Autumn Thoughts

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!

4 thoughts on “Autumn Thoughts

  1. Perhaps the answer to your questions below the seven-star ellipsis (the Pleiades?) is YES!
    … the leaves you felted are to also tree-grown leaves to these eyes. It’s wonderful when full reality is present in all sides of duality.


  2. Oh, another marvelous posting! I love autumn and winter. These are mystical seasons, critical parts of the year-long cycle of Mother Earth, where so much happens “behind the scenes” – underground, in caves and dens, in the soil, within the trees. A time to be cozy, to slow down our busy-ness and spend more time reflecting about what was accomplished during the warmer seasons and what lies ahead. To plant the seeds of our dreams so they can germinate during this time of silence. This is also a time of spectacular beauty as the sun and moon reflect off snow and ice.

    The branch is so perfect! It appears dead and dry, yet it has life springing from it! Perhaps add a bit of snow for the leaves to poke their way through …


  3. La Mujer con hojas- the woman with leaves. She calls out to my Forest Who Sings Herself into Being for this is the time for such connection. Autumn in all of her harvest glory, her gathering in, her portal to the coming quiet, centering time. All of the seasons hold moments of celebration but for me, autumn, most of all, calls to honor the land, hold its gifts close, care and acknowledge what lies before us, do all that we can to care for the land, the air, precious water, all living beings. I am a woman of autumn, born in September and consider it to be my new year, not January.


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