The first chill of the Autumn air. Crisp leaves underfoot. Brand-new exercise books. Good intentions. Sharpened pencils. Organised files.
Then, carols. Preparations. Snow. Sunshine and ice. Frosted holly berries. Excitement. Cosy evenings. Dark nights.
Snowdrops next. Green buds. Optimism. Lush grass. Daffodils. New life. Awakenings.
Then warmth. Revision. Exams. Stress. Relaxation. Holidays. Camp. The beach. Blue skies.
Snapshots of youth evoke a simpler, more challenging time, don't they? Clearer-cut years of tormenting complexity. A black-and-white phase with great streaks of grey. A never-ending cycle of beginnings and endings, over and over again.
Later - a couple of decades later - the turnover of seasons seems swifter. Relentless. As if pumpkins and auburn trees and scarves somehow give way to hot chocolate and snug boots and Christmas more quickly than before. The first crocus has no sooner pushed its way into the fresh, clean air than the longest day has been and disappeared. It's suddenly, abruptly, Autumn again. Babies are no longer babies. Trousers are too short. Mornings darken. Each transition is seamless, blending one chapter to the next, quietly and noiselessly.
From this, my vantage point in time - halfway to threescore and ten, in a year of constant public and national celebration which serves to underscore the tiny and yet significant role of every person on the planet - I look over my shoulder into the distance. What did each of these seasons offer by way of experience? Was I wholly caught up in beauty and routine and predictable sameness and anticipation of life's next richness, without noticing - indeed, looking for - life's next lesson?
And the seasons might fly by now, but they have become longer, too, and defined less by warmth and sun and flowers and terms and holidays and birthdays. Somehow, time is elastic. Experiences overlap and build and teach. Day and night are rarely separate. My two wee boys were surely born yesterday, yet I've had them forever.
My job - which both wearies and delights me - offers little rest or freedom or solitude. It teaches me patience far beyond that which comes naturally. It bestows vast responsibilities which will never quite fade away. It slips nuggets of unbidden train-themed knowledge into my mind. I learn to glide a frisbee. My kisses have powers of restoration and healing. I need to set an example. I long to instill more confidence than I ever gained myself into those tiny, developing characters. I'm no longer allowed to wallow in vast oceans of selfishness.
One day, many years from now, this time will have passed. Another chapter will be under way. The lessons I learn now will feed and fertilise those years. This time of simple fixes and unyielding tiredness and short-lived tantrums and instant smiles and formulaic structure and innocence and day-to-day survival will bear fruit. Today's joys will be replaced by tomorrow's entirely different joys. Today's struggles will not be tomorrow's struggles. Today's priorities will alter, gradually, into tomorrow's priorities. I will be me, and yet a different me. Brick by brick, tomorrow will be built onto the foundation of yesterday and now.
It's so easy to wish for a more straightforward time. To underuse the now. To waste the opportunities. To cherish the daytime moments with giggling babies but squander my small evening liberties. To convince myself that I'll do it tomorrow. To put off, for want of enough energy.
May I be reminded with each sunset that I am another day closer to the end of each chapter. And that each chapter offers lessons and treasure, to be sought and scrutinised and grasped whilst they are still there for the taking.