We had an extended summer here in Ann Arbor this fall. While the September mornings certainly grew crisper, the afternoon temps often hit 80s most days ... to the point where we were still paddleboarding and kayaking well into early October. But once the calendar hit October, I noticed a disorienting sense in my spirit as well as my kids. While we were all appreciating that extended summer (ice cream on the deck, swim goggles still scattered throughout the house), it was also clashing with the realities of fall rhythms (mums on the porch dying from too much heat, flip flops an swim towels colliding with soccer cleats and school backpacks). At one point I found myself wondering, Has summer overstayed its welcome? I'm from Atlanta, but after a decade in Ann Arbor, I’ve come to depend on certain weather patterns almost as much as I depend on liturgical seasons. Michigan summers are like no other. The extended daylight time allows for each day to include work, play, and even a lake dip — or two! They call for rest but also for exploration and physical activity. The produce begins to peak in late August, so there is a lot of harvesting of fruit, canning and storing for the winter to come. Autumn is, in an odd way, a welcome and needed respite to all this abundance and activity. Here in the northern hemisphere, September heralds the beginning of the academic semester, fall sports, and extracurriculars. While I always chafe at the beginning of that transition, I find comfort in the boundaries of these new rhythms. And as I look around, I see that the trees reflect this sense: the verdant lush leaves give way to comforting golds and brilliant orange flames.
I recently read an article which highlighted some of the consequences of wide rapid fluctuations in temperature — mainly that they don’t allow enough time for plants to re-enter dormancy from which they can endure harsh winter conditions. As Katherine May explains in Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, “Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”
And this is why I crave an actual autumn: it helps me with the transition to a long winter. It also mirrors our liturgical realities. Come December, we enter Advent, our season of waiting, beginning a new liturgical calendar year after September, October, and November mark the end of the Ordinary Time. I see this transition time as a time to intentionally reflect on the year; to store up my reserves for the active waiting that December requires. I need the falling of the leaves to leave me a bit bare, a bit exposed, as it forces me to confront my sacred, ordinary days with the Lord with prayer and purpose.
But transition seasons are not always easy. In labor, the transition stage is the hardest, partly because it is impossible to plan for how long this stage will last as it differs for each woman. It can last from 15 minutes to an hour, but it's an essential part of labor as it heralds the next stage: childbirth. If we embrace autumn for the transition season that it truly is, we'll be confronted with beauty, but also death. There is a celebratory grief to fall — that we’ve done all that we can do, but at some point, we need to put down the proverbial plow and turn to steward what we’ve harvested.
In parenting, that can look like knowing you've poured so much into your child and now it's time to slowly release as they pass into those high school and university years. With aging parents, that can look like being thankful for the lessons that they passed along or releasing hopes for a parental relationship that never was. As academics, it can be knowing that there is a time to put the pen down (or laptop away), and that all what you've studied, research, and written must suffice.
So as we marvel at the golds, reds, and oranges around us, may we allow that sense of grief and gratitude to comingle. As Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us in Braiding Sweetgrass, “paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.” May you lean into this transition season with grace and intentionality, shore up what is needed, and gloriously learn to let go of what is not.
Photo by Altered Reality on StockSnap