This time of year, I pity those cursed with perennial 76-and-sunny weather. Where I live it’s getting cooler. Night’s length has eclipsed the day. The trees are still green, but their leaves are drying, rustling for attention. Acorns drop thoughtlessly onto the sidewalks and porches that leech their tea-brown stain. I walk through them, stomping-cracking-kicking their scattered remains before me as I go forth like a god among– well, like a god among acorns.
Summer is over, and it will be missed.
But summer, like a grand old theater, is only as grand as the shows it can stage. Music festivals with grilled corn, spontaneous picnics, backyard cookouts, sports in the hottest midday sun…for all these and more we can thank summer. But like all good things, even summer yields to the slow death; of creation returning to itself. As seasons change we find ourselves both holding on and letting go. The fall cool slips in – now here, now there –prompting us to pull out those old sweatshirts from college – the faded ones with pilled sleeves we can’t bring ourselves to get rid of.
A popular task of the Medieval mind was learning to read the ‘Book of Nature’ – that is, contemplating the beauty of creation as a path to finding God. Like a Third Testament, the changes of the natural world – with their old starts and new decayings – reveal God’s unfolding work of creation. This book of nature, with its seasonal chapter headings, surprises me with each go-around. More than any other, the chapter on autumn stirs the mind and heart to higher things – look how few pages remain! Autumn reminds us that this created beauty is ours, but only for a little while longer.
We savor the last weeks of life outdoors like they’re our last days of life on earth. And for all we know, maybe they are. This – writes the poet Mary Oliver –
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.
Fall calls us to savor the final pages of God’s creation, which is all ours…but for a while.
After a morning of doing work at my computer a few days ago, I needed to get outside. No matter the season, sitting inside all day stinks. When I headed outside autumn greeted me with the warmth of sun, tempered now and again by a skin-tingling cool breeze. Undergraduates and professors buzzed around the fountain in the main plaza of campus, astir with the thoughtful seriousness – okay, this is it for real now – that fall weather quickens in the soul. Summer’s lassitude has breathed its final heated sigh.
I love it. We all love it: that nostalgic feeling that tells us it’s good to be back on campus, crunching acorns, and it feels like home, at least for a while.
I want to believe that autumn is something to savor for its own sake. In autumn we reap harvests that wiser hands sowed back when summer was forever. Autumn is when trees speak – shout – for our attention. Earthy browns and burnt reds and electric oranges swallow the familiar green leaves, which had grown boring anyway. No, not boring – just presumed. And presumption is an enemy of attention. In autumn mottled canopies of leaves take over the horizon and – for the first time, again – dispel our hunch that nature has nothing left with which to grasp us.
This then is autumn’s great gift to us: A leaving and a thing to behold.
This Third Testament, like the best books, invites us to savor one page after another, in a constant turning until we reach the story’s end. And it’s ours, at least for a while.
The cover image, by Flickr user JG D70s, can be found here.