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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Edwina Herman-Giddens

How Autumn Slides into My Words

Watching leaves brushed by a sudden breeze floating and dancing to the ground in their happy congenial way brushes into me as well. When the sun is shining and the rays pierce them just so, the colors they so generously give us, the ruby and golden, the wine-red and orange, the purple and chartreuse, all glow gloriously and grandly. Each moment I take to study them is a welcome moment of rest and joy.

Even so, the coming of autumn has always made me a bit sad. I think it is the loss of the warm air, the flowers, and the beauty of vibrant growth. The marking of passing time. But after most of the leaves have fallen and the flowers are touched by frosts, I find myself used to it and no longer sad but looking forward to a bit quieter time. In my resting reflection, I realize something.

Autumn is a lesson in writing! It is a new thought to me. So many species of trees and shrubs greet their winter rest with a flame, a glory of color. This inspires me. The grasses with their seed heads are another gift. How did nature know that humans would thrill at the low afternoon sun chasing through the spikelets of inflorescences causing the spilling of soft reds, taupes, faint greens according to the species, all shimmering for our pleasure? Leaves flutter, slipping finally to the firm ground. Words that I choose do this for me, emerging from my mind, searching for a landing place, and settling in. If I later find the words are not the right fit or the right tenure or mood, then they must be blown away and replaced as a wind does to the fallen leaves. I search through word piles for a more beautiful or suitable word as I would leaf piles to find the perfect leaf.

Recently, I decided the parallel often made between seasons and the stages of life with autumn being middle age and winter being old age are not for me. Studying the leaves this fall, I have a new model for myself prompted by my enjoyment of observing autumn’s swelling buds on many plants all ready to welcome next spring. I prefer to think I am in the autumn of life-- bursting with occasional brightness, adapting to some slow times, and creating new activities and combinations of words just like the swelling buds are creating next year’s flowers and leaves. Winter, for me, is when I depart on that final sleep.

Thinking about my book, Unloose My Heart, the falling leaves tremble with so many questions. What does this examination of my life and my ancestors teach me? One answer, certainly, is to be humble. I learned we can never know the entirety of the influences on us and by us, nor can we know whether our effects on people and the earth have been indifferent or good or bad. Our knowledge about much of what we do or what we are affected by is limited even as we might think it is not. The writing of this book gave me some peace with myself. But there is so much more – the shadows, the ghosts, the angels, the sprays of sparkling light and all that is still out there to be found. The examined life is surely intricate and delicate work even as it is a luxury.

These thoughts were with me as I drove to Asheville a few days ago to see my great-granddaughter who is now crawling and standing, a long overdue trip. What a joyful and tender visit. What wonderful parents! The mountains in the autumn provided an extra benefaction. So did a dear friend with whom I stayed. When I arose in that semi-dark drizzly morning and headed to the kitchen (seeking coffee, of course) I was greeted by flickering candles. When I express my delight and wonder she says, “I like to ease into the morning.” I am enchanted. The meditation stays with me and merges with the feeling of my happy eager great-granddaughter in my arms smiling at me. Such gifts.

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