I’ve been thinking a lot on autumn. My mom once commented on how I decorate for fall, but not for spring. Considering how much I love the sun and warmth and loathe the oncoming winter, it was a valid question. I told her then that fall needs a little help getting excited over, but spring celebrates herself. Which is not true at all, about the autumn months, with her vivid display of foliage and fragrant cool breezes. In spite of my harsh feelings for winter, there is just something about the autumn season that I revel in. And it’s nothing to do with ghosts and ghouls or even pumpkin lattes.
Autumn is an exhale. Winter is waiting. Spring signals time to begin. Things will be planted daily. Summer commences with maintain these plantings and managing their bounty for later use. And that is a hefty load of effort, let me tell you. So as the light dims and the air chills, my body feels grateful for this permission to slow down into what I WISH were a season of hibernation. But that is not all of it. There is a magic to autumn that the other, far less subtle seasons, simply do not possess.
Being in North America as a descendent of Europeans poses an interesting quandary. My people brought Christianity with them, and somehow within that came, oddly enough, Halloween. Never a holiday that I could wrap my head around. Studying plants always leads one back to ancestral roots, one way or another, and for me this landed me on the Samhain festivities. Which did explain Halloween, but the thin veil idea still only felt like myth to me. Not that I don’t love a good story, but it wasn’t made real. I crave real. Meanwhile, the shadows of the native people in this land and their autumn moons have my respect and regard, but still do not feel real to me. What then, has been standing just outside of reach for so much of my life but always, always just teasing me come October?
A cool evening, window cracked as I move through my yoga practice in the darkness, I think I may have touched the answer, however briefly, for the first time. Autumn IS the time of a thin veil, but maybe not so much between myself and the spooks of Old. I think maybe it is the time when natures is at her thinnest. She is exhaling. Dropping crisp leaves that rustle as the critters of day and nights shuffle through seeking provision for the coming winter. Acorn fall to the ground, persimmons too when the drier breeze picks up a bit more. Crickets slow their song and the air smells of fungi, both mushrooms that creep moonward after a tease of rain and yeasts on those late to ripen fruits that can make one the finest of sourdough starters. We are all exhaling this time of year and for an herbalist, the quiet in the air as life settles in for a season of rest and survival can be a magical time. It is harvest season in the woods and on her fringes. Not only is there a bounty of medicinals and foods at our disposal come autumn, but stories as well. Stories being told by trees and mushrooms, stories by bayberries and birds, acorns and mice, maybe even children and leaf pile. Terroir is at its greatest this time of year, after months of growing and feeding, the earth is relaxing into herself and releasing an abundance of stories free for the taking, if one is willing and able to use more than just the ears to hear. The harvest we sow now, as the veil thins, will be most resplendent of the season when we call upon them later. The herbs will cool and calm during the strain of those final winter days, and early spring planning. Berries dried now tastes of coming of age in a time of leaf mold when we crack open jars full in the months to come.
The air thins come autumn (and in the south, this is no small feat), and with it the veil things also. Maybe not the veil of time, or between the living and dead, but a thin story we tell ourselves. That we are separate from this living organism we stand upon. We are in fact, not. To live so is to be forever holding one’s breath and never exhaling and drawing in another. We are given much from the natural world and during these shortening days, she offers us guidance and possibly even a peace offering. An opportunity to reciprocate and try again. But we must continue to breath, to listen, to feel, and not just with our hands, to experience terroir. The flavor of a place. Carl Sagan told us we are star stuff. The Bible tells us we are dust of the earth. They both tell us we are of something bigger than ourselves. Raold Dahl reminded us that “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”. Autumn is saying to us, “be still and believe”.