After the Fall

Fall is coming, I feel it. I notice its presence when I step out into the crisp morning air that had only just recently hung heavy with the ripeness of Summer. And when the annual Mountain State Fair came to town, the delightful smell of funnel cakes, hands sticky with cotton candy, and the almost palpable feel of the magic of childhood wonder reminded me again that autumn lies just around the corner. But as much as I love all the gifts of Autumn, carving pumpkins, candy corn, children trick or treating and wearing that first warm hoodie on a cool day, I find too some anxiety  swirling through my body like the turning and twisting caramel being pulled and readied for the waiting apple at the fair.

Something in watching the leaves fall from the trees produces in me an ancestral connection to the rhythms and cycles of the planet, as if my own heart could beat in synchrony with her changing seasons. As winter comes and brings with it frigid, punishing temperatures and harsh winds, the deciduous trees know that they will be under threat and damaged and they pare down and spend all effort protecting their heartiest, strongest and most vital parts- stems, bark, trunks, branches. They must begin the daunting process of letting go of what is not necessary, their leaves, in order to keep alive what is most important.

As the days begin to get shorter and light begins to fade, the trees are attuned to these changes and begin the chemical and physical transformation that produce the vibrant autumn hues in their leaves before they are gone. By the end of Summer, the leaves are in desperate need of repair, worn down by a summer of children swinging, singing cicadas, spiders weaving webs, and evening bonfires, and the tree knows the time has come to let go and prepare for renewal in the Spring. They have evolved to accept a singular truth, that come fall, it is time to let go.

 Where the leaf stem finds the branches is known as the abscission layer. As the light wanes and the days become shorter, this layer begins to choke off the veins that transport water into the leaf and food into the tree. The leaf has lost access to all nutrients, becomes dry and flaky and through decomposition, bids its final farewell to the tree.

The tree is now ready to face the Winter ahead. This is survival and self-preservation. If trees did not shed their leaves, then if a warm spell came in the heart of Winter, the leaves could become confused and begin to photosynthesize. They begin to get some water up and start working again as if Spring had arrived and when the cold of Winter returned, those leaves will have water in their veins, freeze and die. If this were to happen then the tree is at risk of dying, it is a matter of survival and the tree is safer by losing its leaves each Fall.

Much like the trees lose their leaves each fall, I too feel the call to bring my attention to the parts of myself that are most vital to my survival, as the light wanes and the days grow shorter. There is good precedence for this in our own human evolution. In a traumatic medical event, our body can go into shock which is a defense response that involves constricting the blood vessels in the extremities to conserve blood flow to the vital organs. Although this is a dramatic example, I believe the process of this stripping down and using our valuable resources for what is most essential is an integral part of the cycle of life.

Autumn reminds me that soon it will be time to go into the deep of winter, a time to quiet the mind and turn inward and nurture the soul. I reassure myself that once I can move through my fear of letting go that which no longer serves me and threatens my growth, that after the Fall, Spring will come again. I am mindful of the infinite wisdom found in the cycles of nature, and how her ever changing seasons teach us a simple truth, that without the process of letting go there can be no transformation.

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