These woods on the edges of a lake are settling now to winter darkness. Whatever was going to die is gone — crickets, ferns, swampgrass. Bare earth fills long spaces of a field. But look: a single oak leaf brown and shining like a leather purse. See what it so delicately offers lying upturned on the path. See how it reflects in its opened palm a cup of deep, unending sky. ~ Laura Foley, “The Offering” from Why I Never Finished My Dissertation
Winter still has us in its chilly grasp for another four weeks. We feel caught up in its wintry web as viruses continue to swirl among us despite efforts to monitor and quarantine, and we wonder when our own turn will come.
The natural world, its joys and its threats, has always had the upper hand. We are dumbfounded, never quick enough to catch on to its tricks and sly mutations, unprepared to respond in the moment.
Like a withering leaf soon to become dust, we offer up what we can when we can: our reflection of the light, our hope of better things to come, our gift of beauty back to a despairing world.
Out through the fields and the woods And over the walls I have wended; I have climbed the hills of view And looked at the world, and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground, Save those that the oak is keeping To ravel them one by one And let them go scraping and creeping Out over the crusted snow, When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still, No longer blown hither and thither; The last lone aster is gone; The flowers of the witch hazel wither; The heart is still aching to seek, But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with a grace to reason, And bow and accept the end Of a love or a season? ~Robert Frost “Reluctance”
As I kick through piles of fallen leaves in the barnyard, I realize how close I am to becoming one of them. Within my own seasons, I have flourished and bloomed and fruited, but, with aging, am now reminded of my fading, withering and eventual letting go. I find I’m not nearly so bold anymore, instead trembling nervously when harsh winds blow me about.
I have come to question the stability of the stems, branches, trunk and roots I’ve always depended upon. Will they continue to nourish and sustain me?
Everything feels transitory — especially me.
When these thoughts overwhelm, I tend to hang on tighter rather than simply giving up and letting go. My feet stumble when I try to do the same tasks I did so smoothly years ago. I am easily torn, broken and full of holes. No graceful bow from me; I’m stubbornly wanting things to stay the same, reluctant for a transition to something different.
My only solace is that the heart of man — indeed my own holey heart — is transient compared to the holy Heart of God. I am sustained by His steady Pulse, His ubiquitous Circulation, His impeccable Rhythm of Life and Death.
In that I trust. In that I come to abandon my stubborn reluctance.
The trees are undressing, and fling in many places— On the gray road, the roof, the window-sill— Their radiant robes and ribbons and yellow laces; A leaf each second so is flung at will, Here, there, another and another, still and still.
A spider’s web has caught one while downcoming, That stays there dangling when the rest pass on; Like a suspended criminal hangs he, mumming In golden garb, while one yet green, high yon, Trembles, as fearing such a fate for himself anon. ~Thomas Hardy “Last Week in October”
So we too may be flung into the unknown, trembling in the chill wind, unready to let go of what sustains us, fated to land wherever the storm blows.
Yet caught up by a silken thread, left to dangle suspended by faith to await the hope of rescue, alone and together, another and another, still and still.
Autumn in my part of the world is a season of bounty and beauty. It’s also a season of steady decline—and, for some of us, a slow slide into melancholy. The days become shorter and colder, the trees shed their glory, and summer’s abundance starts to decay toward winter’s death.
I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about fall and its sensuous delights.
Then I began to understand a simple fact: All the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as Earth prepares for yet another uprising of green. ~ Parker J. Palmer from On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old
A fine rain was falling, and the landscape was that of autumn. The sky was hung with various shades of gray, and mists hovered about the distant mountains – a melancholy nature. Every landscape is, as it were, a state of the soul, and whoever penetrates into both is astonished to find how much likeness there is in each detail. ~Henri Frederic Amiel
A melancholic first glance~ rain droplets glisten bejeweled when studied up close.
It isn’t all sadness~ there is solace in knowing the landscape and I share an inner world of change: both promises and tears.
…the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells, the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time. No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky. ~Barbara Crooker “And Now it’s October” from Small Rain.
…but I do try to stopper time. I try every day not to suspend it or render it frozen, but like summer flower and fruit that withers, to preserve any sweet moment for sampling through stored words or pictures in the midst of my days of winter. I roll it around on my tongue, its heady fragrance becoming today’s lyrical shared moment, unstoppered, perpetual and always intoxicating.
After the keen still days of September, the October sun filled the world with mellow warmth… The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her… In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible. ~Elizabeth George Speare The Witch of Blackbird Pond
As we enter a week of storm fronts carrying wind and rain and gray, we know we may not really surface under the sun for another 5 months.
The unexpected may happen and we can expect that it will. I’ll be ready.
Now constantly there is the sound, quieter than rain, of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright gold, the sycamore limbs bleach whiter.
Now the only flowers are beeweed and aster, spray of their white and lavender over the brown leaves.
The calling of a crow sounds Loud — landmark — now that the life of summer falls silent, and the nights grow. ~Wendell Berry “October 10” from New Collected Poems.
Mid-October and we’ve already had our first hard frost – the leaves turned almost overnight. They are letting go, swirling and swooping in the breezes and pittering to the ground like so many raindrops.
A few more cold nights and they will be dry and crunchy underfoot; it is one of life’s great pleasures to trudge through leaves ankle deep, each footstep memorably rhythmic and audible. I would never be able to sneak up on anyone outside this time of year.
Nor do I want to. Instead I want to link arms, join hands, sing and dance in the leaves to celebrate these crisp and colorful moments.
Just singing in the leaves, just singing in the leaves. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!
Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Pied Beauty”
The unconventional and unnoticed beauty, freckled, spare and strange– helps me feel beautiful too. The interplay of light and shadow within every moment of our existence, some moments darker than others, some brilliant and dazzling.
I try to find the sweet and sour, knowing I’m capturing my own dappled essence – a reflection of the Fathering that loves us even in our fickleness, who possibly could know how?
There is no perfection outside of Him; His reflected beauty has no uniformity. We give Him glory in our imperfection, the defects and blemishes which only He can make whole. Who knows why He does this? Yet He does.
Season of ripening fruit and seeds, depart; There is no harvest ripening in the heart.
Bring the frost that strikes the dahlias down In one cruel night. The blackened buds, the brown And wilted heads, the crippled stems, we crave – All beauty withered, crumbling to the grave. Wind, strip off the leaves, and harden, ground, Till in your frozen crust no break is found.
Then only, when man’s inner world is one With barren earth and branches bared to bone, Then only can the heart begin to know The seeds of hope asleep beneath the snow; Then only can the chastened spirit tap The hidden faith still pulsing in the sap. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh“No Harvest Ripening“
Things on the farm are slowing down and withering; it is the natural way of October for all to fall to the ground to become soil again.
I know it doesn’t mean the end – there is still the vital seed and sap that lies dormant, waiting for the right moment to re-emerge, resurrect and live again.
I know this too about myself. Yet the dying-time-of-year doesn’t get easier as I age. It only becomes more real-time and vivid. The colors fade, the skin wrinkles and dries, the fruit falls unused and softening.
Our beauty, so evident only a short time ago, thrives inward, ready to rise again when called.
O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall; To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all.
O hushed October morning mild, Begin the hours of this day slow, Make the day seem to us less brief. Hearts not averse to being beguiled, Beguile us in the way you know; Release one leaf at break of day; At noon release another leaf; One from our trees, one far away… ~Robert Frost “October”
These mornings I wander stunned by light and mist to see trees tremble inside their loosening cloaks, a pulsing palette of color ready to detach, revealing mere bones and branches.
I want it all to be less brief, leave the leaves attached like a fitted mosaic rather than randomly falling away.
Their release is not their choosing: the trees know it is time for slowly letting go~ readying for sleep, for sprouts and buds, for fresh tapestry to be woven from October’s leaves lying about their feet.