- With more indoor time enforced, with greater preparations required for wandering in the open, with occasional thoughts of ice and snow, with shorter days and longer shadows and less powerful sun _ autumn is traditionally a period of shrinking inwards. Of course there are busy tasks to prepare for harsh winter, but everything tends to contract towards home and hearth. The natural world seems much less jubilant and sensual, an evil shadow of what it once had been a month or so ago.
- Technology has changed most of that. Work and home continue as always, hours and tasks unaffected now that there is electricity, commerce, and interchange. Saturnalian end-of-year festivals engage all our free time, weather is irrelevant _ even huge blizzards mostly an inconvenience if they bother to show up at all. I’d be a fool to lament this easier and happier existence. I’m willing to keep my toes in nature, try to stay in tune with the slowed rhythms, but I never lament being warm, well fed, and active.
Will kill us as we sleep.
- These ruins of a pump house at Coindre Hall seem appropriate as the temperature drops. Destruction, decay, and forgetfulness play an underlying theme in late November. Winter may be the hopeless season when all seems lifeless and going outdoors is an act of defiant desperation, but autumn resembles a warning. That is seized upon by philosophers and theologians to remind people how insignificant each one is in the vast universe.
- I have no idea where I fit into “the” universe, but in my universe I am the main event. Today is magnificent, life is wonderful, and I look forward to tomorrow. What I do is consequential to what will happen in my environment. Deeper thoughts of cold logical philosophy and nagging intuitive religion rarely color my underlying consciousness moment by moment. Even in autumn. Perhaps that is a fool’s happiness, but such joy is real for me.
“Speak for yourself,” I laugh, “I’ve still got lots of leaves and other cleanup to keep me busy for weeks. Not to mention cleaning _ like you _ for holiday visitors.”
- Last lingering reminders are still all around, like these roses blooming into the teeth of an approaching storm. Some days are still warm. Fine outdoor sights and weather can be appreciated more now that they are endangered. Someone who has just escaped catastrophe, or knows vacation is about to end, can easily discover fresh joy from previously mundane surroundings.
- I am the luckiest of creatures, blessed with memory and means to organize it so the past lies open. That which I have experienced does not easily disappear. Even trapped in freezing snowdrifts, I can remember daffodils and autumn oaks, things I have done, people I have known. My entire lifeline lies open to my consciousness, so that even when I sink seemingly bounded into a comfortable chair, I remain the king of infinite time and space.
- I remain happiest in climates similar to that in which I grew up in Pennsylvania. Anybody can justify anything, of course, so as I reflect on how fine it is to have seasons, I must also realize that perhaps that is because they attach strongly to my own past. I like to think seasonal patterns teach us all something healthy, a perspective that we lose when we totally control all climate and always follow an identical daily routine.
- Predictable seasonal patterns _ wet and dry, or cold and hot, or whatever _ are the most obvious about which to moralize, but in fact all life has cyclical patterns of some type. Even in the unchanging desert or ever-soaked rain forest there are differences between night and day. But I think where no part of a cycle lingers with some potency, there is a tendency to believe things are eternal and unchanging. Those of us enjoying _ or afflicted by _ strong contrasts as the year turns are more likely to believe ongoing gain and loss is inevitable.
- We anthropomorphize even wind and rain, even length of daily sunlight. Suddenly I may believe my life has entered its autumn, as frailty strikes not only me, but all those my age that I know. This melancholy may extend to worrying about a final winter I may not survive. What is the correct reaction?
- Clutch closely that all that is around me? That hardly works, like hiding under a tree in the rain, I will eventually get wet. Clutching does little more than make my worries impossible. Let go of everything and live for the moment? Unfortunately, the possibilities of my moments are somewhat curtailed compared to when I was young and strong, and in spite of my “accepting my age” most of the time there will be unwelcome consequences for paying no attention to tomorrow.
- My solution is to project my inward thoughts out to the seasonal attributes. Watching trees and birds and rain and long evenings is an enjoyment always available. Understanding or fantasizing is a pleasure never fading. My physical possibilities, in this season and at this age, may indeed be shrinking, but that need not affect my mind and soul.
- An almost mad dash to the south for sunset each evening. People exclaim they can’t believe it is getting dark already. Trees have assumed their interlacing skeletal frames for the coming snows. No wonder that ancient peoples made a ritual of end of year worries that the night might become eternal. No wonder that we do the same.
- A month from now the sun’s race southward slows, stops, and begins a slow return after winter solstice. Even though the heart of winter remains, that is a time of beginning hope. But these final weeks until that rebirth are psychologically difficult. The contracting constriction of everything natural strikes deep into our soul, a longer chord similar to circadian rhythm that we may ignore, but experience unconsciously nevertheless.