The Serious Beauty of Autumn

Nov 1, 2013 | Field Notes

I was out walking during a beautiful, sunny late autumn day in Vancouver. This time of year I want to soak in as much sun as I can before the rainy season begins. After about forty minutes I came across a Chinese couple who were sitting on their front lawn earnestly mending their fishing nets. I stopped and chatted with them, asking them where they fished and what they caught. I know no Cantonese but they knew a little English and so with the help of gestures and tones we were able to communicate across the canyon of cultural differences. They quite proudly explained, and mimed, how they put their nets out in the Fraser River near Steveston, BC and how they fished for all kinds of salmon, except for chum. They explained that it was illegal to take chum salmon from the Fraser this year. If they caught any, they had to let it go otherwise they would be fined. It seems, despite the over fishing that goes on in our world, that Oceans and Fisheries Canada is intent upon conserving the Canadian west coast fisheries. (Whether or not Oceans and Fisheries is succeeding is a question that I’ll leave to David Suzuki to pursue.) We chatted and gestured a little bit longer. They were most curious about my Nordic walking poles and so I demonstrated the benefits of this exercise to them, which caused a few chuckles. After a few moments watching them as they mended their nets I bid them well with their next excursion upon the river and continued on my way.

I have always liked the season of autumn. I like the cool weather and the way the sun tilts in the mid-afternoon sky rather than hanging high into the evening. I like how Canadian geese honk overhead as they migrate south and how the eagles head there as well. I like watching squirrels and crows at work filling their caches with provisions for the coming winter. I like the way the trees, the shrubs, and the flowers shed their foliage and begin to hunker down for the winter knowing just what to do to prepare for the rain and the shying of the sun. Most of all I love to see the change of colour in the trees, the splendour of which I never grow tired. Yes, there is so much to give thanks for about this season.

The season of autumn, when nature lets go of that which is no longer needed and beckons us to prepare for the stillness of winter, is a season of dying and letting go. This outer reality reflects the inner reality to which I feel called as well. The summons to let go and to prepare is written upon my own self, my own heart, just as it is written for the natural world around me. There is in all this a harmony and what I would call a serious beauty. The dying and the letting go is the serious realm of it all while the clarity of colours, sounds and smells of nature speak of the beauty that remains in life.

There is within my heart at this time of year a deeper sense of letting go and appreciation of death, even my own which will arrive soon enough. I find myself letting go of projects that have run their course, goals that no longer apply, and even dreams that no longer serve. I suppose this is what the spiritual masters mean when they speak of detachment. Letting go so as to be able to be and to see the essentials in life. And it is the essentials that yield beauty, that yield life.

I often find myself sensing or intuiting all this, but I just as often find myself overlooking the serious beauty of life. I overlook partly because I’m not paying attention. But, it is also because I don’t always know how to communicate with this serious beauty. I’m speaking one language; it’s speaking another from an unknown land. But, when I slow down and stop to listen I find that I can find a few words that we hold in common; I can gesture, intone and dance; and I can listen deeply to the change of the seasons, hearing even the single leaf that falls softly upon the ground. Single words, simple gestures, listening deeply are the means to communicate with the serious beauty that grounds all the work of the world. Through words, gestures and silence I can begin to communicate across the canyon that separates the known from the unknown much like the Chinese couple and I did, me standing with my Nordic poles, they sitting, working on their nets that beautiful autumn afternoon.

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