Stone Sleight-of-Hand, Big Sur Style
A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too, have known autumn too long.
Another in a succession of mornings of deep fog; the sun does struggle forward as the day turns, but effort is fitful, the results tenuous. The change from summer to fall always provokes melancholy in me. It’s a host of things: the winds pick up a bit, and their whispers are cooler; they curl under my collar, with cold intent. Leaves dry and curl, lose vitality and color, and fall brittle to the ground. The light itself, its weak slant, its ebbing warmth, seems a conspiracy. Or even a taunting: time rolls on, what have you done? I have a touch of SAD, that aptly named Seasonal Affective Disorder, where the shorter days and the dimming light seem to drain my batteries.
But whatever the physical component of that, whatever the tangible indicators of time’s timeless march, there’s a kind of surrender to the conspiracy that’s purely psychological. After all, it’s not winter that’s here, but fall, a time of harvest, often one of fruition. (And of course, I live in California, where folks of the Eastern flavor would make a scornful roll of the eyes at whimperings from a body that’s never touched a snow shovel.) And yet, and yet, there’s always the feeling for me at fall’s outset that the movement is toward winter, and that spring won’t come again. I’ve looked at fall as an ending, rather than a beginning.
There’s Really Not An Effing Thing to Whinge About
But I’m making the effort to be more conscious of my moods, and look at them with a sort of dispassionate affection: “Oh, a bit on the whiny side today, are we? Maybe it’s just a nap after lunch that’s needed, or a quick go-round with a neighbor’s cow and the trebuchet.” Partially because I’ve been trying to put one of the tenets of the book I’ve been reading, Buddha’s Brain, into practice. One of its many salubrious offerings is to recognize that there is the situation, and then there is your reaction to the situation. I know, old porridge that, but the book offers a number of approaches to recognize that when the elements of your nervous system light their alarms and dispense their flight/fight/brain-blight chemicals, you can consciously pour on a cerebral cocktail of your own making to soften the assault.
Thus we have fall. Instead of thinking of the next Ice Age, I can think of my coming birthday, the sympathetic shape of pumpkins, the writing conference I’m soon to attend, and good soup. I can try to take to heart Samuel Butler, who said, “Youth is like spring, an over praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.”
Oh, about that fog this morning: it broke early. My girlfriend and I drove down to Big Sur, one of God’s palaces on earth, with the top down on the Miata, hiked around a winding hillside overlook with waves crashing on rocks below, went to the sweetly eccentric Henry Miller Library, where I fondled the Ginsberg and the Kerouac, flipped through old vinyl records from decades past, envied the giant coon cat sleeping on the warm deck, ate a scrumptious lunch high on the hill at Ventana, and came home dizzy with sun.
Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.
—William Cullen Bryant
Fall, there are worse seasons.