(Warning: contains scenes from our very bad year)
“A kinship with death makes one a better lover, an old hag once told me . . . “
—Danielle Dulsky, Seasons of Moon and Flame
It had been while. My visits to this conservation district taper off during tick season, and the way it traps heat is no draw either. How mindful can one be the first day that Autumn sneaks up and kisses your eyes, touches your arm? The suddenness of change is either too sad or it enthralls. Or like me, you’re smote by both extremes into an altered state of mind expressed by feet that want to roam.
When I stepped onto the trail, it was as if into a magic land. The leaves were only here and there tinged with yellow or red. But their death was imminent, and the breeze chose to emphasize this, picking them off in handfuls. My steps slowed. There was much to see. A confirmation: summer, with its tank tops and sweat, is receiving last rites now. How did it go for you? the trees were bold enough to inquire.
Good riddance! I answered out loud, blaming the Pandemic. It was the year 2020. I never got to go swimming! Not fond of pools, but even the Lake’s buoy-trimmed inlets were closed. I never got to beat the heat in a movie theatre, scarfing popcorn in the chilled air before scenes from a carefully chosen story. I avoided downtown, a normally vibrant place in this mid-sized university city, where sidewalk sales were extinct due to quarantine. I never once ate s’mores at a campfire! Really? Loss of such small pleasures hit so hard? First-World problem, I know.
Or is it? When an acceptable shared pleasure in any culture is suddenly off limits—especially one you enjoyed as a child that was allowed to cross over into adulthood—it’s like something goes clunk. I’ll be damned if I really needed a tub of popcorn or another pair of summer’s discounted shoes. But how I craved the body’s worship of water, prevented by fears of it as a dangerous stew of humanity’s virus-laden breath. Add onto the worry that it was so strange–could it become permanent?
I was trying to minimize these losses as I stepped onto a walker’s way in 2020 that spelled a-u-t-u-m-n in emergence, no turning back. As usual, I’m a pushover for the beauty of wild spaces with minimal human traces. Then I saw what the real rub was about.
For me, each year the fall season signals the draw of turning inward. I pay more attention to dreams, I journal more and pore over Tarot cards, I read about topics that open mind and heart as if my life depends on them. But I was doing that all summer long, due to Covid-19. This trail felt new because the fall season tweaked it. but being in my head and searching my heart more than usual wasn’t new—I’d spent March through August indoors. I wasn’t tired of the work, just in sore need of a break. No such luck sang a crow winging by.
What autumn can mean, with its death-dances done in beauty, is an invitation to hit a deeper stratum in the self’s journey, even if one is weary. I’ll stand by the difference between pandemic-induced soul-searching, and the opportunities given by the seasonal round. It’s important.
Our ancestors imbibed the seasons with an immediacy we the pool-and-movie junkies can’t know from within, and rarely choose to imagine. We can read of connection to the natural world pointed to by indigenous ways or archaic artifacts; we can romanticize life without computers or cars. Whether or not we register it, there are the obvious edicts in Nature: the harvest is in, it’s time to hibernate. Our markets and dinner tables may or may not shift toward root vegetables, but we long for the comforts of soup.
What did our ancestors know about the season that we didn’t? That it is prime time to gather the harvest then let go. That urging is in the fire-shades of leaves dying, the turgid twirlers at ground level turning to dry stalk as winter steps closer every day. Animals respond to what they know is coming, and who can guess at what level they dream differently?
Today, in 2022, the autumn Earth beguiles me away from a focus on catastrophe. Last night we had a frost warning, and I watered the herbs and flowers, brought in house plants, threw hefty blankets over the window air-conditioners in this cabin I call home. The ritual of it was satisfying, as if the land urged me to fetch a quilt and cocoon, introspect, praise every detail all eyes for a beautiful death: the final touch of Summer Meets Fall until a hard freeze holds the funeral called Winter.
Danielle Dulsky suggests we focus on three griefs that need healing and sit with them during the cycle of the harvest moon. I have picked out my three acorns to represent these losses and will speak honestly to the full Blood Moon, also known as Hunter’s Moon, with those little prompts in hand.
Dear householder, just because the kids have started school or the car needs anti-freeze, please don’t miss out on the symbolism-laden gifts of the season. What needs to die in your world, metaphorically speaking? Can it go out with a colorful sendoff (no graying judgment, no self-criticism)? Can you hold hands with the spirits of past or future generations and hum a harvest hymn to what stands against frigidity as long as it can?
May you fall into autumn, the next stage, with peace and a thirst for going in. Smell the change in plant life, sit on soil that will grow inhospitable soon enough. Speak a eulogy for green. Put the bird feeder back up. Do you live somewhere without pronounced seasons four? You see a complexity of changes, surely, we of the predictable round often envy. Still, it’s got to be there: the inner autumn.
Whatever you do, slow down for a moment or several. Why not begin with a dream about being less at everyone else’s beck and call? Chuck that idea about how you’re no artist (writer, smithy, poet, songbird). You might look in the mirror for clues to your true nature, or contemplate a riddle, as this Zen koan (paradox tickler) asks: what did your face look like before your parents were born?
Here’s a short musing from Jane-Louise Kelly at Higher Wisdom that goes directly to the point.