All around us, they are gathering. They convene spontaneously on land, on water, and in the air. Heeding an ancient summons, they assemble in mighty flocks for their annual journey, departing local havens for more temperate climes.
Already, most of the swallows have departed. A week ago, I could watch them lining up along the wires like so many gentlemen in white waistcoats and formal tails. The precision of their aerial maneuvers seemed designed more for show than anything so pedestrian as travel. Still, they are suddenly gone, wheeling away to their winter abodes with impeccable style and grace.
Though it is still early for their migrations, massive groups of starlings and grackles have begun congregating in the trees along roads and fields. Like visitors from another dimension, they appear and disappear en masse – becoming invisible up in the high foliage or down in the tall grass. If it weren’t for their ceaseless chattering and whistling, you would never know they were there.
And then there is the herald of the season, the Canada goose. There are few sounds in nature more stirring than that of a flock of these hardy birds calling out as they launch themselves into the air and take to the sky. It is a sound that evokes both a sense of raucous triumph and deep longing.
The call of the Canada goose embodies the fall season for me. Though autumn is by far my favorite time of the year, I do not know whether it holds this place in my heart because of or in spite of its melancholy edge. Where summer inspires celebration and adventure, fall invites us to take stock and reflect.
Autumn is, after all, a season of endings and departures. The birds fly south, the leaves fall, and the summer warmth fades. We are left with a contradiction of misty mornings and bright but chilly afternoons.
All around us, nature is closing up, preparing for the long, slow sleep of winter. The summer peepers and cicadas have sung their finales and the crickets are left alone on the night stage. Summer’s lush green smells have fermented into the rich, dark scent of earthy decay. Finally, as if to make a grand exit, Mother Nature sets the forest alight with brilliant hues of red, gold, and orange – a funeral pyre for the year gone by.
In the summer, it is easy to live in the moment; but the fall tempts us to wander down long unused paths through our memories and musings. It is a time to remember old dreams, past adventures, and those who have gone before us. Autumn is a season of ghosts.
But, it is also a season of warmth. Gathering around home and hearth to enjoy the wealth of the harvest with family and friends brings comfort and a deep sense of gratitude. Bittersweet thoughts fade in the company of those we love. The wind seems less lonely, and the early dusk less confining. We remember the small, intimate pleasures of this quieter season.
Soon enough, our lives will be caught up in a maelstrom of holiday delights. We will find ourselves drawn into the joyful chaos as surely as gravity pulls our little planet around the sun. For now, though, we can take a moment to pause between the exuberance of summer and the sparkling insanity of midwinter festivities. We can hold this bright, melancholy season close and embrace all its beauty and bounty, all its introspection and camaraderie.
We can let our thoughts take flight in the warm autumn air to dance with the swallows, mingle with the starlings, and soar with the geese who are always coming home no matter which wind is under their wings.
All images from my Instagram feed.
This piece was originally published in the Ipswich Chronicle as part of my bi-weekly column.