The magic, sadness, and the meaning of Autumn

David Dixon

It’s about this time of year that I start dreaming of the wonders of Autumn.

After the summer we’re suffering through — drought, heatwaves, fires, and floods, this year’s onset of fall will be particularly-welcome.

In the southern half of Australia at least, this season embraces warm, low-humidity days; cool nights; and shortening days. For all of us, it is the start of the football season (excepting for soccer); Anzac Day, and Easter, leaves changing colour and the return of duty and care, school and work.

It is a season of scholarship and reflection, thought and introspection, after the relaxed and contented celebrations of Christmas, the New Year, and Australia Day, time spent outdoors, watching cricket, time with family, at the pool and at the beach.

Autumn also heralds for many a time of increased energy, mental acuity, and ambition after the lethargy of the summer season. It is no coincidence that, in most countries, it represents the start of the new school year and the return to work.

Variously called over the centuries, “Harvest”, “Autumn” or “the Fall” (see attached), it is also a time of melancholy for many as the shortening days and cooling nights remind us of our own mortality. That after the summer of our youth, we all must face our own autumn and, eventually, winter.

America’s great atavistic poet Robert Frost described it so in a famous poem, “My November Guest” (see attached):

“My sorrow, when she’s here with me,
     Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
     She walks the sodden pasture lane.”

It is also the time of year when many begin to suffer from the ailment that used to be called the winter blues, but which psychologists now aptly describe as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). This is the condition whereby the shortening days and reduced sunlight brings-on a seasonally related depression that many older Australians now happily-circumvent by traveling north in mobile homes such as Winnebagos, Jaycos and Sunliners.

One can understanding that those now finally-free after a lifetime of labour, of work and duty, children and care — now waking-up to the start of the cold grey mornings with frosts, rain and bare trees — would look to warmer climes. Booking their holidays, scanning the websites for “winter deals” putting the people-mover in for a service and tracing their fingers on the maps seeking warm and sunny winter haunts. But I think that many of our nomadic wanderers heading north each autumn are missing-out on the times that are “as beautiful as days can be”.

While noting that the shortening days and earlier evenings does have an oppressive effect on those rising for work, getting  children ready for school, and facing the office for another day of drudgery with the next spring and summer a long way away, this should not be the same for those at the end of their working lives.

 For our revered elders, this could be a time for sleeping-in under the delicious cover of a warm doona, leisurely scanning the newspapers by the opaque light of the slanting sun, berries by the punnet, claret among the cooling nights, and the crisp clear air of a cool autumn morning.

The seemingly sudden onset of another autumn after an endless summer, may send the chills of mortality through many of our souls, but in escaping this, are we not denying ourselves an appreciation of what it is to be human?

Is not the start of autumn and the onset of winter that which gives meaning and poignancy to our springs and summers? In simple terms, what meaning would our lives have, if there wasn’t an end?

Just as Spring portends Summer, so does Autumn for Winter. Should we not embrace rather than flee these turns of the seasons. These ebbs and flows in our own lives reflecting our own mortality?

So the 10th century Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer, (author unknown) tells us:“Therefore a man cannot become wise,
before he has earned his share of winters in this world.”

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