Ididn't grow up saying "Autumn" to refer to this season but, rather, simply "Fall." Autumn may be a bit uppity for a Southerner, and yet it does appeal to my literary sensibility. The later reason is one reason why I was intrigued by the title of a book called Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season. Edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan Felch, the book contains essays, stories, and poems by a diverse group of writers, including Wendell Berry, Robert Frost, P.D. James, Anne Lamott, and E.B. White. Somehow, it works.
I was surprised a few years ago to meet someone who actually dreaded "Autumn," who viewed it as the saddest of times, a time when everything is slowly winding down, a blanket of leaves covering the earth and trees looking shorn and barren, particularly by Thanksgiving. This person could not see the beauty of the changing colors and sharp azure sky this time of year for the "fallenness" of it all. I think it's a matter of perspective.
I love Fall. It can be melancholy, I'll grant you that. But I love the fact that the Christmas rush has not yet begun and there is but one real holiday to celebrate, Thanksgiving, and that one is one for staying home or going home to be with family. (Sorry, Halloween is a pitiful excuse for a holiday.) I enjoy the fact that when I walk through the woods I can see things and see farther than I did when all the leaves were full on the trees, that I can enjoy the intricate branches of the trees against the backdrop of sky.
So, any spiritual biography of Fall must share some of this love for Fall and this sense of melancholy, and not surprisingly, this book has some of all that. The great essayist E.B. White, for example, pictures his wife in her Fall bulb garden, old and sick at this stage of life but "sitting there, with her detailed chart [her plan for plantings] under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection." Beautiful words. There is dying, but there is already the hope of new life. Change is what Autumn is about, part of its biography.
Another section of essays is called "Endings." Autumn is a season of mortality. Leaves die. We close up the summer home (well, if you have a summer home). On September 11 and Veterans Day, we remember those who died in buildings and trenches and elsewhere. There are poems and essays and remembrances here too, and a selection from the Book of Ruth (of her saying goodbye to Naomi).
Moving on, there is a section on Work," the picking up of our pen, tools, or books as we return from the Summer sabbath. As the editor sums up: "The great rituals of autumn --- harvest, school, raking the leaves, preparing the Thanksgiving feast --- all call us to work together, to accept our dependence on others as a wondrous sign of our humanity. It is in autumn that we learn to work --- and to sing --- in a chorus that binds us together with love and hope."
The book is completed by two sections -- "Harvest" (not surprising) and "Thanksgiving." While Thanksgiving is not really the end of Fall, in America it is culturally the end before the end, because on Friday after Thanksgiving the true Christmas rush begins. Then Fall is lost. Take a walk. Enjoy the Fall. Don't shop!
This is a good book, a bit uneven and loosely tied together, but still it seems to work. It seems to capture that great season we call Fall down here in the South. I recommend it. The selections are short enough to read in less than 15 minutes, just right before nodding off to sleep at night. In fact, that's one criteria I have in selecting such devotional books.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving. And remember -- it's not Christmas yet.