Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Melancholy of Fall

Always, even as a kid, I loved the Fall. The back to school shopping, the hectic warm days and cool nights, helping my mom can whatever bounty came from the garden and going out fishing with my dad.

As a young mom  I canned most everything I could find and specialized in "free fruit" -- that fruit that grows abandoned beside the road, in vacant lots, or drops to the ground unused in your neighbours yard.  When the kids were small, it was what sustained us through lean winters while I was a student and early on in my career. I still love that about Fall -- all its promise of comforting nights to come, its self-satisfaction from hard work done and shining on the kitchen counter, its promise that your own efforts will sustain you. 

But as I get older, as the kids have moved on to start their own lives, I find that my Fall work leads me more and more to a melancholy place. My mother died in the Fall. Good friends seem to have passed away in remarkable numbers in the Fall. The smells of Fall so evocative of the final ripening of the earth now more than hint at the slowing down and ceasing of life. In a poem I wrote about my mom's end of life journey I called it a "slow-down winding" and that term seems as apt now as it was two years ago.....but now I see it in relation to everything.

Maudlin maybe, but Fall now, for me, is as much about remembering that life is short as it is a time to prepare for long, cold nights. It is a time of great gratitude and moments of intense sadness. Life is so good right now that it seems strange that it is tinged with this melancholy but maybe that is what sharpens my focus, my determination, my (hopefully) humble joy at the way things turned out.

Our bees have taught me a lot about the melancholy of Fall. A typical hive expands to 60,000+ members during the hectic and frenetic flows of summer only to begin dropping in number with the cooling of the nights and the shortening of the daylight. They overwinter with significantly less population and the die off is noticeable. Any remaining drones are kicked out of the hive and die due to cold or wasps or starvation. It is something to watch the younger workers carry off the bodies of those who died in the hive, to be deposited safely away from the entrance to discourage the ever-hungry meat-eating wasps. Bees know it is about preparing to survive the changing conditions and instinctively do what is necessary to prepare the colony. They are thinking about Spring.

New beginnings always come from endings. And it is in the ending of things that we learn our best and most precious lessons.  I hope I have learned them well.