This morning I woke in darkness, aware that somehow in the last few days summer had faded away and autumn was taking her place. Then I heard the cry of the geese. Somewhere, deep inside of me, this ancient rhythm of the change of seasons responded to these prompts and I just paused.

I am a child of summer. I prefer to wake early and bask in the daylight as it floods the earth. And I delight in the long, lingering twilight as the sun refuses to quit and give way to the stars at night. I prefer hot days and cool nights, which I found when I moved to Northern California. The energy of summer suits me, inviting me as it does, to be productive, playful, and present. Spring has always been a bit elusive, sometimes bursting with energy after a prolonged winter’s siege, and other times seeming to last but a day between snow and 100 degree heat.

But it is autumn that invites reflection. It is an essential pause and a much needed one. Autumn is like a shepherd who keeps an eye on things from afar, but remains vigilant and protective. The crops have come to fullness and now it is time for their leaves to drop and decay. The winds carry an edge to them, along with a different scent. Without naming it, my inner clock notes the passage of time and begins its own metabolic shift, following some ancient pattern passed down genetically.

I have such mixed feelings about autumn. I love the colors changing. Having grown up in the Midwest and spent time in the East, the majesty of the palette is remarkable. I am old enough to remember the gracious boughs of the Dutch Elm before the disease decimated these leafy wonders. The leaf-drop made piles of leaves an engaging plaything, and the smoke from the burning of these piles filled the air with an unforgettable scent of autumn. Then there is the flaunting of color by the maple, the true harlots of autumn. Their flamboyant reds, ochres, and scarlet hues cannot be ignored.

When I moved West, I was introduced to the extraordinary aspen, which like a coordinated dance line, all shift from leafy green to transcendent gold within weeks. Their change in color is marked by a drop in temperature, and eventually the snow removed what few leaves remain on the branches.

I also fell in love with the Sierra. Yosemite in particular is a sacred spot for me, as it was for John Muir. He knew and loved every inch of the Sierra and shared his love for it in his many writings. He, too, found autumn to be a time of reflection.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, which cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.”

Here in northern California, it is the vines that mark the change in season. Harvest typically occurs in late September, and once the chardonnay and sauvignon grapes are picked, the remaining leaves on the vines turn a muted bronze and gold. The zinfandels, cabernet, and merlot grapes stay on the vine longer, and after harvesting the fruit, their leaves morph into deep purples and scarlets.   Since the vines are only three to four feet above the earth, the vista looks like deep shag carpeting against the camel’s hair tan of our hills.

One of my favorite poets wrote beautifully of autumn and of geese in particular. Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” captures for me, this pause between life and death.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

You may wonder why I have chosen to write this post at this time. I have started writing several others, with topics ranging from the “End-Times” to “A Call to Arms”. There is much to be disturbed about and plenty of causes to support. But it was the geese who reminded me this morning that there is a more powerful pull. These momentary events, sad, frightening, and destabilizing as they are, are distractions from a more profound inevitability.

I mourn the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I mourn the deaths of nearly one million people around the world from COVID-19. I mourn the loss of trust in government, civility in social discourse, and the predictability in my daily life that I depend on to keep me calm. But, like the geese, I am called to change direction and head home.

This ancient pull of the seasons, the unstoppable shift from harvest to decay, the promise that there will be a summer once winter solstice has occurred, all comfort me in my own moments of doubt. This deeper rhythm, like a strong bass line in a song, will carry me through my temporary fear and sorrow. This is a promise that is kept and has been kept for millennia.

I have a dear friend who is an incredible poet. She, too, sings with the geese. I share her words here because they comfort me, and I hope will be of comfort to you also.

bud, leaf, jewel, ash by Carol Mikoda

shimmering symbol of balance and peace
just one leaf tells all to be told
bud, leaf, jewel, ash

no one of us more important than another
each of us belongs to the other
bud, leaf, jewel, ash

each of us has what another one needs
no hierarchy but blended together
bud, leaf, jewel, ash

infinity of darkness before finding light

infinite patience to reach speed
giving, giving in order to receive
frigid cold that generates heat

season always gives way to season
suffering abounds but change persists
bud, leaf, jewel, ash

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