I’ve always been partial to autumn. One reason is that it presents a context in which to use the adjectival form of the word: autumnal, which is one of my all-time favorite words. Another could be that there are so many great poems written about the fall of the year. No one has ever captured the essence of the season as keenly as Keats in “To Autumn,” which describes it as that
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set the budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has oe’r brimm’d their clammy cells.
It may be the end of my rather directionless summers and the return to the routine and structure of the school day and to my future-leaning students still in the springtime of their lives that inspires my anticipation of fall, but I know for certain that it has much to do with playoff baseball and Friday night lights, apple orchards and pumpkin patches, Ciders and October ales, but you can keep your pumpkin-spiced everything. Fashion-wise, I much prefer boots, jeans, long-sleeves, and jackets to flip-flops, shorts, and polo shirts. And give me open windows and cool nights under layers of blankets rather than the illusion of air conditioning that is shattered the second I step out into the summer’s heat.
I love autumn’s dissonant reality as a season brimming with the ripeness and vitality praised by Keats yet also one that, leaf by falling leaf, reminds me of my own impermanence and admonishes me to assume a sense of urgency for winter is coming. Similarly, each fall squadrons of honking Canadian geese, like those in Whitman’s Specimen Days, make routine flyovers over my house on their journey south. They call to me and remind me in a less-than-soothing tone that nothing lasts forever and that Nature, of which I am part and parcel, operates on ever-changing and inexorable cycles.
According to current projections the average U.S. male lives to be seventy eight years old. If that is correct, I am entering the late autumn of my life, and I see myself reflected in the photograph of the tree below. It’s a tree that stands outside my classroom window, and, like those geese, it prods me to 1) be cognizant that I’m not the person I once was, and 2) even so, there’s still a little beauty and vitality left in me to share with the world – one last blaze of glory before I go.
This tree, like autumn, serves for me as a sort of memento mori – something that acts as reminder of one’s mortality. It doesn’t make me sad or regretful. Rather it’s a gentle reminder that, unlike the illusion under which live Keats’ bees, our “summer days will cease.”
The Byrds once echoed Ecclesiastes by singing, “To everything (turn, turn, turn) / There is a season (turn, turn, turn) / And a time to every purpose under heaven.” These words along with autumn’s easeful and slow-fading beauty teach me to make the most of my time and that the winter of my live will have its own benefits and virtues and that whatever comes at its end will be alright as well.
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