"There comes a time in our lives when the innocence of spring is a memory and the exuberence of summer is a song whose echoes remain faintly in the air ... when, as we look out on life, the problem is not how to grow but how we enjoy the precious moments we have, not to squander our energy but how to conserve it in preparation for winter ...
I like spring but it is too young. I like summer but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colors richer and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death."
-- Lin Yutang
I don't know for sure when I first fell in love with autumn, because i was a matter of the heart, not the head.. But it most likely was when I went off to college in rural western New York, where I got to experience my first panorama of reds, oranges and yellows of foliage all around me after growing up in what seemed like suburbia's sea of brick, asphalt and endless traffic.
I look out on the New England hillsides that surround me, and I find it not so much dazzling as soothing, although also inherently sad as well. Clearly, it's a harbinger of grayer times ahead, and the chill also provides more than a hint of what will likely be a long, cold winter. But the scent of woodsmoke, the association with woodpiles that my neighbors have prepared, and the apples, butternut squash and pumpkins all around us harvest reminders that we are blessed with bounty in the land.
I notice that the changing foliage colors approach gradually, with streaks of autumn painted on the individual leaves and on sections of trees that gradually push out the greens and eventually overtake the landscape entirely. After a while they'll turn brown, and will eventually be gone entirely.
The population in this neck of the woods is gradually aging, and I'm now, in my late 60s (that, too, seemingly occurred gradually) I'm aware of friends and older relatives around me reporting not only more aches and pains, but also more serious, chronic medical issues. I'm hearing about friends or relatives who have either died or who are preparing for end of life. And I'm hearing from elders who report the sadness of watching friends around them pass on and who feel the withering of their generation, like leaf after falling leaf.
This time in the Jewish tradition marks the new year, a fitting demarcation between the fullness of summer and the dormant season ahead with the promise of rebirth in the spring. Of this, Rabbi Jack Riemer has written,
"Now is the time for turning.
The leaves are beginning to turn
from green to red and orange.
The birds are beginning to turn and
are heading once more toward the South.
The animals are beginning to
turn to storing their food for the winter.
For leaves, birds, and animals
turning comes instinctively.
But for us turning does not come so easily.
It takes and an act of will for us to make
What's harder still is the environmental awareness that we seem to be truly at a crossroads, with threats to our climate, chemical pollution and population excess all raising existential questions even as we witness the political climate overtaken by repression.
Still, the change of season reminds us that ahead lies a grander, timeless cycle at work that may provide us with unseen hope.
"Rest," Nature seems to say, "and when you awaken, new perspectives will provide fresh beginnings.
And the earth tones of autumn -- contrasting with the contemperaneous beginnings of sprinfg in the Southern Hemisphere -- provide a glorious backdrop for us to revel in the magic of Earth and ponder the greater mysteries of life. Against that backdrop, I'm still haunted by the image of burning leaf piles as I headed with friends into the hills of western Pennsylvania decades ago, which I etched into this poem, Adagio for Strings:
November's vacant sky
our leaves are slowly burned. and
once again we are
left with only
the charred redolence
Are high overhead,
a vital death
Dies in autumnm yet
enough survives to
mourn its passing.
Hollow footsteps echoing
the world is left withered
and empty. and
all that remains are
grey of sky and
brown of earth.
Posted: to Poor Richie's Almanac on Tue, Oct 1, 2019
Updated: Sun, May 29, 2022