The poet Robert Frost often wrote about our earth’s seasons.
His poem November, describes the quiet beauty of late fall. The poem also captures a mood set forth during the interlude between autumn and winter. It’s a time when we start preparing for months of cold, snow, and indoor sanctuary. November, for those of us who live in the upper Midwest, calls up mixed emotions: the prospect of heavy winter boots and frostbite countered by an invitation to enter a still space within our hearts and minds.
While all this might sound like hot chocolate in front of a cozy fire, autumn 2020 has delivered our world a crushing pandemic amid seething social and political unrest. For me, it underscores the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” By choosing to turn away from finite disappointment, I believe we can trust this season of winter darkness to be a source of transformation and hope.
Each of our seasons speaks from its own mystery.
Each reveals a message about life’s passages and the inner flow of time. In October, the mood shifts toward closure, eventually leaving behind autumn’s brilliant colors and summer pastimes. The morning sun sleeps later. Pileated woodpeckers and crows chase one another through the maple trees. Canada geese gather above the Dakota Trail to practice test-flights before heading South. My vibrant garden behind the Methodist Church has given up its last bit of color and melted into subtle shades of brown. Early evening darkness urges us indoors and inspires quiet reflection.
Meanwhile, though autumn heralds the dying of a season, it does not mean the dying of inspiration or the end of growth. In truth, November highlights both the passing of summer and the beginning of our fragile earth’s renewal. It’s about shifting gears toward our core. If renewal is the very nature of life, autumn promises to recharge all growing things in anticipation of the next leg of the journey.
A look at my own backyard proves this. The hydrangeas and lilacs have already set their buds with a promise to return for another spring.
The truth of this—that renewal comprises the very nature of life— captures my attention every early fall morning when my dog, Winnie joins me for walk. It also reminds me of our annual Thanksgiving Day walks when we head out into the dark for a frosty hike. My previous home in the city was perfectly located for meandering through a neighborhood of 1950s bungalows, statuesque churches, and Macalester College’s empty campus. Naked oaks stood guard along the boulevards, braced against a sky that promised snow. Gray squirrels scuttled through the dry leaves packing acorns for the coming months. Highbush cranberry framed an austere skyline and tranquil campus. The last remaining geese sailed overhead, announcing their exit to more hospitable climates
On one occasion, as we strolled through the streets and alleys, I remember stopping to observe the first glimmer of lamplight inside a stately Victorian home. The neighborhood was beginning to wake up. Watching households emerge from darkness filled me with a sense of closeness to those stirring inside. I imagined them shuffling about in their bathrobes, feeding the cat, or unfolding the newspaper. Maybe sitting at the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee. Some might have prayed, or worried, or simply read the editorial page. Hours from now their homes might be overflowing with family and holiday guests. Or, maybe it would be a day of restful contentment or even loneliness. it reminded me that, while life after November offers us a colder, darker landscape, our quest for peace, safety, and contentment remains the same.
We are, in some ways, products of our earth’s seasons.
The fall calls us to reach into the depths of our lives and examine our courses. Or, perhaps redirect them. We build fires in the fireplace and add blankets to the bed linens. We take more naps and read more books. We move indoors and enter the interior recesses of our homes, and thoughts. It’s a season of watchwords. Wait. Listen. Wait for snow. Wait for cold. Wait for wisdom, clarity, direction. Wait for spring’s reawakening.
Meanwhile, we do our waiting in a world that persists in doing and accomplishing more than it considers the implications of its actions. Technology has become the scribe of our society, recording at warp speed our deeds, location, and discoveries. Rene Descartes, a sixteenth-century French philosopher, often receives credit for creating our present worldview. It’s a philosophy that has fostered tremendous growth of science and education. Cartesian thought combined with the introduction of the printing press brought the spread of ideas and literature throughout Europe. With the establishment of this way of observing the world, knowledge became information about things and people rather than a personal encounter with life. Knowledge was gathered and recorded one fact at a time. The journey from printed words to head spinning technology and data collection had begun.
Before this, we lived in a sensuous world in which people relied on the ear and all the sense organs.
Reality was experienced by sight, touch, smell, and taste. The oral story held a position of great importance to cultural health and history. A November walk into darkness could be trusted to reveal important truths. Though none of our senses disappeared with the introduction of science and technology, the world about which they tell us has become suspect. If we can’t provide hard evidence and the metrics to prove its value, it might not qualify as worthy or truthful. In today’s world of battling truths, the soulful experience rates as questionable or simply wrong. Yet personal reflection and self- awareness are much more than gauzy time-wasters. They’re trustworthy sources of truth that can help heal our world. They tell us that how we care is as important as what we know. A walk in the dark on Thanksgiving morning shows us that we must never be ashamed of the heart and all its implications of forgiveness, gratitude, and loving kindness.
Some say todays’ quest to recover ancient wisdom and healing traditions serves as a reaction to Descartes’ world. Many of these traditions attempt to recover some of the vital acoustical senses within our life encounters. This matters because, despite its immeasurable value, Descartes’ worldview defines life merely as what is material and observable. From where the dog and I walk on these frosty autumn mornings his worldview defines life on very stingy terms.
We just don’t know when we will be touched by wisdom that emerges from an uncomplicated morning walk or a darkening winter sky. So, in the months when the earth and her inhabitants settle into violet stillness, I will carefully observe this morning and know that hope is a worthy and realistic goal, no matter the state of our world or of our life. Renewal is always possible, and life itself waits for us to stop, recharge, and let the light of hope lead us. Better yet, let us be a light of hope, and return to our senses.