I was 26 years old before I experienced my first fall.
My husband and I were newly arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was starting seminary at the Episcopal Divinity School. I’d lived my entire life up to that point in Arizona. Fall for me, up until then, was random flashes of bright yellow aspen on mostly conifer-covered northern Arizona mountains.
Fall was threads of deep crimson maples in the alpine canyons surrounding low flat khaki-colored desert.
Fall was a solitary maple in front of the Tucson library, gloriously orange and red and gold for one week every year. I would walk out of my way just to look at that maple.
Clearly, I had no idea.
My first New England autumn amazed me. Fall in New England was an Arizona sunset at tree-level – crimson and gold and bronze, intensified and reflected in all that water everywhere. Fall was a sunset spread like frosting over the landscape.
New England’s fall was big and bold, brazen and boisterous.
Fall in New England was intoxicating.
Fall in New England was also confusing. It was so beautiful, and it was so clearly a dying.
I sort of wanted Fall to make up her mind: be breathtaking, or be sad. But not both.
Now, I more often understand that paradox is a hallmark of holiness, and I don’t try so hard to make things either this or that.
Christine Valters Paintner, of Abbey of the Arts, beautifully expresses this paradox:
“At the heart of autumn’s gifts are the twin energies of relinquishing and harvesting. It is a season of paradox that invites us to consider what we are called to release and surrender, and at the same time it invites us to gather in the harvest, to name and celebrate the fruits of the seeds we planted months ago. In holding these two in tension we are reminded that in our letting go we also find abundance.”
Here are two poems for fall.
Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,
the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back
from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere
except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle
of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This
I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn
flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting
from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.
~ Mary Oliver (American Primitive)
A NECESSARY AUTUMN INSIDE EACH
Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn. Our leaves fall and are blown out
over the water. A crow sits in the blackened limbs and talks about what’s gone. Then
your generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the scent of hyacinth and rose
and cypress. Joseph is back! And if you don’t feel in yourself the freshness of
Joseph, be Jacob! Weep and then smile. Don’t pretend to know something you haven’t experienced.
There’s a necessary dying, and then Jesus is breathing again.
Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up
where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different.
~Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)
May we be grateful for our gifts, die where we need to, and allow ourselves to be ground for next year’s wildflowers.