Fires, floods, hurricanes — natural processes that have been magnified by our human folly. This week I’ve been thinking about Hurricane Ian, as I’m sure many of you have — the devastation of both human & other-than-human habitats…. I have wondered about the hummingbirds that fed hungrily outside our window before setting, off a week or two ago, on their annual journey to Central America.
Here in central NC, we missed the worst of the storm. We really had only one day of strong winds & driving rain. Many branches & some trees down but no widespread damage. And, after the storm, the arrival of true autumn weather, with beautiful cooler days & chilly nights. The leaves are just beginning to change color.
I am definitely a 4-season person. I love the on-going changes as Earth makes her way around the sun. I treasure all the seasons for their distinctive gifts, but Autumn is my favorite — for the end of sultry summer heat & for the gorgeous colors of trees — also, since I was so long tied to the academic calendar, for my feeling of beginning, of stepping into new possibilities — a feeling more commonly associated with Spring.
Like each season, Autumn holds more than one kind of movement:
There’s the exuberance and abundance of harvest time, the rich tapestry woven over the Summer by the Earth community — both in human fields and in the woodlands as squirrels gather nuts, bears forage and fatten for their long rest, and birds feast among the ripened seeds as they prepare to fly south or to hunker down for the winter here.
Then, gradually, as Autumn progresses, the movement shifts from celebration to letting go. The fruits have fallen, flowers withered, the leaves that have delighted us with their spectrum of fiery colors are dimming, drifting dry and crumbling to the ground. So many poems associate these Autumnal changes with death.
But I have learned that this isn’t the final curtain on the year’s last drama. For instance, the fallen leaf hasn’t simply died & left the tree bereft. The tree is protecting itself against the hard weather ahead by absorbing the nourishment contained in each leaf back into its main body, separating itself from the dead leaf, and then healing each tiny scar so that new buds are possible in the spring. Last summer’s leaves begin new journeys — becoming & strengthening the soil with, perhaps, a stop along the way to line a nest or den, participating in the flow of life. And all the while, hidden from us, the trees are still sharing the sweetness of the sunshine that their leaves harvested during the summer, literally feeding each other & associated life-forms through an incredible mycorrhizal network underground.The flowers, too, that seem to us to have died — drying up & withering away — are becoming part of the soil into which they have cast their seeds — feeding their offspring & ensuring next Spring’s colorful carpet.
I love Mary Oliver’s playful imaginings about the so-called “loss” that’s often associated — amid much melancholy — with Autumn:
Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver "In the deep fall don’t you imagine the leaves think how comfortable it will be to touch the earth instead of the nothingness of air and the endless freshets of wind? And don’t you think the trees themselves, especially those with mossy, warm caves, begin to think of the birds that will come – six, a dozen – to sleep inside their bodies? And don’t you hear the goldenrod whispering goodbye, the everlasting being crowned with the first tuffets of snow? The pond vanishes, and the white field over which the fox runs so quickly brings out its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its bellows. And at evening especially, the piled firewood shifts a little, longing to be on its way."
Then, in the last days of Autumn, new kinds of beauty — quietly austere rather than overwhelmingly lush — emerge. As the green fades, as the bright leaves fall, much that was hidden can now be more clearly seen — the unique shape of each tree, for instance, becomes apparent, as do the curves & ridges, the bones of the land….
This is the sacred unraveling of threads, the making of space for a different weaving; letting-go of the old so that the unknown can emerge… as it always does.
Fall Song by Mary Oliver "Another year gone, leaving everywhere its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves, the uneaten fruits crumbling damply in the shadows, unmattering back from the particular island of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere except underfoot, moldering in that black subterranean castle of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds and the wanderings of water. This I try to remember when time's measure painfully chafes, for instance when autumn flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing to stay - how everything lives, shifting from one bright vision to another, forever in these momentary pastures."
Autumn is a crossroads — both a celebration of what has been & a plunge into the unknown — a dreaming towards newness, not death but transfiguration…. Autumn opens us to questions, more than to answers:
Will the fallen acorn feed a chipmunk and become part of that quick chattering animal life? Will it crack and disintegrate and become part of the rich soil that feeds the forest plants? Will it sprout in the spring? — and will that sprout become a snack for a grateful winter-thin deer or perhaps grow eventually into another wide-branched oak?
Life embraces these changes & shifts in its form as necessary. A reminder to us humans: What needs to be celebrated? Of what must we let go? And how does that relinquishment provide not only space for but also a strengthening of the yet-to-come? How do we step & dream our way into the next seasons of our personal & collective being?
In the studio, too, a pondering of possible configurations — playing with the idea of leaves…. on the branch? around the face? The leaves in the photo are just cut-outs. I need to experiment with different ways to felt interesting leaves. Or — who knows…? No end to the explorations!