I love autumn, likely due to the vivid memories of harvest time while growing up on a farm. The ferocity of the combine harvesting corn, the sight and sound of corn rushing out of the gravity beds, the smell of corn in the grain dryer, the soft pink chaff that would cover the ground around the dryer, the steam quietly lifting up into the night sky and disappearing. I loved the experience, though perhaps would have thought differently if I were the one actually doing the harvesting and working the long hours that my dad and brothers did!
The other part of autumn that I love is the riot of color in the foliage. We had enough trees on the farm where I grew up that while the harvest was going on, my mom and I were often out there raking leaves in a large yard with a lot of trees. We had one large maple in particular that would turn into a ball of bright yellow and another that was a deep crimson – both gorgeous in their own ways. But it was nothing compared to visiting my grandparents who lived in the woods in northern Wisconsin where there were hills upon hills of vibrant colors. I’m fortunate now to live in the midst of woods in New Jersey and see this living, breathing artwork outside of our windows. I love just watching the leaves fall, hearing them rustle as they hit the ground that’s already covered with its forefallen, so to speak, and the stillness that follows until the next one drops – or a squirrel scurries through the leaves.
Here’s what strikes me about autumn – and, by extension, spring. For both, we stop and pay attention because of the amazing change underway. In spring, the buds come out and from one day to another, trees go from brown to green. Plants begin sprouting in the ground. Flowers show up. Autumn and the harvest are the same thing, but a dying rather than a birth experience. The pumpkins that have been growing on rambling vines for months are finally ripe and are pleasantly plump balls of flaming orange. The corn stalks have already turned to a drab brown. And the leaves of the trees reach inside to find their most brazen, bold color before they shrivel and glide to the ground to be trampled under foot or hoof.
But what about summer? Yes, we might comment on how nice it is to have the shade of that big sycamore. But other than that, we tend to take the plants and the trees and their foliage for granted. Because nothing is changing. They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. If any of them show signs of distress during summer months due to pests, drought or disease, it’s often too late to do anything about it. We don’t really see them unless there is an unexpected sign of change.
Our lives are not much different. We pay so much attention to our children because they’re young, bright, growing, flowering – it’s the springtime of life. But then we hit summer or the dog days of being an adult. We stop getting the attagirls or attaboys for showing up and doing our job and being solid and dependable. Our moments of blooming seem few and far between. Unbeknownst to most of those around us, though, we face difficulties and may stumble or fall behind and the experience may leave us feeling sad, disappointed, alone, depressed, a failure, or not enough. We persist, though, putting up our best front so that no one knows we are having an unexpected change from normal. And we’re often successful as often no one knows we are struggling because they don’t see the signs until it seems (at least to us) that we are beyond help. That we are losing the fight. That we should just give up.
And that’s where the beauty of autumn’s harvest comes in. All that we have invested in friendships along the way can be reaped in hard times. True friends and family are happy to pitch in when they know we are hurting or need a hand. The other beautiful thing about autumn is that the process of change is the beginning of rebirth. Because what falls are not only the dying leaves and emerge from harvested corn or spoiled pumpkins are the seeds and nuts that will grow new plants in the new year.
Changes in life that seem destined for a sort of death are often, in fact, opportunities for rebirth. They are reminders to pause, to take time to think and hunker down during the winter season of life to prepare for our next spurt of growth. And when the circumstances are right, we emerge just as new and wonderful as the first crocus poking its bloom through melting snow.
What are you harvesting this autumn that will take you to your next level of growth?