Daylight grows shorter, the days grow cooler and the trees dazzle us with a show of color, ending the season in a blaze of glory before going dormant for the winter.
Here in New England this is an annual spectacle, perhaps one that has become too familiar to some of us. I have friends who come from places that don’t experience the seasons the way we do, and they helped me see the change of the seasons through fresh eyes. One of them, who lived on a tropical island, had never seen a flock of a hundred birds rise up from a marsh then zip away, flitting this way and that, if they shared one mind. Or watched green leaves turn yellow, orange and red. To her leaves were always green. Another friend who lived close to the equator had never experienced such a change in the length of the daylight as we experience here at 42 degrees latitude. Nor had she ever needed to bundle up in layers of clothing against the cold, or wear rubber boots to slog through the ice and snow.
Every place on the planet experiences a change of seasons. People in some places have seasons like we do in New England. Other people experience the seasons in a more extreme form than we do, such as the folks in Alaska or the most northern parts of Scandinavia who are plunged into perpetual darkness in December, but enjoy perpetual daylight in June.
Even places that don’t experience four seasons as we do still have other seasonal changes, such as a dry season and a rainy season.
Human life is a succession of seasons. We are born, grow from infancy to childhood, from childhood to adulthood, and from there to our golden years. And one generation passes into the next, as our children have their own children, who have their own children.
Even an ordinary days are cycles in our lives. We wake up, prepare for our day, get the kids off to school, go to work, come home, have dinner, relax, go to sleep, and repeat it the next day.
There are people who look sadly at the autumn colors as a sign that winter is coming. I interpret the spectacle of color and the song of the leaves crunching under my feet as a sign that life isn’t leaving our world, it’s only changing its forms, about to play hide and seek with us, beckoning us to follow it through the days of ice and long shadows all the way through to the milder, melting, greening days of spring.
Don’t just look at the changing leaves through the windshield of your car as you hurry from one errand to another. Go for a walk in the cool evening air. Maybe someone on your street with a wood stove or fireplace is burning wood. Take in the aroma. In the cooler, drier air of the fall the starlight is more steady and the stars seem brighter. Listen to the crackle of the dry leaves under your feet. This is the time of year when grandmothers bake pumpkin pies and gingerbread cookies, when football teams take to the field, when shorts and swimsuits go back in the closet and sweaters and wool socks come out.
We should take comfort in the natural rhythms and cycles of life, whether they are the cycles we see in our changing seasons, or the cycles of our lives. We are not static beings, we are dynamic, moving from one moment into the next, never staying still in time and space, but always changing and moving along with time’s arrow into a future that is full of possibilities. As we watch the leaves turn, fall from the trees, and sprout anew next spring, let’s reflect on the cycles of our own lives.