Rising Creek Digressions XIV – a bucolic blog
I wanted to take a brief moment to introduce you to Autumn. She’s been right by your side for a few weeks now, but she moves quietly, so it is understandable if you haven’t noticed her yet.
This is Autumn, she is the most beautiful and original season in the year.
Her favorite spice is cinnamon.
Her favorite household appliance is the blender.
Her favorite container is the jar.
Her favorite desert is pie.
Her preferred activities are alternately reflecting on things, keeping busy, and trying to find repose.
Her favorite vegetable is squash, many different varieties but especially the ones sprawling out and getting huge as if it were a late afternoon siesta.
Her favorite song is Neil Young’s Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black), the chorus goes like this
“My my, hey hey,
It’s better to burn out, than to fade away”
And if you doubt that one, just look at the Aspen leaves burning in the high peaks.
Considering sacred geometry and the myriad Medicine Wheel’s of the northern hemisphere, the summer’s direction is the south, while the autumn’s is west, toward the setting sun. Each day’s setting sun is a glimpse of the way the year sets during the days after the autumnal equinox. As a time of day, we are the gloaming, when the sun has made its way over the horizon, casting alpenglow in the high mountains while retaining a soft light.
The liveliness of autumn may be deceiving. It is like the last huge and audible inhale before a baby’s sleep. You may be tricked into thinking that it is the most vivacious season, but autumn’s bustling has a dark irony to it. We become most alive when we feel an imminent death; or, less morbidly, when we feel the imminence of a period of immense struggle. Look at the squirrels.
If we lived in different times, we would be just over halfway through the calendar year, as October literally means “the eighth month”. Counting from the vernal equinox it is. We are still within Libra, or the sign of balance. Libra’s image is an old balancing scale, representing that the mass of each side is in balance. The hopes and fetches of the summer have finally matched, in mass, whatever it is we are weighing it against. Or so we hope. So does the squirrel, because opposite the gathered nuts on its balance is survival.
The sun has been king for 6 months, with daytime hours outnumbering nighttime hours. As a mountain climber we always say that the majority of accidents happen on the descent (it is SO far back to the car). As an educator we always say that the most important work is in the transfer of learning (so, we learned all this stuff, now what?) But the descent and the transfer are often forgotten in climbing and teaching, respectively; partly because they are often not as much fun, but also because we’ve already worked so hard to get HERE and we’re tired now. We feel like kicking back and celebrating, and the last thing we want to do is continue working even harder! And, indeed, celebration is a part of it, but only insomuch as it helps us celebrate the work that we’ve done and help us shift our focus for what’s to come. If we spend too long celebrating on a summit, a storm may move in, or night befall us. Likewise, by the time autumn arrives it’s as if we have been climbing for months, and our “summit” is the abundant harvest of recent months. Autumn is a time for celebration, but just like a mountaintop, it is not a time to kick back yet. We have a long ways to go before we’re safe at home. Look at the squirrels.
After an arduous summer of farming or gardening, the last thing you want to do is put the fields to rest and think about next year. You only want to celebrate, maybe take a vacation. And you should do both of those things, while also taking time to descend and transfer the year’s learning. When we get lazy with these things we get the vast hardpan and depleted soils east of the Rockies, where we are forced to dump fertilizers as we plant next year. But ecologically minded farmers aren’t just growing food; they are growing soil. Sustainability is in the soil, and if I could stretch this education metaphor one last time, transference is in the soil. Take what you made this year and make it better and richer for the next. Try a sheet mulch, or sow a cover crop; make a heaping compost pile and plant some wildflower seeds. Then you can rest, or take a vacation, because most of nature is as well.
And stop looking at all of those squirrels; they’ll make you nervous.