September’s Unburdenings

As I step outside for my early morning run, there is a certain chillness about. The air is now crispy and misty, and it can only mean one thing: September is here so summer must leave. Colours are changing, nights are drawing in and your body is feeling tired. One day at a time and autumn creeps in through the door just as summer is quietly departing. I don’t mind autumn at all, I quite like it. There is a shift in nature happening before our very own eyes, with migration of birds and insects, and animals starting to make preparations for the colder months ahead. All the while, we harvest the last of summer pickings.

Where I grew up in Portugal, vindima (grape harvest) would now be taking place. I have some fond childhood memories of vindimas as it was all so entrancing to watch and to take part. We have the Romans to thank for our viticulture industry and passion for homemade wine. The Romans believed wine was an indispensable drink to all ranks in their society – from slaves to aristocracy – thus making it a democratic drink (so perhaps don’t trust a teetotal leader with autocratic tendencies?). The wine made at my parents, like that of our neighbours, was exclusively for home consumption – something to show for a fruitful year, something to drink at meals, celebrate at family and friends’ gatherings, or simply to cook with. How can a bottle of wine determine how good or bad a year has been? How can the juiciness of a grape provide synopsis in utterings rather than in words? How will 2020 taste? Will it be extra dry, charcoal or opulent? And this is what September and autumn are about – they bear and offer. 

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When looking up the definition of autumn, it comes up as “the shedding of leaves from deciduous trees”, with deciduous meaning “seasonally shedding” and “falling off at maturity”. In fact, the opposite of evergreen: never having bare branches (To be full of foliage all year around?! Oh, that must be exhausting!). But coming back to the term deciduous, I view it rather as unburdening of an old self. Even as I say the word out loud and very slowly – un·bur·den·ing – in a synchronised manner, my hands parallelly scoop downwards, my wrists move from pronation to supination position, bringing the palms of my hands upwards in a gesture of offering. This is how my body responds to the sound of the word. Unburdening: opening up the space for something new, a release.

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As deciduous trees unburden their leaves in September, or upon the arrival of autumn, so did I when I set off to the UK to study just over twenty years ago. I hadn’t made concrete plans to stay beyond graduation but time kept escaping me and I grew to love being part of this tapestry country, its rich composition made up by so many beautiful wool, silk and metal threads. I was perplexed at first, becoming amused later on. Why were cashiers, shop assistants, and other perfect strangers, calling me love and sweetheart? Walking on Tower Bridge knowing I could do that regularly and not merely as a tourist treat. Hearing for the first time someone with a broad Yorkshire accent was a delightful discovery! Tins of baked beans on demand! Leaving Portugal was difficult but it was essential for me. For my parents it was even harder as I am the youngest. Their nest was finally empty and I flew further than they ever expected. I did what previous generations did and set off wandering to wherever the wind took me…My autumn leaf brought me here.  

As the leaves were changing colour, I landed in the UK and my old self was nervously discarded at Arrivals. A big leap like this one meant big changes, the push I definitely needed. And once in a while you need a shock, a fear that makes you fearful and fearless. Eleven Septembers ago, as I took my first tango steps I felt the mellifluous appeal of Di Sarli and Bahía Blanca, and was instantly hooked and ultimately saved. To me tango is more than just a dance. It returns you back to you – a better version, the unburdening self. The tango códigos, a toolkit which I’ve adjusted and adapted into my daily life, have been invaluable: I owe no-one a dance/my time, consent is essential and my personal space must be respected. By saying no words at all and moving to the music, I regained my voice through dance. Once again, September reached out its hand to me, where I’d carefully placed and pressed my hand against it, knowing I had found a safe port. My autumn leaf survived yet another storm…

I often wonder how my life would have turned out if I’d backed away on either decision. A Sliding Doors conundrum, perhaps being played out in a multiverse where France and lindy hop would have been on the cards for one of the versions of me. How often do you think about that? How many possible outcomes for every single decision taken in your life? This is one for the mathematical-minded out there…

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

As I am typing this last paragraph, a leaf from a nearby poplar tree has danced its way to be at my feet. It has a beautiful diamond shape and smooth toothed edges, which resembles cartoonish ocean waves. It has pronounced veins, slight indentations on the blade and a damaged apex. I wonder whose past has been unburdened along with this leaf, who is preparing to change – be it in a new school uniform, a new job, house, partner…Maybe it is a rekindling of forgotten aspirations, now that the fear has been cast aside with the autumn breeze. As this leaf will get flakier and darker, it will disintegrate and so will any doubts it once carried. This autumn, my leaf has landed on literary aspirations from yesteryears…How many more Septembers will it take before it is harvested? Slowly and surely seems to be my motto in writing. However it comes out, it will be written from the feet and from the heart; it will have been danced and felt; soul-baring on the page, a butterfly made up of words; leaf through the pages as it unburdens; a page as same as a leaf…Autumn is finally here!

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