Autumn's Meanings

Nov 11, 2016

Credit Jeanette Saddler-Taylor

Have you looked out there in the past couple of weeks? It’s been gobsmackingly beautiful.  In Michiana, it’s as close as it gets to Tahiti. No, not the heat, although it had been fairly warm, and not the Gauguin semi-naked ladies, but the Gauguin color palette of reds and yellows and oranges: the leaf-turnings on the trees have been just breath-taking. No need to take a road trip, the local color has been a delight. Truly, it’s been something to have seen, remembered and be prepared, in a couple of weeks, to offer as an example of “what I am thankful for.”

Surrounded by this beauty as I put my garden beds to bed for the winter—Those yard-waste bins are the greatest things to fall off of the truck in many a year, aren’t they?—out there among the splendor of the trees, nature has given me the opportunity to reflect on the facets of autumn. On Prairie Home Companion, Chris Thile referred to it as the “queen of the seasons.” It is so jam-packed with beauty: “that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling” sayeth Jane Austin. It also is the beginning of the end of the year. As I labor away and try to avoid clear-cutting of the spent flora and fauna with an eye to there being things of interest to stand in the snow, autumn also slams me against the brick-wall of thoughts about, well, about death.

I was thinking that gardening is a metaphor for the life cycle, but that’s wrong. Gardening IS the life cycle. There’s the beginning, the lushness, the harvest, and the end. But even at the end, beautiful autumn, there is hope of the next season and the next season and so on. As that ace gardener, Vita Sackville-West, said, “no gardener would be a gardener if he did not live in hope.”

Those of you who are of “churchy” persuasions know that smack-dab in the middle of the season—right about now: early November, there is the remembrance of “our beloved dead,” All Souls’ Day.  There’s a reason that this day of memory falls at this time of year. Nature all around us is moving stuff on to a different phase of habitation and somebody, probably while digging in the earth and thinking deep thoughts, noticed and thought to set aside a day, way back about the fifth century, to think about this. So there you have it, harvest the bounty, clean up your garden and think about those who have gone before.

These reflections especially have forced themselves onto my attention this year as I have grieved with those I know: friends, neighbors and relatives, who have had those dear to them move from their accustomed places among us to that “different phase of habitation.” Some of these people were young and one of them did not wait for the natural process of things, but hurried the process along himself. I’ve thought about the depth of sadness that he must have had and how he must not have been able to imagine any brighter day and I have wished that those who loved him—and there are many—could have convinced him of the error of his idea, that there was some hope. Then, at about that same time, I heard a youngish man talking on the radio about how he had considered suicide and only was stopped by the thought of the devastation that he knew his action would cause to his parents. One part of me thought of that as “continuing to stay alive by guilt,” but then, it seemed like, “Well, if that’s what it takes to save a life, so be it.” Roll out the guilt wagon, wait for another season, hope the mood passes and that life cycles along.

As Yoko Ono is quoted, “Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.” 

For that, we all should have a little hope and give a little thanks.