What Falls Away

The Link, Autumn 2018
| by David Newland |

When I was a kid, the arrival of autumn was a drag. The waning of the summer light and warmth was bad enough; the coming of the school year was worse. Even the name “fall” seemed to imply a painful tumble. The changing of the clocks sealed the deal: no more playing outside after supper. It was the season of the coming darkness.

There were some enjoyable things about the autumn, too: the Thanksgiving meal; the Halloween-bought costumes and candy. The turning leaves were glorious and once they fell there would be piles of them to jump in!

“Pickles from Grandma, several seasons old. That pack of chicken thighs that looks a little too frosty.”

As an adult, I see a greater glory in the autumn than I did before and it’s reflected in the falling of those same leaves. The trees may stubbornly hang onto their leaves for a while – more and more so lately as the first hard frost arrives later and later. But the outcome is inevitable. The colours blaze, then fade. In time, with cold nights and lower light and gales, the leaves themselves seem to let go. They have their journeys. They must be gone, to the forest floor or the compost pile, or into the autumn air on a plume of sweet-smelling smoke.

We could learn from trees. Humans tend to stockpile things, especially as winter approaches: stacking up firewood, preserving food. That’s understandable enough. But how is it that we do spring cleaning and not fall cleaning? Seems to me that, like the trees, we could let go a little in the autumn months. All that gear for enjoying summer which we regretfully put away, dreaming of sunny days to come. Surely some of it could move onward at this point. The clothes we didn’t wear, the tools we didn’t sharpen, the toys we didn’t use, the bikes we didn’t ride. Maybe it’s time to let them go.

Come to think of it, while we’re putting down food in the pantry or the freezer, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to chuck the stuff that we haven’t used yet. Pickles from Grandma, several seasons old. That pack of chicken thighs that looks a little too frosty. Anything unidentifiable, or just plain useless. I have several rolls of medium format camera film in the freezer. I don’t think they even make the cameras anymore!

The games cupboard. The basement. The garage. The filing cabinet. The pantry. How many places hold clutter that represents just so much dead weight?

And as for the tangible things, so for the intangible ones. Why head into winter carrying forlorn hopes, nursing old grudges or resenting old wrongs? How much energy goes into husks of old ideas or habits that do you no good? Imagine how light your step would be, across the first crust of new-fallen snow, if you were no longer carrying all that baggage. A tree still holding its leaves when the winter storms arrive is vulnerable. Maybe we are too. Take a lesson from the trees: autumn is here. Maybe it’s time to let go.

David Newland is a writer and musician based in Cobourg. In November of 2015, David was named a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, a distinction that reflects a lifelong engagement with landscape and story.

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