Autumn’s splendor of reflection, inspiration
Autumn is that contradictory season, when one day the chill of winter permeates the air, and another provides the remnants of summer with sunshine and warmth. Each season has its charms, but October skies can be dark and gray and filled with foreboding, or as clear and blue and warm as the brightest day in June. It makes things interesting.
By Bernie Schmitt
Fall, as it is also known, begins with the autumnal equinox in late September (in the northern hemisphere at least) and extends until the winter solstice in late December. Autumn is harvest season, too, when nature’s bounty is hauled in by farmers and growers, while the rest of us tend to the mountain of leaves that seem to carpet the spongy Earth.
I love springtime, with its freshness and its overwhelming sense of rebirth. We know, then, that summer and sunshine and warmth are on its way, and that our activity calendars will be full with things to do. In autumn we tend to close up, put up, and withdraw into the warmth of our homes. But before we’re in for good, we enjoy nature’s colorful postcards and the sense that another year is passing.
It is in these autumn months that we return to normal, in a way, after our summer reverie. In Indiana communities — and elsewhere I’m sure — we go back to school and our lives fall into a familiar
routine. It’s when we get back into the routine of things, I suppose.
The unfortunate part of fall is that after these halcyon days of light and color, the frosts nips the life out of most things, the plants turn brown, the leaves fall, the clouds of November turn more gray, and the air brings with it an uncomfortable foreign chill, causing us to button our jackets and to close our doors.
Its mystery is as daunting that that of a flowering spring. It is a microcosm of life itself, these changing of seasons, this special time of year that signals change.
I think we all can appreciate the beautiful flowering of spring and summer, but it is autumn’s colors that often astound us. Perhaps it is because there are so many colors, so many variations of change, that we are overwhelmed by its subtle magnificence.
In my teenage days, we walked to and from school, and dead leaves would crunch beneath my Converse sneakers, we would button-up those plaid CPO jackets, and enjoy our time outdoors. There
was nothing as nice as enjoying those waning days of autumn.
In a time when actually wearing the hood of one’s sweatshirt wasn’t cool, I would tie that hood tightly against early morning October chill when distributing newspapers before the morning sun
peaked over the horizon. In those first few days of seeing our breaths in the morning, we paperboys would sometimes huddle together while rolling those papers, a kind of kid camaraderie that seems lost in today’s age.
There was a time when the scent of burned leaves filled the neighborhood in which I grew up. The cool of the oncoming evening coupled with the smoke of burning leaves left an impression on my
memory, and now those days seem far away. Few burn their leaves anymore.
The English poet John Keats writes of this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” in his 1819 ode “To Autumn.” In it Keats attempts to express his appreciation for the season. In fact he wrote a friend during that particular autumn to tell of how “beautiful the season is now — how fine the air.” It is one of his most famous works, along with “Ode to a Grecian Urn.”
Other writers have likewise worked to expose the exuberance of nature’s last gasp. There are as many poems, verses, and words as there are autumn leaves. Expression comes from the outpouring
of change autumn brings, the feeling that something artful is going on. It seems that nature is trying to express itself, too.
Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, whose colloquial “When the Frost is on the Punkin’” has charmed schoolchildren for years, offers vivid descriptions of the season our ancestors enjoyed as much as we do:
“ … But the air’s so appetizin’;
and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of
the airly autumn days
In a picture’ that no painter has
the colorin’ to mock —
When the frost is on the punkin
and the fodder’s in the shock … ”
Riley wrote other autumn poems, too. In “Old October” he laments the ending of the season:
“Old October’s purt’ nigh gone,
And the frosts is comin’ on
Little heavier every day —
Like our hearts is thataway!”
And then there’s this:
“I love Old October so,
I can’t bear to see her go — … ”
My favorite, though, might be Riley’s “An Autumnal Tonic.” In it the poet tries to discover this overwhelming mystery, this sense of change, this series of days and nights that colors our world and brings inspiration to our dreams.
“What mystery is it? The morning
As the Indian Summer may bring!
A tang in the frost and a spice in
That no city poet can sing!
The crimson and amber and gold of
As they loosen and flutter and fall
In the path of the park, as it rustlingly
Ints way through the maples and
under the eaves
Of the sparrows that chatter and call.
What hint of delight is it tingles me
What vague, indefinable joy?
What yearning for something
divine that I knew
When a wayward and wood-roving
Ah-ha! And Oho! But I have it, I
Oh, the mystery brightens at last, —
‘Tis the longing and zest of the far,
For a bountiful, old-fashioned
With the hale harvest-hands of