The last of the fall foliage is always a poignant time. It is the time when the remaining growth breathes its last, and as the leaves fall, the trees fall deeper into hibernation until they reach their winter slumber. Before the snow and after the leaves is a time when everything rests starkly upon the landscape. It is nature beginning her Sabbath. It is interesting that the only way the Greeks could reconcile this barren phase was by believing that the goddess of growth and fertility Demeter was held captive underground against her will for a period of time, because the lack of growth seems so antithetical to life. Nature could only disappear unwillingly, or so it seemed.
This is part of the ambivalence that comes with autumn. There is the beauty, but the beauty symbolizes slumber, the end of an era, which gives it a bittersweet quality. Personally, I like cooler temperatures, which is always a good aspect of autumn. But the beginning of fall season is the slowing down of things, even as the harvests ripen to their fullest bounty. As the leaves change and fall, it is a reminder that all things are finite; they all must come to an end. Each leaf transforms itself from chlorophyll green to its brightest apex. It is as though as it says goodbye, it wishes to make itself known, and each tree wishes to distinguish its brilliance from all the others. It’s harder to take them for granted; they don’t blend in with each other. In their maturity, the leaves have found their individuality and call all people to see the art gallery of their brilliance before they move on to Hades.
Being outside during the fall is also fraught with this paradox; the air is not as heavy and stale is it is in the summer months. With the fronts changing, there is more breezes, and the air is not as humid as it is in the summer. But each day, the air gets gradually colder. With any respite between cold spells, you are reminded that this is only temporary; there is no deception of an endless summer with no break in the heat in sight. As the days get colder and shorter, the amount of time that you can sit still in nature becomes briefer as well. No more can you be lulled to sleep by the heat of a summer afternoon; the colder weather keeps you awake, jolts you forward, and forces you to move around to keep yourself warm. There are outdoor experts like Bradford Angier consider the idea of dying in your sleep when it’s cold out absurd. They’ll tell you that the body jolts awake when it gets too cold. You probably would have to worry more about dying from your fire in a cave due to carbon monoxide poisoning, if you’re afraid of dying in your sleep. All wonderful trivia to remind you that it is getting colder, and the lazy days of summer are over. It’s time to keep yourself warm instead of relying on nature to do it for you.
But the colder weather has its own advantages. Hikes, bike rides, and other outdoor sports can be carried out for longer times without having to worry about overheating. And the foliage during those outings provide spectacular scenery as “background noise”. If you ever wanted to take up a sport, now is a good time to try it. Unfortunately, you no longer have an excuse of it being too hot. Fall is the greatest time to be outdoors if you’re an active person.
Late fall is somewhat of an acquired taste, because there is no decoration like foliage to wow you. When the leaves begin to turn earlier in the season, this later reality hangs over the immediate beauty. Impending winter lurks behind those bright colors; the prospect of ice storm and blizzards become more real once you see the leaves change and fall to the ground to nurture the soil so its parent tree can live another day. As a child, snowstorms were always something to get excited about, but as an adult, they are something I begin to worry about in October, wondering if I have prepared enough for whatever it is that nature has in store for me in the upcoming months
But I have to admit, once I get used to the fact that the weather is shifting, I really enjoy the autumn weather; even of the reality that winter is setting in. The shorter days lead to more cozy nights indoors by the fireplace, and the bare trees are a precursor to the snowfall that is due to shortly arrive and blanket the area.
Walking outdoors at this time, I feel the crispness of the air, but it refreshes rather than depletes. The birds make their way to their winter abodes, and other animals begin their hibernation, lending to an atmosphere that is in the beginning stages of slumber. Deer season for the hunters begins in mid-November. The season is attuned to rutting habits rather than the lack of foliage, but it seems easier to see your prey in the woods when there aren’t any leaves left. The hunting season has a lot in common with the idea of reaping the harvest before the onset of winter makes it too difficult to hunt and gather. It is like the last chance to go to nature’s store before she closes up shop for the winter months. Mankind has the opportunity to gather the harvest for Demeter’s wedding before she goes to Hades for the winter months.
It is ironic that in the civilized world runs in opposite fashion from nature; many people take summer vacations because of the kids’ schedule, or it is too hot to work, and winter is the busy time, between end of semester tests, holiday shopping, or regular life in general. Nature, however, seems to vacation in the wintertime, and the further away from the equator she is, the longer this vacation becomes. Nature doesn’t even send the sun out for two months if you live in Barrow, Alaska. But much of civilization is antithetical to nature, as was its intention. Mankind created civilization so as not to be at the constant mercy of nature. Which is why she seems so wild and untamed, even as she goes through predictable rhythms of life. Being predictable is not synonymous with controllable. Nature closes shop when she feels like it, ending the swimming season and summer vacation, bringing her own goods to the table as she sees fit.
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