I walked through a city park this morning. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. Even longer since I did it in the fall. My heart is full tonight, as I reflect on the thoughts that have woven themselves through my mind all day long.
As we walked, the sun worked its way through the leaves of the oak and elm trees in the park. Spots of shade and sunshine alternated like sugar and salt on my senses, cooling, then warming me, as the leaves of the trees filtered green, yellow, gold and brown light on the ground next to my pathway. The sounds were muted – most of the birds were pigeons, being fed by children on the plaza nearby. But there were a few others flitting about, and though I couldn’t spy a squirrel, I heard one chattering at us from the trees.
The change of seasons here is more subtle than in many parts of the world. The carefully tended rosebushes have been trimmed back just in the last few days, and soil piled around the roots, to preserve them. Where there are patches of grass, it has been allowed to grow long, to protect itself. The leaves on the trees here change color individually, not in groups. I smiled as I walked past three elms – one completely bare of leaves, another dressed in yellow, and the third still clinging to green. But what stopped me in my tracks was the smell. Not since experiencing fall in Virginia have I smelled fall, but I did today. That damp-earth, soft and sweet smell of decaying leaves in cool air. I had to stop and just breathe it in, in three different spots. My mind whirled with memories of the woods where I played as a child, and the shores of the Shenandoah river, where I have spent many an autumn day. I understand that smell is the physical sense most strongly tied to memory; today was evidence of that claim, for me.
There is something sacred about autumn. I think it is in the gracious acceptance of the natural world – acceptance that the bloom of summer has ended, and the respite of winter is coming. Animals either migrate, hibernate, or prepare to meet the harsh conditions of winter. And non-evergreen plants drop their blossoms and leaves, and conserve themselves for spring. May I learn to accept the changing conditions of my life like these great trees, and conserve my efforts for the opportunities that will cross my path in their own due time.