As a child, I used to love kicking piles of dried leaves in the park. I was shorter then, so I had to kick really hard if I wanted them to fly through the air.

It was a purely physical act. Quite exhilarating! Leaves would cascade down in front of me. I became part of their ‘crackle and the swish,’ and showered in their dazzling colours. As I’d cut through the park on my way home as a teenager, I did the same, my kicks were less animated, yet this time were charged with angst as I let go of my adolescent frustrations.

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Kicking leaves on an autumn day is still satisfyingKicking leaves on an autumn day is still satisfying

Kicking leaves on a muddy walk

As I walk through park and woodland these days, I enjoy the feeling of being small amidst nature’s bounty. The distant rays of the sun cast faint golden hues across a vast autumn canvas which I am part of. Withered leaves break off from high branches, gently rock in mid-air then fall to the earth in their own sweet time. Clouds hang low as I walk in cool fresh air. Autumn tints and the smell of the damp ripe earth underfoot reminds me that we are in what Keats called the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’

Summer’s operatic scream has been replaced with a softer cadence and nature’s beautiful complexity re-invents itself once again. I watch a leaf fall, a bird dart silently upward to a higher branch over the vast dewy field. There is a melancholic sense of summer slipping away into a new season. Idle thoughts cross my mind; “there is no holding on, nothing is static, not even for a moment.” Flaubert once said that it is a “season that suits memories so well”.

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Berries ripeningBerries ripening

Berries ripening

Autumn is the favourite season for many people. Nothing could ever replace those October and November frosty walks. After spending all morning on our laptops, typing, researching, data inputting or in Zoom meetings, what could relax us more than a solitary stroll under the simplicity of a breathtakingly beautiful autumnal sky ablaze in bright blue? To be distracted by a squirrel scampering up a twisted tree trunk, or the magnificent wingspan of a red kite gliding high overhead enjoying its freedom.

We’ve all been spending more time in nature this year, maybe because the weather has been milder. Perhaps a little too mild due to climate change. Many people I have spoken with have mentioned how this virus has brought out people’s good side and bad. As people’s true colours have shown themselves, friendships have been lost and gained. Fortunately, one of my neighbours has turned into a good friend. Lockdown has not been easy for her as she has a great job working for a charity and often used to jet set around the world.

During lockdown, once a week we’ve been going on long walks around the park. It has become one of life’s simple pleasures. We find a bench, sit at opposite ends, eat our sandwiches and have a cappuccino.

So many trivial subjects will be broached, like how her cat is doing and how my Zoom course is coming along, like my recent amazing blow dry and her delicious Friday night Indian take-away. Meanwhile a flock of birds in perfect alignment takes flight high across the sky. Occasionally, the conversation might deepen to our long term hopes and dreams.

We chat about interesting books and about the latest riveting Netflix series as the world circumvents us with people walking alone who appear to be talking to themselves via Bluetooth microphones and earpieces, lively dogs and small turbo-charged toddlers on their tricycles. We sometimes bump into other neighbours and chat. After our lunch, we’ll keep walking. Some trees still display an abundance of gilded leaves, others are already totally dead and bare, a carpet of crisp leaves surrounding them. The dark evergreen pine trees somehow remain untouched by the seasonal shift, robustly towering over us, retaining their freshness and foliage over the winter.

Throughout the autumn I have also enjoyed my walks alone to the local supermarket just before dusk when the trees cast longer shadows. As I walk back it has grown darker. Birdsong has not ceased and resonates clearer than ever in the silent ‘locked-down’ neighbourhood. A picturesque calm before the austere stillness of winter. Since the beginning of time, we have never been able to fathom nature’s mystery. We can only ‘be’ with it, get lost in it. “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” (John Muir)

When I get back I light up my home, turning on the fairy lights draped over my shelves then draw the curtains. I baked some banana bread a couple of days ago. It was quick and easy to prepare and is wonderfully stodgy to snack on with a late afternoon cup of tea. I turn on the TV and the news bombards me with more depressing stories, so I go to my recorded shows and decide to catch up with last week’s Autumnwatch.

I learn everything about swallows and swifts leaving us for warmer climes. Fascinated by perfectly aligned V flight formations and how the strongest birds lead, I marvel at how intensely active the seasonal shift is for wildlife and ponder on how Earth moves cyclically; how timing is everything and yet how technology is conditioning us to want things with a certain immediacy. TV programmes like this are both entertaining and educational, celebrating our affinity with Nature. Sir David Attenborough, reminds us that “our understanding of the natural world is a source of not only great curiosity, but great fulfilment.”

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6FM Radio Verulam at