The trees outside my window have lost most of their leaves. Some few still cling to their branches as a result of the late warm weather, however not many. The leaves are being released from their branches. The tree has sealed off the part where the stem contacts the twig and the leaves are subject to the whims of the wind. Thus the trees move from active participation in growth and expansion to rest and restoration, solidifying what has been gained. Nature is sensible that way, bringing opportunities for alternative modes of being. Most animals as well as insects are in their burrows or nests, resting from the work of gathering and consuming food as well as maintaining the dwelling.
Once there was no electricity to keep us humming along 24/7. In many cases native peoples in the North went into quasi hibernation mode in the winter. Later, although torches and candlelight provided evening illumination, early bed times were likely. Judging from how I feel, the human body seems to be inclined toward seasonal rest. I always seem to sleep longer and even more soundly during the darker hours between November and February. I find that my body is happy with the additional rest. However I am fortunate that I do not have to answer to a time clock at work or an alarm clock at home that tells me I must rise and get moving regardless whether or not my body would prefer to stay under the covers.
We humans do love the light. Throughout history various cultures have provided and still do provide their own opportunities to invoke it during the dark hours. In our Western European culture, our holidays devoted to light in one form or another commonly include Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Hanukah comes to us from another part of the world, as does Kwanzaa, a recent addition. The Internet can provide information concerning the many other celebrations of light that are not as common now because they have faded or been forgotten. These include interesting customs—some of which have come down to us, that include all kinds of symbolism as well as special dances and other activities. All these opportunities help counter the inevitable lethargy brought on by the dark hours.
Although I do not count the years, I still celebrate my birthdays. Now I have another celebration coming up, and I am reminded that as a result of the numerous autumns I have lived through, the leaves of my days are indeed falling. Little by little they flutter down, gathering on the ground in colorful heaps. I have also noticed that as the days of my life increase, I am slowing down. I do not get as much done; I need to rest more. Sometimes this is frustrating. These days are precious and the daylight needs to be made use of. Still I need to be kind enough to myself to allow for the rest I need to keep up my strength, most especially as the days of autumn dwindle and the dark hours grow longer.
When my children were young we used to gather colorful leaves and iron them between pieces of waxed paper to preserve them. There is something magical about the wonderful colors of fall leaves. They are everywhere, now, and people echo their beauty with doorstep pots of chrysanthemums in yellow, red, gold and rust. When I was growing up people didn’t decorate for fall or Halloween. People gave parties—I remember one year my parents gave one for adults. This was once also a popular time for divination games, which often centered around finding one’s true love.
I am enchanted by the colors of the trees at this time of year. I could almost believe that if I were pulled over by a policeman I might appear intoxicated. That’s a joke, of course, as for many years my body has not tolerated more than a sip or two of alcohol, and that only on rare occasions. No, what I would be drunk on is the beauty that glows along the roadsides. As I drive around on my errands these days, the slanting rays of the autumn sun shine through the reds and golds of the turning leaves, leaving me breathless.
I feel fortunate that I have the eyes to see it and the heart to appreciate it. I remember a conversation I had once with someone who was chronically depressed. When I said something about the beauty around us she shrugged and told me she couldn’t really appreciate it. Although she didn’t say it I could tell that she was simply too sad to do so. Her mind was totally preoccupied with her troubles and sorrows. I felt for her.
The gorgeous display that is the essence of a fall in New England is something many people travel here to see. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to live in this part of the USA. Nearly thirty years ago, before we moved to Grafton I spent seven years in Virginia. While we were there I found that the leaves that turned did not do so with much intensity, and I missed the brilliance of our autumn very much. When a great many years ago I was in southwest Texas in the fall I felt the same. I was three I have lived here in New England since I was three years old, and perhaps it is in my blood. One thing is sure: each year I look forward eagerly to the changing of the season and the beautiful colors.
One of the houses we lived in had a window that looked out over a very special Maple tree. The colors that brightened the leaves would begin with a single branch, sometimes as early as late August. How I enjoyed it when that patch of leaves burst into color. The loveliness of nature in autumn warms my heart in a way that enlivens my whole being. I am so very thankful for this special gift of loveliness, free for the gazing, billowing over the hills and presenting on yards: our New England fall.
Among the first things people teach their babies is to wave “bye bye.” Could it be because intuitively we know that saying good bye is one of the things we will do frequently in our lives. I have discovered that the older I become the more goodbyes I seem to be saying. This is not to complain, only to comment. It is also true that I have grown more aware that for every goodbye there is often a hello. Perhaps this is more on my mind as I say goodbye to Daylight Saving Time and hello to Standard Time once again.
This theme has been on my mind recently on more than one occasion. As I put away the last of my warm weather clothes, I say goodbye to the weather I wore them in. The shorts and tank tops go into clothing bags stored under the bed to wait for another season. To be sure there will be balmy autumn days, yet they will not be warm enough for cotton blouses or skirts. I have already begun wearing my woolen sweaters and corduroy pants and putting on my down foot warmers at night
I’ve been watching the leaves change and begin to disappear from the branches of the trees. I say goodbye to the them as they fall, baring the empty branches to the wind. Even the leaves that have not fallen have dimmed. The colors that earlier were so bright no longer flame over the hills but are muted, softened as the leaves get ready to drop. I see the fallen reds and yellows on the ground turning brown and curling up as they accumulate. Swirly gusts rustle them, scurrying them around the lawns and sidewalks as thought hey were little creatures racing to get away from the cold.
Not only my clothing changes with the season. My eating habits and preferences do too. My mother didn’t have access to fresh green beans, summer squash, or other seasonal produce from the supermarket when I was growing up. Now although summer produce is available, I am more apt to eat winter oriented foods. I prefer summer squash in the summer, winter squash in the cool months. It is said to be healthier to eat with the seasons. To me seasonal food tastes right. Warm drinks replace cold ones. Casseroles, stews and soups are the order of the day. Peaches and blueberries are a summer memory and I crunch apples. I say goodbye to one kind of cooking and welcome another.
Also I think of friends who are no longer near, or whose lives are now too busy to allow for visits. I remember those who have left this earth and its pleasures behind for a different kind of existence. I say goodbye to the longer hours of light and welcome the hours of darkness with their invitation to rest. Soon I will say goodbye to being outdoors for long periods of time. Fall is a season of goodbyes yet once we have said goodbye there is always the promise of what is to come. Goodbye is another way of making room for hello.