Usually, I feel it first on a bright sunny day when the wind is suddenly crisp and the shadows carve sharp angles across the landscape. “This is autumn,” I tell myself, “here to visit.” And I smile because I love autumn. But this year, the season crept up silently upon me, shifting with a subtly I did not immediately feel. Autumn came with a date on the calendar and with the soft hiss of still-warm rains.
I feel it now, this kiss of fall, and my inner world is suddenly turned on end. In the puddled yard, with clouds the shape and weight of dark smoke all around me, I acknowledge the end of garden time, hot sun time, long-day time.
When I lived in the Rockies, autumn was a time of seasonal anxiety when I hurried to get the yard and house prepared for the deep snows to come. Was the snow shovel out on the porch? Had I made arrangements with the plowers? Were the garden beds covered in mulch, and was there enough wood or propane for the heating stoves? Where were my winter clothes? Enough boots and gloves? Emergency provisions in the car?
Even though death by cold is not so much of a factor here on the coast, there remains in me that edge of tension: am I ready for the winter that is coming? I’m guessing that that edge is really not about the season outside at all, but about the seasons that turn and churn inside the heart. In times of transition, seasonal or otherwise, the soul pokes us in the belly and whispers with just the smallest hint of agitation, “Are you ready? Ready for what is coming…?”
Are we ever ready for what is coming?
I divide my life by two seasons, really: The indoor ones and the outdoor ones. Spring and autumn are the shoulder seasons that can go either way. I’ve been mentally preparing for winter ever since the summer began. Each time I say to myself, “Susan, you need to do more writing,” I answer, “There’s time for that come winter.” Each time I want to eat my own homemade bread but the kitchen is already summer hot and suffocating, each time I pick up a handcraft to paint or sculpt, or look at the dusty state of our wood floors, each time I think of the sailing book I’ve carried inside of me for 30 years, I say to myself, “Winter will be here soon enough.”
And then, as suddenly as the coming of this rain, winter is on my heels and I feel in my chest this intense drive to surrender the season just past and turn my full attention to the one greeting me just outside my window this morning. It wears a welcoming face, this fresh season, all scrubbed clean in grape-scented wind.
This summer just behind me has been one of the best I can ever recall. My sense of home and peace has been great, and I was able to hold onto the stability of a positive, happy outlook for weeks on end. This has been huge for me, and I am hoping to carry this calm and gratitude into the winter with me as I begin reclaiming my inner ground for the next few months of increased inside time.
Autumn announces the coming of the dark months and the traditional goes-within times. In many native traditions, these were the story-telling months. Outside, the plants and trees in my yard are beginning the process of taking down their foliage and exposing their bones. I used to think that the plant nations slept in these seasons, but I know know that they are busy deep below the ground in their own goes-within process. All the growing we see so visibly in the plant nations continues in the dark of the soil, where conversations with the mineral spirits and dreams for green expansions are all happening beneath our feet.
I, too, exchange one kind of activity for another come the cold months. I, too, converse with different spirits that come close to us in the winter months, and dream of my heart’s expansion—where I may go, what I might undertake—come spring.
I look forward to the coming months, while at the same time, I feel these daily emotional jolts—like tiny electric currents in my blood—as my body notes the leave-taking of summer with each kiss of warm breeze and each touch of honeyed sunshine. I find it fascinating how quickly simple distracted activity can pull me away from my cherished awareness of the autumnal shift in my body and very cells, and allow me to miss this precious and profound inner transformation.
For many animals, as winter comes, their chemistries change dramatically, enabling them to digest different sorts of seasonal foods, and survive extreme climate changes. I believe our chemistries shift, too, but we are often too numbed or busy to take notice of it. And so instead, we get sick or tired or angry or weepy as our bodies adjust to changing light and temperature.
I want to notice these turnings inside, and honor them. I want to become ever more my animal body, and appreciate that instinctual, deep aspect of myself that for all of my younger years has been given over to work, bills, and many very stupid concerns. This, then, will be part of the magic of growing older for me, this slowing enough to notice my most earthbound and earthy self. Along with the returning salmon and the migrating birds, I am a part of this noble march of creatures from season into season. I can feel it inside if I just listen and allow my inner turnings to join hands with the outer swirl of autumnal changes.
May you step forward into the coming sweet and fertile dark months with peace and good dreaming. May the colors of autumn melt your heart into sweetness and mellow you like fine wine. May you steep in the potential of this sacred goes-within time and make good medicine of these months.