The Art of Seeing by Michael Milton
Artistically speaking, autumn has been granted its fair quarter of seasonal praise in literature, lyrics and painting.
American composer Vernon Duke wrote Autumn in New York. Other perennial musical favorites include The Mama’s and the Papa’s California Dreamin’, the Moody Blues Forever Autumn or Vivaldi’s Autumn from The Four Seasons.
Paintings by Monet, Constable, Boucher along with the work of hundreds of other artists captured their favorite moments of the season in oil.
Poets and philosophers get in on the yearly act, as well. Albert Camus wrote, Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. Or, winter is an etching, spring a water colour, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all, reflected Stanley Horowitz. Or, my favorite by George Eliot; Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.
I was walking near BAM recently on a breezy day in early September, the kind of day when you can feel–suddenly and for the first time since March–that there are more cold threads stitched into the flapping sheets of air than warm. It is not actually chilly yet, but you know– soon, soon. This moment brings me a kind of prayerful pleasure.
The tall buildings which are sprouting up in that vicinity are feeling the wind, too, and seem to me to sing their own delight; little shrieks and howls at every corner and turn of the architect’s now solid visions, the wind whistling around each sharp edge, across long concrete and polished granite curves, with bass note woofs echoing through every sudden updraft.
A gentleman and his partner walked briskly by me as I stood listening to the wind expertly playing the glass and steel towers, one lamenting, “Oh, God, it’s almost winter!”
Almost winter! In two words, he had assigned my favorite season into the position of a mere corridor, three months to be endured between summer and winter, left unnoticed and not fully experienced until the harsher realities of the next season have pressed in.
Autumn is already too fast a passing season for me without his negligent toss off. The seasonal changes pulling us out of summer are subtle at first, a forward thrust almost imperceptible. Then, gathering steam, autumn locomotes forward, all rattle, hiss and whistle, leaving behind a wake of cascading color, dry, crisp air, tree limbs emerging from under leafy bowers and earthy, essential aromas. And what aromas! The smell of autumn is truly like no other time of the year. Every intake of autumn air reveals something bawdy, uninhibited, sexy and basic.
Someone, put on the brakes! Just for today. Let me linger here or there and take in more and more of all of this wonder, this yearly epiphany we only experience– if we’re lucky– 70 or 80 times in our short lifetimes. This very earthly limitation seems sure proof of how we are truly all alike, this sharing of mortality, this end event we– every one of us– fret and worry about, pray on, study, are inspired or saddened by, a moment we resist until finally and necessarily we resist no longer.
There is no stopping time, of course, no alchemy nor magical words, no prayer. Even God is helpless to alter our earthly finite-ness; The Divine has always seemed, after all, more enchanted by all things Infinite. Still, each fleeting day of autumn reminds me over and over how terribly lucky I am to be, quite simply, alive, despite recent reports of an imminent apocalypse.
But there never seems to be enough time, does there? Especially if one is moving through the moment already half wrapped in thoughts of whatever is to follow. To let summer pass to winter without a glance at all to autumn makes me sad for whomever misses the changing of, say, light from liquid honey to hard candy, or to ignore the dance of the twirling leafy dervishes, turned out in golds and oranges, deep in a seasonal meditation which swirls them up DeKalb Avenue or out across the endless lawns of the Botanical Gardens.
The planet spins on its still stable axis, allowing us yet another year of the very finite pleasure that is autumn.
…then summer fades and passes, October comes and we’ll smell smoke then and feel an unexpected sharpness, a thrill of nervousness, swift elation, a sense of sadness and departure. ~Thomas Wolfe.
I have spent a good part of this year in consternation about, oh, so many things. I fell into a pattern of upset and distress back in January. I was too rattled to enjoy winter, too angry to take in spring, too exhausted to enjoy the summer. When I felt the autumn breeze recently striding along Atlantic Avenue in search of a good slice of pizza, I came back to my senses.
Yes, terrible things are happening everywhere. I can only do what I can do. I pray. I meditate. I march. I hope the best for everyone. I hope for compassion and level headedness and open heartedness. I will write my observations and wonder if my words will find a reception in the heart of another. And the wondering itself gives me a kind of peace and the wonder provides a good enough reason to go on.
Someone I know made the observation recently—after a few glasses of wine, words spoken in that sense of simple wonder I usually associate with a few too many tokes off a joint– that when we pass over to the other side, we don’t breathe anymore! Why would we, I suppose, having unloaded our demanding bodies for lighter spheres; spirits derive their animation from more celestial sources.
Despite its obviousness, I suddenly didn’t like the thought of not being able to breathe in my next life; in fact, I didn’t like that death brought a loss of all my senses. And so I decided to create my own version of heaven—something I think we get to do, anyway—a heaven which will allow, somehow, taste, touch, sight, hearing and, of course, smell. Yes! We will be able to take in huge pleasurable sucks of air—whether needed for our essence or not—in that ethereal place of eternal rest.
But that’s for later. Today, I am alive. I breathe in deeply and joyfully. Today, it is autumn. There will be no fall in my autumn this year, except for the fall backwards commanded by Daylight Savings Time and hence, of no natural or spiritual consequence.
That is the only fall I will allow for myself in this most gorgeous of seasons.
There will be plenty of time to contemplate the rest later.