By Emily Erickson
This early fall was the most beautiful I can remember since living in Idaho. Driving down side streets and walking through winding alleys was like entering a kaleidoscope of autumnal colors; a snowglobe of falling leaves with warm, sunny tendrils streaking through the tree limbs or illuminating already vibrant hues. It was the kind of fall that regularly stopped me mid-thought, errand or breath, simply to think, “I’m so grateful to be here, to see this and to feel this way.”
Although heightened this year, most early falls are this way for me. The turn of autumn has a way of reminding me that the experience of wonder can be as simple as taking time to find it, and that rediscovered beauty is often the same thing as a witness of change. But, now, as the rain strips the trees of their leaves and decomposition stakes its claim on once-vibrant piles, we transition to late fall and the second half of my regular autumnal experience.
For me, the space between fading fall and the first blanket of snow is rife with melancholy. I grow lethargic and moody, craving extra cups of coffee and early bedtimes. Making soup becomes an activity that I stretch for hours, replacing the mountain runs or beers with friends of warmer times. I cocoon inside oversized sweaters, in pages of novels and in sad, sleepy music about loss and love and nostalgia. I ruminate on the darkness, and how long it will be before enough snow accumulates to teach me once again about the transformative power of play.
The dichotomy inherent in fall and intensity with which it can be felt lends itself to metaphor; with autumnal symbolism present across literature, poetry, music and time. Exploring this symbolism, diving into the ways people have always used it to express the parts of their lives that are hard to describe, makes me feel connected to our shared humanity.
The most obvious symbol in fall is change. Cooler days and less access to sunlight slow the food-making processes in leaves — their vibrant chlorophyll-greens fading to give precedence to the reds, oranges and yellows lying dormant, waiting for their time to shine. This change is like a transition from childhood to adulthood, shedding the pre-programmed ideology of youth to discover the things that are uniquely ours to think and feel and create; like the end of a relationship, the blinding excitement of infatuation fading to reveal the nature of something nearing the end of its course; and like the passing of time only noticed by the physical changes of forehead lines, backaches or children grown.
Fall also symbolizes abundance. We harvest our final crops, pluck apples off of trees bursting with fruit, heave pumpkins out of overgrown patches and literally reap what we have sown. This abundance is like a move into retirement, the time spent toiling in a garden — punching a time clock — nearing its end, with nothing left to do but enjoy the fruits of all that labor. It’s a lesson about delayed gratification, about good things coming to people who put in the time to create them, and about the symbiotic relationship between the forces of nature and the humility of learning to work with them.
Fall symbolizes the act of letting go. The leaves, having transformed from green to red to brown, release their final grip and descend to the soil that they will eventually become a part of. This letting go is knowing that the end, although not here yet, is coming one day — for all things, for ourselves and for the people we love. It’s a letting go of previous versions of ourselves, of dreams that no longer feel like ours and time that, for better or worse, we can never get back.
Finally, fall is a symbol of balance. It’s a time when there are equal parts light and dark, and for every hour of day lost to longer nights, there is an opportunity to cherish the time we still have under the sun.
Emily Erickson is a writer and business owner with an affinity for black coffee and playing in the mountains. Connect with her online at www.bigbluehat.studio.
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