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Seasons that flourish and seasons that fall
A letter about this precious, liminal time between nature's seasons
As I sit at my desk to write this missive, the vitrified tile is cold beneath my feet. It has been for quite a few days now and, as I shuffle my papers and boot up my machine, my mind wanders to how I might make this room cosier. Rugs on the floor, definitely. Perhaps a warm throw or two for unreasonably cold nights. Opening the right window instead of the left, so that the cold air still circulates through the room, just not through my ears. Angling my plants so they continue to catch the sunlight that is now slanting in at different angles.
With every such thought, I give in to the inevitable influence of the weather on the way I live, the way I eat, the way I create, the way I think. If the fact that the weather always comes up during small talk is anything to go by, it’s the great unifier — despite our many differences, we move through the seasons together.
If the weather in general is a unifier, then the time between seasonal changes is a time of liminality, a time of ‘neither here nor there’. Autumn, or fall, or that nameless period of time between the monsoons and winter in South India, is that time for me. It steals unseen into stormy days, scattering the rains “that dissolved things to the bone”, in Anjum Hasan’s words, until they come in bursts instead of torrents. It brings with it oddly sunny days tempered by a crisp wind that cools as the sun sets, turning into a chill.
As the world closes in around us, preparing to settle into stillness and winter, this liminal season-within-season is the perfect time to change rituals, seek beauty in impermanence, and watch nature maintain balance.
Pico Iyer, by far one of the most perceptive writers of our times, writes that this season of ‘neither here nor there’ is not only a decline, or only a beginning, but both. He sees the impermanence of leaves on a tree, of rains on tar roads, of patches of warm sunlight in our rooms, as the very thing that makes them so precious. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.
We cherish things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last; it’s their frailty that adds sweetness to their beauty… Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.
Pico Iyer in Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells
John Muir, who lived and died as an apostle of nature, saw autumn as life-affirming. A line that always sticks with me for days after I read it, is this:
… The seeds all have next summer in them, some of them thousands of summers, as the sequoia and cedar. In the holiday array all go calmly down into the white winter rejoicing, plainly hopeful, faithful… everything taking what comes, and looking forward to the future.
John Muir in John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir
And perhaps the most profound connection I’ve ever seen drawn between seasons of nature and seasons of life is in Katherine May’s book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.
She notes that we see our lives as linear when they’re really cyclical: of birth and rebirth, sadness and happiness, rock-bottom and on-top-of-the-world. Befriending this rhythm is the key to emerging from the coldest seasons of our lives not just surviving, but feeling alive.
Seasons are nature’s pacemaker, a metronome that subtly adjusts our internal rhythms. I invite you to look keenly at the slivers of nature around you, to see that universal metronome in action. Take deeper breaths, slower steps through the grass, and more time under trees or in the sun. And don’t forget to rug up for the season to come, physically, emotionally and mentally.
I’ll leave you with one last quote from Wintering, which I highly recommend reading during this liminal season:
We are in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear, a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all the while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth.
Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.