Autumn Interlude

By Madeline Clark

 In parts of Southern California the sense of mystery in the change- over from summer to autumn is enhanced by the pipings of certain small birds of the sparrow family. Their notes, brief and poignant, form a writable theme such as Beethoven might have used as the motif of a symphonic movement. Dying on the air with thrilling sweetness, they leave us listening to the nature silence that always broods beyond man's noise and discord.

Even in latitudes where, superficially, there is little noticeable change because we do not have the red and gold of turning leaves, followed by the rime of winter and the springtime budding of bare trees, the turn of the seasons is perceptible, and never more than in the first keen touch of fall, when something electric in the air bears in upon us the consciousness of change. Now the full and opulent tide of summer has receded, and perhaps for the very reason that the outer aspect of things looks much the same, we feel it all the more keenly.

In whatever part of the world we may live, the coming of autumn stirs the depths of consciousness. It is a pensive, a reflective time. On the one hand, we joy in the sumptuous warmth and abundance of harvest; on the other, somber thoughts besiege us that seem subtly to presage the beginning of the end. Both have their use in the calendar of experience. Children getting out their schoolbooks once again are only part of a general turning in towards the serious business of life and its deeper undercurrents.

The whole year has been a preparation for this time. The thought of harvest puts us in mind of something that demands fulfilment. Generations of farmers have depended for their very subsistence upon the crop they have been able to produce. They have sown the seed in the spring, and with all the skill they possessed have brought it to maturity through the summer — now they must abide by the result. In the same way the searching chill that assails us at this time is like the cold regard of Justice demanding to know what we have to show for the year's living thus far. So it is a time for taking stock, and gathering our forces, as the farmer gathers his seed, against another year with a better try.

After several centuries of the concept "man and nature," there is now real advance towards making friends with her in a new way, entering into her great rhythms, and becoming aware that the processes of nature that bring about the seasons operate equally in ourselves as members of the human kingdom.

Take any single lifetime, and it is plain that the four seasons fill its measure, as Keats and many others have noticed. And as in the case of a year, perhaps the autumn of life is its most significant period. Many of the interests and activities that formerly seemed so important are beginning to fall away, yet the inner life is still at high tide, the feeling of a second spring is strong in us. And now all that we do is a preparation, in order to fulfill whatever has been so far left undone, against the time of an accounting that looms ever nearer.

When at the coming of autumn we

. . . feel her finger light
Laid pausefully upon life's headlong train

the peace of nature enters into us, and with it a sense of the eternal continuity of life. To each season its appropriate activities and labors. Meanwhile, there is always the bird-song rich and sweet, the gleam of silver in the web of life, and springtime in the heart.

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1999; copyright © 1999 Theosophical University Press)

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