When fall comes to New England, as it does every year, there is a certain melancholy that comes with the change of season. It’s a subtle change, but one day you wake up and your feet are cold on the floor. You take out your down comforter from the closet, fold up your shorts and put away your sandals. The nights become darker quicker and you find yourself inside, craving hot stews and quilts.
Summer, those brief but glorious months of scorching heat and green, green trees, feels like a distant dream. And you mourn the hot evenings you spent sitting outside on the lawn all night, when you could dive into an ice-cold pool and come out still sweating. You miss that free-ness, that spontaneity that summer so boldly facilitates. You grieve.
The cold comes and you shut down, hunker down, walk faster and laugh less. Part of you knows that this is who you really are: the cold defines us as New Englanders. Our summer identities are induced by an intoxicating elixir that eventually runs out. Ahead there is a long cruel winter of blowing winds and falling snow, followed by the ugly, muddy fever of spring. We are but travelers through the seasons: spectators, observers. Nature holds the power to change, but we hold the power to note the change. We document it and we revel in it if we can. And we become fretful as the leaves fall faster from the trees, as everything turns a breathtaking brilliant gold.
When you note these changes, try to enjoy each second, each small but significant movement that propels us from summer, into fall, and then, into winter. At this kind of turning point, I read the poet Mary Oliver–who, according to Maxine Kumin, “is an indefatigable guide to the natural world,” a literary representative of our relationship to it. I find solace in her poem “Wild Geese,” which addresses the specific loneliness that threatens to overwhelm us. She writes:
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes
Oliver reminds us to look to nature, not as an enemy but as a grander entity than ourselves. She suggests that we take the time to recognize the strength of Nature’s consistency, the power in its reliability. Through Nature’s constant motion, we spectators become a part of it.
The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Here, Oliver gently encourages us–even when we’re lost and lonely, the world continues to turn. We are reflected in nature and Oliver asks us to remember how we fit, “in the family of things.” So this fall, in place of grief, carry Mary Oliver’s pack of wild geese home with you. As the leaves turn brown and then disappear, remember: we are a travelers through the seasons, each an essential piece in the turning cogs of Nature.