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Late Autumn musings

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Something stirs painfully this time of year. I think it has to do with the conflicting messages autumn sends to the sub-conscious.

In many ways, autumn is a season of new beginnings. Last spring’s 4th grader is now a sure ‘nough 5th grader, ready to take on the world. Television producers introduce their new season. Newspapers carry schedules of upcoming theater and opera seasons. Football reigns.

Even the church year begins anew late in autumn, in the season known as Advent. The problem with Advent is that the secular world observes it too, but calls it Christmas. And it comes too soon, too soon. No wonder I am confused within.

This is the most beautiful time of year, a time of festivity. When we were closer to the land, we observed a tradition known as Harvest Home, celebrating the cutting and storing of grain, fruits, vegetables.

But in 21st century North America, most harvests take place in gleaming supermarkets, not darkening fields. Older folks with rural roots may remember when gratitude for a bountiful harvest was expressed by piles of fresh vegetables and newly canned goods brought into church to be shared with the less fortunate.
The practice continues in Europe, where in autumn the altar is covered with apples and potatoes, cabbages and corn, crisp loaves of bread and great jugs of new wine. Stunning still-lives of God’s lavish hand everywhere stir hearts to praise.

My heart is grateful in autumn too, but depression threatens. The leaves are no longer mostly green. The afternoon light pours through them, glistening off rain drops remaining from the ever-recent showers. A rosy maple here and there and the rich burgundy of sourwood contrast with the green.

Gold a-plenty, however, in the goldenrod and wild sunflowers nodding now beside the roads. Ahh, there’s my opening: Let’s hear no more of allergies triggered by goldenrod. The drab-flowered ragweed is the culprit there, blooming almost invisibly next to the goldenrod, sending sneezy allergens into the wind as you pass all unsuspecting.

And the glorious goldenrod takes the rap. Unfair! Goldenrod and sunflowers make the happiest of cut flowers, tangible armsful of sunlight on the coffee table where their brightness is needed.

But the hummingbirds -- their passage through our bit of the flyway has ended. In smaller numbers this year than I can recall, they seemed to rely less upon my feeders. Visitors were so swollen with energizing sugar that their flight paths sagged as they departed.

Foolish humans, who mark time’s passage with “hourglass and lengthening shadows in the grass, unaware that it is really we who pass,” as the poet says. Would I feel this way if I lived in New Zealand, where the calendar says November when the climate says May?

Imagine what those latitudes must do to confused circadian rhythms.

There’s no great mystery here after all. A year is coming to a close, another year that seems hardly to have begun.

Now I see just that it is falling dark when we eat dinner, and too cool, most evenings, to be on the porch. The days are already dark longer than light.

Hidden at year’s end, you see, the anniversary of my own beginning is ready to pounce and remind me of my own mortality.  

The calendar runs out, taxes are due, the days grow short, we count down the seconds -- three, two, one! Happy New Year! -- and in the midst, an even crueler reinforcement. Happy birthday.

A year is ending, another year of life that seems more precious as each day skitters out of reach. Some mornings I awaken to find a week has passed, not just a night. Is it Sunday again so soon? Was there no Thursday this week?

Is it autumn again so soon? Did 2012 not have a summer?

Be brave, I tell my soul. The beauty of the goldenrod and the fat bellies of hummingbirds signal their intent to be back again next year, and the next, and the next.
Shall I not as well?

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