Cleaning and closing our porch is a task that tends to put me into a fall funk. There is no set day that precedes this autumn ritual, only the nagging realization that there are fewer and fewer warm days calling us to the porch. Common sense tells me I should not dread the task, because the fall clean up isn’t as arduous as the spring ritual. There is no scrubbing or hoses involved…only sweeping, rolling up the rug, wiping down the cushions, dragging the plants inside, and oiling the wood furniture one last time before covering it up. When I am done though, there is no deep sense of satisfaction as there is in the spring. Our cozy porch devoid of plants and homey touches looks lonely with only the draped, ghostly furniture remaining. I am filled with a gloomy sadness when I lock the door for the last time.
I wonder if this dread of winter is what Henry David Thoreau felt as he wrote in his journal one November.
“The landscape is barren of objects-the trees being leafless-and so little light left in the sky for variety. Such a day as will almost oblige a man to eat his own heart. A day in which you must hold on to life by your teeth. You can hardly ruck up any skin on nature’s bones. The sap is down-she won’t peel. Truly a hard day, hard times these. Not a mosquito left. Not an insect to hum. Crickets gone into winter quarters. Friends long since gone there-and you left to walk on frozen ground, with your hands in your pockets.”
Perhaps closing up the porch causes me to race ahead to my own gloomy portrait of winter, but in doing so I am missing the glory of autumn. In this season, the colors explode around me and grace the edges of Radnor Lake near our home. Such beauty belies the coming gloom of winter. Is it the thought of such splendid foliage falling to the forest floor or just the oncoming cold that chills my spirit? As I look out my window at the hues of gold and red, I wonder if this last gasp of color is autumn’s gift to us. If the season were not so fleeting, would I even note the display? Knowing that it lasts only a few short weeks, reminds me to linger in my sun drenched yard and look up in wonder.
Maybe I am failing to remember the gifts that winter will bring, as well. Our stalwart sycamore will reach up bare limbed against the cerulean sky giving testimony to its perseverance. The maples outside my window will once again stretch in graceful supplication as if offering prayers on our behalf. Here in the south, winter will also bring the bright hope of snow. If temperatures, atmospheric conditions, and the prayers of children align, a winter storm might come our way. Such brief respites from winter’s gray fill me with a childlike delight.
As nature pulls in and pares down this winter, I will surely find time to pause, notice, and savor. The cold will encourage me to wrap myself up in the words and wisdom of other writers. There will be moments to wrestle with my own gnarly thoughts, and perhaps knit them together into some meaningful sustenance for myself and others. As the winter trees do, I want to slow down and let my thoughts thicken and sweeten like winter sap.
As I look ahead to each season, I am learning as Thoreau did that “the seasons and their changes are in me.” Again and again, I am reminded by poets, theologians, and scientists that we are indelibly connected to the world of nature and to each other. Nurturing these connections as we each circle the sun, will surely awaken us to the gift of the seasons but also the possibilities found in our capacity to change with them.
Wulf, Andrea. (2017, November) What Thoreau Saw. The Atlantic Vol. 320. 106-122