There are people who say that autumn is their favorite time of year. I’m not one of them, although God knows I’ve tried. Yes, I sometimes wax ecstatic over the way colors change from day to day (orange yesterday, red today – “like magic!” I exclaim), but deep down my comments are suffused with whiffs of wistfulness. Yes, there are days when I observe that October is a fabulous month in Chicagoland – clear blue skies, low pollution, temps in the 80s – what’s not to like? But then I remember that all around me these plants are dying, never mind that they are coloring up the world with their last fleeting gasps.
This is the moment when I repair to my bookshelf and seek inspiration from the garden scriptures that never fail to shift my perspective – The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek – for my money one of the best garden books ever written. (No relation, alas, to our equally wonderful photographer Ron Capek.) Karel Capek was an author who lived and gardened in Czechoslovakia. He wrote his diminutive jewel of a book in 1929 with hilarious line drawings by his brother Josef (who perished in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp). He follows the chronology of the year and offers insights about each month, and his comments about autumn never fail to reassure me.
Plants are not dying in autumn, he asserts. Rather they are growing, growing, growing underground, making fall actually the beginning of spring. Life is happening everywhere, he enthuses. We just don’t see it.
“You ought to know that October is the first spring month,” he writes, “the month of underground germination and sproutings, of hidden growth, of swelling buds … While we only look at Nature it is fairly true to say that autumn is the end of the year but still more true it is that autumn is the beginning of the year … I assert only that in a certain deeper sense autumn is the time when in fact the leaves bud … It is an optical illusion that trees and bushes are naked in autumn; they are, in fact, sprinkled over with everything that will unpack and unroll in spring. It is only an optical illusion that my flowers die in autumn; for in reality they are born. We say that Nature rests, yet she is working like mad. She has only shut up shop and pulled the shutters down; but behind them, she is unpacking new goods, and the shelves are becoming so full that they bend under the load. This is the real spring; what is not done now will not be done in April.”
So let’s toss out the conventional wisdom about autumn.
With these reassuring words, I can again face the oncoming season with equanimity. And for the final word, let’s turn again to Karel Capek:
“I tell you, there is no death; not even sleep. We only pass from one season to another. We must be patient with life, for it is eternal.”