Friday, October 24, 2008

Fall Classic

I once again owe thanks to Andrew Sullivan for this piece on autumn:

Fall Classic by Rod Dreher
I don’t think it’s too much to say that autumn suits the conservative mind and temperament. The conservative is ever aware of life’s transitory nature, and learns to sift through and to savor what’s passing — note well that artful decay produces the most sublime tastes — as an affirmation of the goodness of this life, and an aid to reflection on the permanent things. Autumn denies the illusion of progress. It’s a time of bringing in the harvest, of storing up, of taking account, of provisioning for the winter passage — which offers its own pleasures: is there anything more satisfying than drinking a mug of hot tea by the fire, reading a thick novel behind frosty January windows? The first day of autumn means it’s time to rest, and to nest. It invites us to make our peace with mortality, and to take comfort in that. Autumn edifies.

That might sound overwrought, but I believe it, and I believe it because I once lived for a while in south Florida. There are two seasons there: unbearably hot and pleasantly warm. Learning to Christmas shop in shorts and sandals was a disorienting experience for me. After a year or two, I finally figured out why old people, some of them anyway, move to Florida: because you don’t notice the passage of time there. Autumn and winter, with their intimations of mortality, have been banished. You never see clouds like racks of grey overcoats rolling in from the north. The leaves are always fat and green. It’s not hard in Florida to imagine that you’ll live forever.

I do not want to live forever. Not in this place, not in this life, which is only a preparation for the life to come. Over a lifetime of autumns embraced and understood, we soften, we ripen, we mature, we are made ready for the harvest — and invited by wisdom to delight in the fullness of nature — and, if we have lived wisely and loved well, in the fullness of our own natures. Rilke’s prayer in “Autumn Day”:

Ask the last fruits to ripen on the vine;
give them further two more summer days
to bring about perfection and to raise
the final sweetness in the heavy wine.

Some people find autumn doleful, because the numinous awareness it brings of the truth of the human condition — of our longing for the eternal within the limits of the temporal — makes them sad. But then again, some people can’t tolerate stories without a happy ending. For those who find comfort in wisdom and rest in finitude, autumn is the most philosophically consoling time of the year.

Besides, if you ask me, ale never tastes better than in the backyard on a crisp fall day.

-- Rod Dreher

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