Autumn has always been my favorite season. I’ve always enjoyed going back to school, whether as a student or a teacher. Though the season is typically associated with dying, with the falling off (thus “Fall”) from the ripeness of summer, for me it’s more about starting than ending. This from a poem I wrote about going back to work:
At school first days always shine
like new keys I carry over the polished
floor to the scramble for old friends,
all pros, tan and telling of bears, novels,
the lake up north, painting in Umbria,
a wedding or two. And above the sink
just down the hall my face caught by the
institutional mirror glows simple as pudding.
And, of course, John Keats celebrated the beauty of autumn in his “To Autumn,” which I recommend in its entirety. The poem begins: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” and it goes on to describe the abundant ripening, though with hints of mortality as winter approaches: “the soft-dying day,” “the small gnats mourn” and “the light wind lives or dies.” Summer ends. Those of us living in northern Michigan know this.
Keats is approaching the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. Robyn Griggs Lawrence describes it thus:
Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.
Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.
In other words, the awareness of our transience actually enhances and deepens our experience of beauty. Melancholy rocks. The older I get, the more I appreciate wabi-sabi.
Which brings me to another take on autumn, written years ago when I thought 50 was old:
“No Spring, nor Summer Beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnall face” –John Donne
You accuse me when I say I wish
I had known you then, when you were young,
and I admit it, yes, and I think it
more often than I say it, but never add,
slim and beautiful, as you accuse,
nor think your autumn any less than spring:
Your beauty grows: When I study those
old photographs that make you young again,
your wedding, with your kids, your modeling pose,
when you tell stories of your hippie days,
wild and shy with other men, those Kims
only layer and deepen who I love:
the Kim I touch with an eye caress
across the table, the Kim my brain and blood
explore when I pause and stare at nothing
in my office, the Kim whose skin and voice
I consume in the dark, back to back,
the sole of your foot on mine, sole mate:
just as in passion I long to hold you
entirely in my arms and search with nose,
tongue and kisses every inch of you,
to know as much of you as sense can know,
to inhale, devour the every Kim of you,
so do I love the every when
of you alive in your electricity:
When I enter you I enter all the pages
of your scrapbook, enter all your lives,
and I become your lovers—cowboy,
matador, some Hollywood types,
pilot, teenager learning how.
Can’t you see? Fall has always been
my favorite. Leaves golden on the trees,
the structure of trunks and branches
emerge in their strength, and textures
growing on the ground celebrate
temporary blooms of summer, now.