Jim McGuire: The tag-end of autumn


By Jim McGuire

Contributing Columnist

The full Beaver Moon is on the wane. Thanksgiving has passed—and even the tasty leftovers have disappeared from the fridge.

November is all but over; December looms. We’re heading into the final stretch of our annual circular journey—a voyage we’ll begin anew in just over a month.

From here onward until after New Year, the days always seem to whirl past like dry leaves before a wild north wind. Checklists and bloated schedules become the tether-points around which my life is played out. And before you know it, I’m inevitably hard-pressed to not become more the victim than master of this stampeding time.

These latter days are short as we approach December’s solstice. The sun seems reluctant to make its daily appearance, arriving increasingly late to scribe an ever lower arc across the sky before departing all too early.

Even during the midday hours, the light can seem oddly dim, slanting down at an unfamiliar angle—worrisomely weak, as if the solar fires were running out of fuel and burning low.

No wonder the ancients feared this time of the year. For them, the why of a disappearing sun was a fearsome mystery with ominous portents. Mankind has always feared things which he doesn’t understand or can’t control.

The surprising fact is we’re still making our way through autumn—and will be for another three-plus weeks. Not the autumn of September and October, but a mature autumn—one revealing a seasonal face all its own. Unique, quiet, a time of subtle beauty.

Some days, you awake to find a dazzle of frost on the ground. The whole world sparkles, even when dawn’s skies are gloomy. Brooks might be sheathed with ice—ephemeral, fragile panes, razor thin, their surface filigreed with the runes of the passing night wind.

A cardinal balancing on a bare blackberry cane can inspire an entire morning. A flock of inquisitive chickadees can fulfill a day.

If it’s singing you want, the tree sparrow will happily oblige. And the Carolina wren will try his feisty best to do him one better!

There will always be bluejays about, fussing long and loud over practically everything. Crows, too, equally raucous.

For comic relief, look up a nuthatch. Not only does he yammer like a bird with stuffy nasal passages, but he’s put together funny, dressed odd, and blithely walks headfirst down the sides of trees.

There are other voices, too. The dry rattle of wind-strewn leaves. Low moans from a building storm gusting around the eaves. The patter of rain on the roof.

Overhead, migrating geese gabble excitedly in a twilit sky. And at night, great horned owls voice their mysterious queries in the cold darkness.

If you’re feeling seriousness—more thoughtful and contemplative—head for the pines. Entering the midst of a pine grove is like stepping into a fragrant green church—peaceful, profound, the perfect antidote to a morning spent trying to survive another bout of last-minute holiday shopping. Pines whisper, perhaps in prayer.

I’m telling you, this isn’t a time to ignore and not savor. There are countless treasures just beyond your doorstep; good reasons to bundle up and head outside.

So why do we too often overlook these sights and sounds and small adventures?

It certainly isn’t a lack in these latter days themselves which causes us to think it bleak and inconsequential. This last-hurrah, betwixt-and-between period isn’t at fault.

Rather, it’s a lack in us—an unwillingness to readjust our expectations, to take the time, change our way of thinking to make room, take the time.

“I need to get regrounded,” a friend likes to say whenever he gets too caught up in all the hoopla.

More than just a matter of giving heed and respect, it’s a need on our part to occasionally relearn certain worthwhile lessons. Nature lessons…life lessons.

Appreciation so often hinges on familiarity and refocusing.

Now that the leaves have mostly been stripped from the trees, vistas have expanded. There’s a refreshing open clarity to your favorite woods and fields. These latter days show us sights unseen since spring’s greening—a world which invites exploration and wandering.

Skies are regularly an intense blue, almost cobalt. They shine fresh-washed and polished. As a consequence, days are frequently filled with astonishing crystalline light.

There’s a nippy sharpness to the air—a gelid tang which hints of cider and woodsmoke. Sometimes it’s more than a nip—though usually not the bone-aching cold of deep winter. Rather, just enough chill to rejuvenate and fortify. Bracing atmosphere which revives with every breath.

Of course the weather can also be cold and damp and dreary. But gloom, weather-wise, is not unappealing to us Celts. Instead, I believe I’m genetically programmed to enjoy weather and conditions other folks find dispiriting. I truly like blustery, stormy days—rain and wind, skies hosting crenelations of scudding gray clouds.

Not every day, mind you—but a dose now and then is like a tonic. It does the body good, as my Grandpa Williams used to say.

I suggest you also do yourself some good. Take a break every now and then—get out, go for a walk; ground yourself in the beauty of this tag-end of autumn.

It’s a free gift that’s yours for the taking.

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