Slowing Down For Autumn
The calendar page has turned to October.
Here in the Great Lakes region, overnight temperatures are dipping into the 40s (or even the 30s in some places), leaves are beginning to change colors, and the sun is setting earlier and earlier. Sweaters and jackets are being unpacked, pumpkin patches are springing up along the sides of roads, and rakes are being brought out of the recesses of garages.
I point this all out as a way of mentioning the undeniable fact that another summer has waned and autumn has arrived to take its place.
This time every year, I find it helpful to prepare for a more deliberate pace of life after the more wild, carefree days of summer, and I have a few pieces of writing I like to return to. I think of them as touchstones, reminders of how to approach the shift to a slower season.
The Poetry of Four Seasons Is All Wrong
The first thing I read is this piece from Jason Kottke, quoting a Kurt Vonnegut graduation speech given at Fredonia State College, in which the great humanist writer argues that the four seasons we generally recognize aren’t enough.
One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.
Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June. What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August. Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves? Next comes the season called Locking. November and December aren’t winter. They’re Locking. Next comes winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold!
What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.
After reading Vonnegut’s appraisal, I next check in with a Twitter account I follow called Small Seasons, which follows the sekki, or 24 seasons used by Japanese and Chinese farmers prior to the Gregorian calendar.
Small Seasons has a widget to put the sekki on your calendar, which I’ve now been using for over a year.
The next sekki season is called “Cold Dew,” and commences on October 8th. As it is explained, “Temperatures begin dropping. The geese return for the winter. Crickets chirp for the last time in the year.”
Why can’t all calendars be that poetic?
Next, I pair Small Seasons with the teacher and writer Matt Thomas’s blog post from a few years back about living life more in concert with the seasons.
Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming — rather than fighting against — the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock. The result has been I’m able to prioritize better.
The Month of Painted Leaves
The final piece I read is an oldie-but-goodie, a meditation on autumn by Henry David Thoreau, published in The Atlantic back in October of 1862.
October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight…
It is pleasant to walk over the beds of these fresh, crisp, and rustling leaves. How beautifully they go to their graves! how gently lay themselves down and turn to mould! — painted of a thousand hues, and fit to make the beds of us living. So they troop to their last resting place, light and frisky. They put on no weeds, but merrily they go scampering over the earth, selecting the spot, choosing a lot, ordering no iron fence, whispering all through the woods about it, — some choosing the spot where the bodies of men are mouldering beneath, and meeting them half-way. How many flutterings before they rest quietly in their graves! They that soared so loftily, how contentedly they return to dust again, and are laid low, resigned to lie and decay at the foot of the tree, and afford nourishment to new generations of their kind, as well as to flutter on high! They teach us how to die. One wonders if the time will ever come when men, with their boasted faith in immortality, will lie down as gracefully and as ripe, — with such an Indian-summer serenity will shed their bodies, as they do their hair and nails…
Only look at what is to be seen, and you will have garden enough, without deepening the soil in your yard. We have only to elevate our view a little, to see the whole forest as a garden.
It seems it is only when we slow down that we are able to “elevate our view a little,” to take the time to really see and understand the transformations taking place both out in the world and within ourselves.
Finding a more natural rhythm in life is something I’ve been trying to be better about lately. It’s been a tumultuous year, to say the least, and it seems paying a little more attention to the seasons, shifting gears as they wax and wane, might be helpful to a whole lot of people.