“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
It is officially autumn where I live, and for me the absolute best time of year. I’m not a huge fan of summer, I’m not even sure why, it just kind of dogs me down. This past summer was a season of loss for our family too—we lost three family members, a couple of friends and one of our beloved cats. I am not sad to shut the door on summer any year, but this year I am really ready for it to be done. I was diagnosed with anemia too, which has made me see everything through a scrim of exhaustion for the last few months (it’s a temporary condition and I’m starting to pull out of that funk, I think).
In part I love the fall because it’s such a porous season. It’s like a beautiful person approaching old age and you can see through the flesh to the beauty of the bones, to the very essence of them. The trees turn golden and crimson and yet you can see the winter there in the boughs, waiting. It’s a bittersweet feeling and all the more poignant for the knowledge that it is the most fleeting of seasons. Earth’s jeweller is hard at work this time of year- in the ruby of rowan berries and rose hips, the gold of birch leaves, in the pale silver mist rising from cooling ponds and streams and the strung diamonds of dewy spider webs. These are the most priceless of jewels, and they lend a richness to the heart which no ring or choker can match.
This morning I was walking in the park that edges my neighbourhood. There’s a pond there where a few years ago I watched a flock of geese come in to land. I could actually feel the air swooshing past my ears as they used their wings to brake. It was one of those moments that freeze frame in your heart, and you can pull out to look at later when you most need it. The geese are gone already, though they seemed to abandon the pond partway through the summer. I count them each year and know that less and less of them return. It is one of those things I notice but wish I didn’t understand. I wonder at times, if there will come a year when there simply aren’t any. As I said, it’s a porous season and the reflections are not always happy ones.
Creativity returns for me in the fall, I feel a surge and a tingle in my fingers and an absolute need to write. It’s as if the characters know it’s the thin time of year and so they come closer, speak a little louder and allow me to simply inhabit their world more fully.
We can feel the touch of those who have departed in the fall. They too can come closer and linger, and we can feel them across the divide the way we can’t in other seasons. The Celts knew this, it was what Samhain was all about. Welcoming home the dead, and keeping council with them for a night. The year, to the ancient Celts, had two hinges and Samhain was the door to the dark half of it. They considered winter the season of ghosts and Samhain was the night those ghosts rose from the Underworld. On Samhain, time became meaningless and past, present and future were all one.
As I listened to geese going overhead the other night, under the light of a full harvest moon, I thought of how the Irish once believed those lonely calls were that of the Wild Hunt, the cavalcade of fairies who came abroad on those nights to gather the spirits of the dead who were lost and roaming untethered by either hearth or family. I love that idea, that there is someone to gather the spirits of those departed from us, always too soon, no matter their years, it’s always too soon.
This porous season is a time of harvest and reflection before the dark half the year sets in. Autumn is the season I wish I could breathe in so deeply that I could taste it in the depths of winter. It is the season of staying, of harvesting, of gathering in and turning toward spirit. And so I will listen to the ghosts who linger near, and hear what they have to say to me. After all, they are my own.
I began with Rilke, and so I will end with him as well.
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.