The Autumn Fall
My Why audio version of this blog available here.
Recently as I was researching an area of loss for The Silent Why podcast I came across this quote:
The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go. — Unknown
Sadly I can't find the original author for it, as it's mostly tagged with 'Unknown', and varies a little in its wording each time it's posted.
[Sidenote: As a writer, it always makes me a bit sad when I can't find the original person that penned beautiful words. At the end of the day, someone wrote it and I feel like they should be celebrated for it.]
Anyway, the quote got me thinking about autumn, or 'fall' as they say in America.
[Sidenote: just in case you're feeling territorial about these two words, Susie Dent, one of Britain's favourite lexicographers, tells us that 'fall' was actually common in British English until the 17th century, when 'autumn' took over from the French (it's short for 'fall of the leaf', just as 'spring' is short for the 'spring of the leaf'), and North American English also had both terms, but settled on 'fall' in the 19th century. And while I'm on the subject of Susie Dent, she also introduced me to the word ‘autumnity’ this week , which is super fun to say, say it with me - 'autumnity'. It refers to a quality that hints of autumn, as in the shift from warmth to an early chill.]
Right, that's enough sidenotes, back to the original quote:
The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go. — Author still unknown
Autumn is pretty amazing in the U.K. and in our house we're currently revelling in the changing colours of the acers we have in the back garden, specifically to give us our own pop of autumn colour each year. I've been pondering on why it's such a special season for so many people. I think for us Brits the end of the summer is hard, because we know we have potentially six months from October-March of cold, bleak, grey weather. We're not guaranteed the sunny cold, crisp days of autumn, we rarely expect a White Christmas or even any snow these days, we know a heavy frost might be the only glistening we see of something pretty, and there's the potential for months of dashing around from house to car trying to avoid the rain. So as the sun loses it's warmth and the nights draw in, the trees get bare, and we switch our lights on at 5pm instead of 9pm, we tend to look inwards towards cosy fires, blankets and hot cups of tea, and we try not to look outside at the endlessly grey sky, and we just wait for any sign that spring is on the way.
But there's this moment before that transition where nature seems to scream 'Wait! I'm not finished yet.' And this array of gorgeous colour explodes into our green landscape . Vibrant reds, purples, oranges and yellows burst onto the scene and fill our views with colours you could be hard pushed to find in summer. It's wonderful, and I don't know anyone that doesn't comment on it, love it, or find themselves just stopping briefly to admire it. Living in a green country like England, you also never quite know where it will appear among the greenery, so it provides beautiful surprises along your journeys.
I've always loved it and for me this is what autumn is about, but I almost want to have autumn and fall as different stages. The colour of autumn and then the fall of the leaves, which, if we're lucky and it's not been a wet year, we get to kick around in on the ground as we walk (some years autumn is so wet that the leaves just form a large wet mush and it's more like walking through papier-mâché than dry leaves. That isn't the best start to a British winter!) And that's why this quote made me stop and think. I'd never really connected the loss of leaves with the beauty and how it speaks to us about what loss means and has the potential to look like.
Some of us think that holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it's letting go. — Hermann Hesse
So what have I learnt from my ponderings on autumn?
There's a season for everything, and the change from one to the next always involves a loss of some kind. There's no life stage you've been through that didn't involve loss, and yet how often do we focus on what's to come and what's ahead without acknowledging what we've left behind? Maybe we should be more vocal about our losses, like the trees, who shout it from the rooftop at the end of their season, not at the beginning, where their spring buds are hardly perceptible unless you move in closer to examine the branch, and then shout 'Look! Buds!'
The Woodland Trust here in the U.K. says: "Leafless trees are better able to tolerate winter storms, as strong winds can move through the branches more easily." Trees shed their leaves to better survive the winter. Sometimes when we're going through a hard time, there are things we need to shed that we can't give life to anymore. And that's ok. It's a survival technique, that ensures we can cope with the brash winds that want to throw us around when we're in grief and loss, and makes sure we're not clinging to lots of other stuff that won't survive the season.
The bare tree of winter also reminds us that spring is on the way, it's the next season to come, and when we're in the darkest, emptiest times of our life, we need to remember that the next season is spring. It's not summer where we're expected to fully bloom and bear luscious fruit, it's the tiny, subtle buds of hope that poke their heads up to assess if it's safe to start growing again.
Don't forget or underestimate the importance of the transitional seasons. Autumn and spring have an important, vital role in the rhythm of the year and our lives. If we were thrown from summer to winter and back again, they'd be no time for adjustment, or those breathes of assessment. We weren't made to move like that.
Our seasons are amazing, every year the same, yet always different, with new things to find and notice. And autumn might often be people's favourite because it gently leads us towards the cold, grey chill of winter, but it does so with such style and grace. It celebrates the end of, what is for most people, the best season - summer, it hints at winter but in a sort of way that says to us; 'Come on, it's ok, look at what I'm losing, but not sad about it.'
I feel like autumn has the harder task really. Spring's job is easy, so full of promise, hope, sunshine, buds, new life, smiles, promises of the beach - what's not to love? But autumn, well it has a special place in my heart. When the leaves are in their full autumnal (what a great word) colour before they dance to the ground, and a slight chill creeps into the air, and the sun retracts its warmth, and I unpack my winter coat and pull on my knitted hat and scarf, and listen for fireworks, there's something magical in the air. If we get an autumnal day in the U.K. with sunshine, well I think that's the best weather there is here.
I feel like autumn is the long, warm hug before we head into winter, and it tells us everything will be okay, it pats us on the bottom, and sends us off into winter, with the promise that on the other side will always be spring, reaching out a hand to welcome us back into the sun.
I'll finish with a poem by Emily Brontë. The Brontë sisters lived in the north of England where snow is more guaranteed and winters can be harsh, especially in those days. She had a love of nature and the outdoors and from reading this poem, it seemed she rejoiced in autumn because she loved the winter.
Fall, leaves, fall
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.
- Emily Brontë