September 5, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Fall's great beauty comes with decline

“August slows, and puts on her turn signal. Autumn lies just ahead. The signs are all around us,” says Cindy Crosby in her August 30 entry called Prairie Signs and Wonders at her Tuesdays in the Tallgrass blogpost.

Her post mentions noticing Monarchs fueling with nectar this time of year for their upcoming flights to Mexico.  In my own yard and garden, I see summer flowers on the wane as late season dahlias prepare to bloom, tomato greenery dies down, a few leaves begin their flutter to the ground, tall grasses start to unveil their fall plumes, and temperatures and humidity plunge if only temporarily or overnight.  Eventually blue skies and puffy, white clouds will appear to show off blazing leaves in preparation for autumn's fiery finale.  (See above photo collage.)

Parker Palmer references autumn as “a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline:  the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer’s abundance decays toward winter’s death. Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn? She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring–and she scatters them with amazing abandon,” Palmer suggests in an essay entitled Seasons written for The John E. Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo. 

Palmer goes on to explain:  “In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time–how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the ‘road closed’ sign turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown.  

“This hopeful notion that living is hidden within dying is surely enhanced by the visual glories of autumn. What artist would ever have painted a season of dying with such a vivid palette if nature had not done it first? Does death possess a beauty that we–who fear death, who find it ugly and obscene–cannot see? How shall we understand autumn’s testimony that death and elegance go hand in hand?” Parker asks. 

Joyce Rupp is another favorite author who makes compelling comparisons between the seasons of the year and her own journey.  “As an adult I have struggled in the past with autumn’s arrival.  I have fought the reminders of death and letting go that autumn tends to bring because I did not want summer to end.  I have clutched onto summer’s light and fullness with a tenacious grasp and complained mightily when the end of the season came.  Autumn was a huge interruption and brought with it the challenge to let go of the playfulness and leisure of warm, sunny days,” she observes in The Circle of Life, a book she co-wrote with Macrina Wiederkehr.

As we prepare ourselves for the work of autumn, let us remember Palmer’s conclusions about the season that will descend upon us soon:  “Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life. If I try to ‘make’ a life that defies the diminishments of autumn, the life I end up with will be artificial, at best, and utterly colorless as well. But when I yield to the endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living, the life I am given will be real and colorful, fruitful and whole.”

When foliage thins, a new barrenness takes its place; tree limbs unseen during summer’s abundance become beautifully apparent.  Much as we love the leaves of spring and summer, bare branches also have truths to share.  As squirrels begin to scamper into gathering mode and geese get ready to fly south, what connections do you see and feel in your own life that remind you of the changes autumn brings?  Where do you recognize dying off preceding new life?  How have painful goodbyes in your own life led to new hellos?   

If you are looking for a way to pause and breathe each day as autumn falls upon us this month, consider these photo prompts for mindfulness from Gabrielle Treanor.  You can play catch-up for the first few days or just begin today or tomorrow or halfway into the month!