It’s northern hemisphere autumn, or at least it’s about to be. True, we’ve passed the fall equinox, which is why I say it’s autumn. Yet at the time I’m writing this (the first week of October), it hardly looks or feels like autumn. The color show, I think, is perhaps starting late this year, at least where I live.
Mostly the foliage remains a normal, summer-time green. The main exceptions are, first, a few isolated, extremely early trees which began turning some time ago and have now largely turned a deep red or purple. Second, and more recently, a few trees have turned a portion of their leaves yellow, while leaving the another portion green.
Here are some experimental photos of one of these yellow-green combinations.
Vital Sleep, Not Death
Some people think of autumn as the trees dying, and of winter as the trees being dead. Or maybe this is all of us, some of the time. Yet the trees are not dead, only dormant: literally, sleeping. The fall color show, and the actual falling away of leaves, may perhaps be the death of the leaves, although it might be more informed and perceptive to consider it the leaves’ completion and perfection. Yet the trees, on the other hand, are not dying at all, but preparing for a good, long, well-deserved sleep.
The writer Katherine May, in her amazing book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat In Difficult Times, reflects on the fact that we really shouldn’t think of winter as the time of death, and by implication, of autumn as a time of dying. One specific thing she mentions is that well before winter, really before the fall color show, trees have already produced their spring buds. Next year’s new coat of leaves is already ready. Autumn then is perhaps a wonderful extended evening prior to a really great, cozy sleep. And when we do get past the color show and the leaves have mostly all dropped, maybe this is the trees getting into their bed clothes and tucking themselves in. After all, science shows that we get better sleep in colder rooms. (I know it’s tangential, but there’s a fascinating interview with scientist Susanna Soberg in which she tells us about this.)
The Marvel of Gray and Green
But as I mentioned, as of writing this, the leaves have hardly begun to turn. The world of foliage remains largely, and delightfully of course, a world of greens. So let me share something I’ve been noticing a lot lately, something that’s a part of autumn too, if we count from the equinox. It’s something that happens on overcast days; not those lovely blue-sky days, but days where the sky is gray. As we’re getting to the end of primarily-green-foliage season, this experience I’m about to describe feels especially valuable.
In this early time of autumn where green still dominates, and the sky is gray, the absence of blue has an amazing if overlooked effect. With blue skies, of course, the blue and green combination is wonderful, and we can be quick to dismiss the gray-sky days. However, I’ve come to notice, or to let myself notice, that the absence of blue on the overcast days, when everything is mostly green, is really quite amazing, because in these particular conditions, the green dominates and fills the color space in a way that just doesn’t happen otherwise.
The green, on these overcast days, becomes immanent, rich, and prevailing in a special way. It maybe takes some allowing, some sitting-with, to notice this and really start to take it in. But once I do, it’s wonderful and I don’t even wish the sky to be blue anymore. At least, not at that moment. I’ll be quite happy to get a blue-sky day in the near future, but now that I’ve noticed this gray-sky plus green effect, I’m also happy to get more gray-sky days in the future.
All these things I’ve mused about are, to my mind, part of philosophy. I don’t primarily mean the “musing about” in this post, but the activities themselves. The re-framing of the thought of winter as a dead time, the dwelling attentively with and coming to appreciate the special “greening” effect of overcast days, even the creative aesthetic engagement with nature. But then reflecting on these, and sharing them, that too. All of these belong somehow to philosophy, as something live and not merely something thought. Of course, it’s true I’m using ‘philosophy’ in a now somewhat uncommon sense. Check out my post Philosophy as an Art of Living for a better understanding of what I mean by philosophy.
Interview with Katherine May about Wintering (Krista Tippett of On Being interviewing).
SeekerFive creates photographic artwork, and is currently overhauling and re-curating his websites.
Images by (and property of) SeekerFive unless otherwise indicated.