My physical therapist recently asked the question as she was prodding and poking me this week, and it elicited an immediate positive reaction from the part of me that still works very well – my mouth. But it also put me in mind of another friend (a nursery owner) who can never wait to tell me how much she dislikes autumn. Though her posts on social media tell a very different story – as posts always do on social media – she sees autumn as cold, wet, dismal and dark.
I shared these thoughts with my tormentor, and surprisingly she felt instant kinship with my friend. And I say surprisingly, because I have always considered my friend’s views on autumn to be thoroughly heretical – and if I’m being perfectly honest, somewhat capricious.
The therapist confessed to her patient. She didn’t like the shrinking of days, she told me. The closing in of everything. The quiet finality of the season.
I lay there and thought about what I loved about autumn. For I do love it – spirit, mind and body. And I thought about it as I left the warmth of the office for an outside temperature that made me shiver; and I thought about it as my feet squelched through mud on the way to the car; and I thought about it as I drove home and recognized that the tulip poplars had divested themselves of three quarters of their leaves and that somehow it had become mid-October while I wasn’t watching.
My love for this season goes far beyond wafts of cinnamon and the draping of porches in what has become the tedious standardization of autumn. It is a recognition of the need for contraction and for rest. For my garden, for the creatures who inhabit it, and for myself.
When I am ready, it allows me the freedom to do without the inevitable undo of rampant growth. It is a true celebration and conclusion of all that has come before – the awakening of the earth and its long Dionysian revels. It is as necessary as the parent who picks up her toddler and puts it to bed long before the toddler thinks he is ready.
In the many years of my city and suburban life, I was a willing participant in Autumn™ — adding my straw bales and cornstalks to neighborhoods that would certainly never suffer the actual, messy creation of such things in back gardens during the rest of the year.
I was joined by many others, who today move with even greater alacrity from tawny bales to evergreen wreaths, until the lack of commercially viable holidays make the bleakness of winter inescapable, and the long stretch to spring a dreary countdown.
The longer I live rurally, the less I feel any need for the manifestation of the consumer season. The true fall season is immersive, deeply meaningful, and a lot less expensive. And yet it still must be sought out. If I do not take time to appreciate autumn through morning walks, or snapping photos in the garden, or hunting mushrooms, I can easily be overwhelmed by all that must be done before that first frost, and how cold my hands are doing it.
Spring is not coy. It is an awakening. It is a joyful, positive, energizing season that transcends place and challenges the most melancholy to still find darkness. And as such, it is not the exclusive privilege of the country mouse who stares across greening fields with her morning coffee in hand.
Step out of your apartment on the twenty-third floor (please use the stairs), and you’ll feel life returning to the gray, deadened streets of a city. The temperature is warmer, the restaurants are setting up tables outdoors, the street trees are blooming, and everyone is being a hell of a lot nicer to one another.
All is potential. When I close my eyes and think back, I can remember the incredible feeling of exhilaration on the first fine day in March in the heart of whichever city I happened to be inhabiting at the time. The contrast was heartbreakingly joyful.
But that is spring.
Conversely, autumn is a period of contraction. It is a season that, at core, is taking away from us. If growth, vigor, life…energy must end, we want a damn good reason to be okay with it. Otherwise, in a heavily urbanized existence it is simply cruelty. Thus, #harvest signs where there is no harvest. The cinnamon oil assaulting the senses from grocery store to boutique shop. The tasteful and the tacky – all to provide some level of meaning as to why we’re being punished. Why we’re being put to bed.
The meaning and the joy are there without the superficialities of retail therapy, but I think finding them requires some measure of natural connection; and if you don’t live rurally, you must actively seek it out. It is present in the quiet corners of parks and river walks. It is present in moments spent tending balcony window boxes, and in those street trees, now throwing leaves on the cars parked below. It’s even present in the warming soups and stews we instinctively crave which connect us to a harvest we did not reap, but in which we may share.
Autumn is far more subtle in its joys than spring, and the worries of modern life can cunningly conceal those joys. It’s dark. I’m cold. There are wet, slimy, leaves everywhere, and I’ve got 6,459 tender plants to bring in. How much is heating oil this year?!? If we don’t look for a true connection to autumn, and thus recognize its worth, we face winter even earlier than we should.
Why must the season end? Why must there be autumn? Mother Nature has spoken. Time for bed everyone. We might as well enjoy the story. – MW