Long before a turning point is evident, tiny shifts lead to change: The last cut of the axe before a tree falls, the gathering force of an avalanche before it lets go, the final few cells piling up to a clot that blocks flow and becomes the stroke, the gradual loosening of a sleepy child’s fingers before the toy slides to the floor, the droop and dangle of a leaf before it drops, the new insight added to insight as a mind is changed.
At autumn equinox, a near balance is struck when day and night are almost the same length before the northern hemisphere tilts toward winter. Minutes of daylight have been slipping away since June, and September’s days, though still sunny, are cooler. I don’t welcome the coming darkness, but accept it. And autumn has its compensations: apples, fires, and glorious colors.
In the fall, I often attempt to bring a flowering garden plant indoors. I can’t quite let go of the joy of abundant, bright blooms. This rarely works. Nonetheless, I brought in a small fuchsia this year. I will fuss over it—move it to a sunny spot, water and fertilize it, but in a few weeks, it will be half-dead and I’ll throw it out. Letting go of summer is hard, but this gradual goodbye makes it easier.
In similar fashion, I age my correspondence. Mail piles up unread for a few days. Or a week. Or two. Then I realize I’m really not going to donate to all of those people. My email inbox is full of emails with links to newsletters or articles that sound interesting, like something I want to read. Except . . . not right now. After a week, I feel guilty (or is it, more realistic?) Then weeding out my mail and email is easy.
There are also the shoes I’ve stored because I might wear those flats again. Or the yoga pants that never fit but I thought I might fix.
A meditation I recently read described fall as a time of weeding out and letting go. Trees drop their leaves, fields are bare, and people turn inward as it gets colder. But to me, fall is a time of abundance, harvest, and storing up. The conflicting ideas puzzled me until I thought about how discarding is easier when I allow a little time to pass.
Then I can let go of what no longer serves me, just as the meditation suggests. That’s how I’ve reconciled the paradox of abundance and paring back.
I am fascinated by the pull of the seasons, how deeply rooted my reactions are. After several cold, rainy days, it’s autumn. Suddenly, I want meatloaf and baked potatoes and think about roasted vegetables. I research soups to warm up with instead of the salads I ate all summer. After sampling two mealy peaches, I’m done with my favorite fruit and turn to apples without a backward glance—Ginger Gold and Sweetangoes from the farmers market.
In April, 52 degrees would have made me giddy with delight, but in late September, I’m shivering and resisting, while pulling on long sleeves and calculating how many layers the day calls for.
The steep walk up 50th St. warmed me up and I was grateful that my hands weren’t cold anymore. Only ten days ago, it was 90 degree and humid. I was sticky with sweat during a daily walk and walked after dark because it was cooler.
It’s barely light at 7:00 a.m. and dark by 7:30 p.m. I know we’ll have more warm sunny days this fall. But summer—the long, hot, sunny days on end that I love—that summer is over.
Autumn has its compensations (Apples! Turning leaves! Bonfires!) but underneath it all, is an instinctive awareness that winter’s coming with its cold dark days.