so many months of rain, and doing quite a good impression of June! August did, however, retain its special, wayfarer spirit – and kept its knack of inspiring many a tale for September to tell…

      Hope your trip to the UK also brought you good times and inspiration – and much more sunshine than your last sojourn here!

      Best wishes,

  4. Hello Melanie,
    Such a beautiful written, poignant description. You’ve really conjured up my memories of English Augusts! Here in SW France & N Spain August is very much still full summer & when it moves to September it won’t ever be quite as you describe it here. What you’ve captured is something quintessentially English.

    Your daughter’s work is very good – & the acrylic with the trees makes me think has she been looking at Samuel Palmer? I like the beach scene watercolour – there’s a certain confidence that lots of adults that use watercolour don’t always acheive.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Sonya – I’m delighted that my musings are so evocative of your memories of English summers!

      Yes, you’re right; what I describe here are very deep seated experiences of a quintessentially British August… As I was writing it, I was thinking that Tove Jansson’s general experiences of August in Finland probably would have been of a different shift and pattern to the progress of the seasons – and so perhaps even more of a border time – to what we experience here in England. When we visit family in Northumberland, we follow a shift and change in some of the seasonal markers there compared to the West Country, with the trees already slightly tinged by autumn… Well, that’s what normally happens… As I mentioned in my reply to Julian above, after all the recent months of rain, we found the Northumbrian countryside this August to be sparkling and fresh in the late summer sun – with the trees and hedgerows startlingly green against the fields of gold ready for harvest. It was both stunningly beautiful… and a little disconcertingly strange…

      Thank you so much too for your kind words about my daughter’s paintings. She’s over the moon at all the encouragement she’s received from people’s lovely comments, which I’ve passed onto her. It’s wonderful for her to receive feedback from such accomplished artists whose work she admires (I’ve shown her some of your paintings, Sonya – and she loves your work…) She says she’d not seen any Samuel Palmer paintings before she painted the acrylic with trees – but, I can see what you mean… She’s extremely pleased that you detected a confidence in her use of watercolour – before that painting, she had been very nervous of the medium, finding it a difficult one to work in. She painted the beach scene at the local art centre she’s attended since she was 3 or 4 years old (she’s now in the teen/adult class) – she said their tutor gave them a demo in watercolour techniques, encouraged them to just go for it – and then she just dived in and painted the scene out of her imagination…

  5. Melanie… Are you kidding? I think the words would flow through you even in the driest of dust-devil blinding, soul-parched summers or the most frozen, rigid, lifeless of wintry tundras! Beautiful post, thank you. Amanda x

    • Awww, thanks Amanda… That means a lot (I often feel like the words have dried up, but it’s so uplifting to know that what finally makes its way through the dam has made this impression on you… Thank you.) So sorry I’ve taken so very long to reply to your lovely comment. Stressful, energy-sapping times have left me struggling to find focus and spare moments lately, but (at last!) things seem to be settling down (fingers crossed!) and I’m all set to get back to blogging. It’s wonderful to feel the inspiration flowing through those tundras again! Melanie x

  6. May I, too, add to the general appreciation of your daughter’s paintings. The one o fteh beach is particularly evocative, and they all complement your prose delightfully.

    I must confess that i have generally perceived August as the middle of summer, rather than as a “border” month: I imagine this is because the annual cycle is as defined in the mind by the school holiday schedules as it is by the workings of nature – and as such, August is very much, for me, the middle of summer rather than anything on ths border. I do, however, recignise your lovely characterisation of this month:

    “…a wayfarer month, dusty and dishevelled, having tramped along the road of the year to a point where the clothes in the rucksack need a wash, the straw coloured hair a cut, where August’s beard is sprouting grey, unruly tufts –”

    ( …although, on a personal level, that bit about the beard “sprouting grey, unruly tufts” possibly hits a bit too close to home for comfort! 🙂 )

    There are few signs of autumn yet here in the South-East, except, perhaps, for a slight chill in the early morning:but that’s possibly just a sign of my advancing years.

    All the best, Himadri

    • Himadri – lovely to hear from you, and thanks so much for your kind words. I’ve passed them on to my daughter and she’s so pleased you like her paintings… She’s especially chuffed that you find the beach scene evocative. She finds watercolour a difficult medium to work with, and was struggling to get to grips with it at the time she painted that picture – so, it was a relief for her to be able to produce something she was happy with (she’s extremely self-critical about her painting!)

      How each of us perceives and reacts to the passing of the months is a very personal thing, I think – and depends a lot on experiences and where in the world we grew up/ live now, and on the rhythms of our lives and what is the focus of our noticing and interests. For me, spring can be felt in the air not long after Christmas, when the days begin to lengthen, the blackbirds sing in response – and when, in February, the snowdrops and frog-spawn herald a new cycle of growth – even though it can often be overlaid with freezing midwinter weather!

      Sorry I’ve taken a long time to reply – I’ve been struggling to get back to blogging lately – time and energy’s so scarce. I wish I could stretch my time more effectively and contribute regularly to the discussions generated by your wonderful blog posts – I always feel I’ll never manage to add anything that’s well thought out enough, with so little head-space to spare these days! I do manage to catch up with reading all your posts though – and enjoy all your thoughts and the cut and thrust of the debates!

      As for greying beards – isn’t that the epitome of the distinguished gent? A sign of character, I’d say! (Wasn’t it Hamlet’s dad who was distinguished by his ‘grizzled’ beard? And there’s a pretty flattering word-portrait of him in Act 3, Scene 4 – ‘Hyperion’s curls’ and all that!) 🙂

      All the best,

  7. Pingback: Folk Customs – artwork by Linda Garland « whistlesinthewind

  8. This is just wonderful… like those half-thoughts never quite caught, flickering at the edge of vision, suddenly woven into gold by insight…

    “It’s a wayfarer month, dusty and dishevelled, having tramped along the road of the year to a point where the clothes in the rucksack need a wash, the straw coloured hair a cut, where August’s beard is sprouting grey, unruly tufts…”

    Just great. Thank you.

    • “…half-thoughts never quite caught, flickering at the edge of vision, suddenly woven into gold by insight…”

      What a wonderful, perceptive response – so beautifully put! That’s exactly how it felt when I was writing this piece; a kind of mysterious out-of-nowhere (or maybe out-of-everywhere!) process of gathering long-embedded impressions, pulling them in closer and suddenly seeing them take on a shape I could grasp better – like lifting an object out of murky water and seeing its vague, long-glimpsed outline become more clear… The strange workings of the subconscious and inspiration, I suppose! It was weird, as I was so tired when I wrote it – and it came out of an almost dream-state route of least resistance! I suppose the creative side had more free-rein, whilst the self critical side didn’t have the energy to go all beady-eyed for a while!

      I’m chuffed to bits that it evoked this response in you! Thanks so much for your lovely words.


      • I think all the comments here are pretty unanimous – ’tis a beautiful piece of writing! Great to hear how it came about, and greater to know tired dream-states can produce this stuff… and what we could do if our critical sides weren’t carping on about something or the other!

        I’ll be in the queue when you realise that novel…

        • 🙂 That’s really kind… If miracles happen and it does ever materialise in a form beyond my notebooks, you’ll be one of the first to receive a signed copy!

          Recently, I read something Alan Garner said in a Guardian Questions and Answers session which rang so many bells of recognition:

          ALAN GARNER: “Every writer has to discover their own way to write. In my case the sensation is that the stories find me. If I were to go looking (which I don’t) they’d not be there. Experience has convinced me that the conscious mind is a fine editor and critic, but is entirely unoriginal. Creativity is the product of the unconscious. I “see”, “watch”, “listen”, and write it down, with no intellectual planning. What happens is as new to me as it is to the reader. It’s also essential, for me, to read the text aloud. If it jars the ear it will jar the mind”.

          Blogging has been so fruitful in helping me to discover my ‘own way to write’ – and I’m learning that the way that works best for me is not very dissimilar to what Alan Garner describes here. And when something spills out of the dream-time, the self-editing afterwards seems to stay more in the realms of enjoyable crafting, rather than over-anxious tinkering – like wittling wood to a pleasing, natural shape rather than over-working it against the grain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s