It is always amazing how quickly weather can turn from humid, hot summer days to cooler autumn weather --- and how quickly the leaves become colorful once they begin. After days of temperatures in the nineties, I suddenly needed a wood fire for a chilly morning. And now we are in the throes of a yoyo seasonal change; rain, mild, chilly, foggy, occasional sun, clouds, hurricanes. October is probably my favorite month of the year, although if we have drenching rains or early snow, I may have to reconsider. But October can be sunny and glorious with the pungent aroma of drying leaves and wonderful, crisp morning air. It’s a good season for pumpkins, decorative corn and bunches of drying herbs. My sons would say, if they were here, that the laundry is stinky right now, but I rather like the fragrances from basil, sage, and sweet Annie co-mingled as they hang from the old-fashioned dryer on the wall.
The summer months have been full of family gatherings, dinners with friends, birthday celebrations and we’ve enjoyed those far-away friends who came to spend some time in the Finger Lakes. I think we all have tried to pack as many good times as possible into the season, knowing that NYS weather could, at any moment, throw a sleety tantrum and thwart our outdoor reveling. Rachel Peden said about cooler weather: “This is the chill that advises you to discard those plans for things you were going to do this summer and get a good start, now, on what you planned to accomplish last winter.” *
Summer enjoyment is understandable, but I think one of our culture’s perennial problems is that we all continue to overload our days, year-round. Kerm and I were given a good movie to watch way back in the spring, and by mid-September, when its owners came to visit, we still hadn’t watched it. This is partly because we tend not to sit long enough to watch a whole movie, but it’s also because our over-done brains don’t stop buzzing long enough for us to indulge in recreation for recreation’s sake. We are really expert at filling the calendar with good and useful things, but very poor at finding fun ways to renew our spirits. And we start our children on the same path when we overload them with activities. In the midst of the luxurious Roman Empire, Ovid** said: “Take a rest. The field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.” I don’t think Ovid meant only our nightly sleep. I think he meant that we really need to find refreshment and renewal during our waking hours. Farming is a good example. Some farmers use and reuse their fields, putting on high-powered fertilizers to grow high-powered corn or grain, year after year. Eventually, the soil becomes exhausted; lifeless! It may seem less efficient, but the land prospers when crops are rotated and the soil is given times of rest. So do we humans need whatever it is our souls crave: music, painting, gardening, spiritual retreats, martial arts, dancing, creating beautiful things, reading or simply times of quiet reflection------ activities that have no part in the daily must-dos.
I find that as I age, I need more quiet transition time too. I can no longer come in from gardening and race right into cookie-baking. I can’t return home from an event and immediately involve myself in another equally busy activity. I need to sit between things and re-center myself. Once centered, I make fewer mistakes. It isn’t necessarily that I am so physically tired; it is more of a mental need for space between engagements of my brain. Music needs rests to be the kind of music to which we enjoy listening; my brain increasingly needs whole-note rests instead of eighth-note rests.
Watching summer birds diminish and a very chubby woodchuck stuffing himself with apples, I am reminded that, especially in the fall, we humans have a major impact on the fauna around us. As summer transitions into autumn, some wild life will go into hibernation; some will be in and out of deep sleep and others will switch to their winter mode of survival. Around here we often see turtles migrating to their ponds and in doing so, crossing roads. I’m not sure why they find road-crossing a necessity, but when they do, they become a hazard, to themselves and to human drivers. I just learned, if we are unfortunate enough to hit a turtle, it need not be fatal. A cracked shell can be fixed. Last week, a friend hit one --- was devastated because she had done so ---- and picked it up, bleeding, taking it to a vet close by. The vet was quite matter-of-fact in saying that Oh yes, she could mend the turtle and quite easily. *** In autumn, we need to be extra careful as we drive, and not just for turtles. Deer are beginning to mate now and are running blindly hither and yon, other creatures are trying to get ready for whatever they do over the winter. With more and more people building on natural habitats or --- around here --- logging them off, animals are often found in our paths, our gardens, and ----speaking of bears---- on our gazebo steps. We do need to remember that creatures were here first, cut them a little slack and try not to be the cause of injury or death; instead, do our best to live in détente.
There is an energy that comes with cooler weather; we all find ourselves getting ready for the long winter in some way. Whether you fall -house-clean, complete all your gardening chores, squeeze in a late vacation or pull out your flannel shirts and wooly socks ---- take deep breaths of October while it is here!! Soak in the sunshine! Here is the last canto of “A Vagabond Song” to remind us to enjoy all the wonder of fall: “There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir; we must rise and follow her when from ever hill of flame, she calls and calls each vagabond by name.” ****
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*-Rachel Peden --- American writer who wrote farm columns for the Indianapolis Star and the Muncie Evening Press. This quotation came from her book: Speak To the Earth. 1901-1975
**-Ovid ---Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus. Born 43 BC.
***In an effort to be helpful, we should also be careful. Our compassion should not endanger ourselves. Some turtles are snappers, and can bit off a human finger with no trouble at all. And when hitting a deer, it’s probably not really safe to jump out, hold the deer’s head on our laps in our grief (as one good and compassionate friend did). Slowing down on the roads and paying attention might actually lessen some of our co-existence issues.
****A Vagabond Song by Bliss Carman (the last segment). Bliss Carman was a Canadian poet who spent most of his life in the U.S. In his later years he was Canada’s Poet Laureate.