The last few days, when I have left my apartment in the very early mornings to open the yoga studio at which I practice, there has been a crispness to the air that has given me the sense that the seasons are shifting. And I have found myself slowly beginning to make the transition to autumn- packing up my summer clothes to bring to storage, putting an extra blanket on the bed, taking out my wool sweaters, and burning wood incense.
Perhaps it is because I celebrate the Celtic wheel of the year, in which the start of the new year, Samhain, is at the end of October, or because my birthday falls on Samhain, but autumn, to me, rather than spring, always feels like the time of new beginnings. I also always feel most alive, and most like myself, during the transition to autumn. It may be because I have a tendency to be a somewhat solitary and introspective person, and the cool wind of this liminal season ushers in the more reflective time of year, when the stillness in the outside world allows me to experience the stillness in myself more deeply. And I find there is a kind of quiet exhilaration in this stillness.
As invigorated as I am by the transition to autumn and the sense of newness it brings, the exhilaration I feel in autumn is balanced by autumn activities that ground and nourish me by connecting me to deep-rooted traditions: baking the Irish bread recipe handed down through five generations; wearing wool sweaters knit by my mother’s mother; making vegetable soup, apple sauce and pumpkin pies; playing folk tunes on my banjo; and hand-writing letters at the antique desk my father refinished for my mother when she was pregnant with me. I also have an annual tradition of celebrating the fall season by swimming outdoors in Columbus Day, the day when my father’s mother always used to close up her house in Maine for the season when I was a child and I would go for one final swim in the frigid ocean before going back to the house to warm myself by sitting in front of the wood-burning stove, which was the only source of heat for the house.
I also spend a lot of time in nature in the autumn, often by myself. I go on long hikes in the woods, spend time sitting quietly by a campfire, and drive up to New England to see the fall foliage. And every fall, I take the opportunity presented by the stillness of the season to do some personal reflection, usually by going on a solitary retreat in nature. On these retreats, I practice yoga, take long walks, cook, play the harmonium, journal, cook, write music and poetry, read, and meditate. One year, recently, I went on a ten day solitary retreat in Nova Scotia in a cabin with no electricity. I rose every morning before dawn to go kayaking on the lake to see the sunrise, and spent every evening watching the dusk fall by candlelight. I left that experience feeling clearer and revitalized, and ready to spend time again with friends and family.
This year, the solitude I usually experience in the autumn will be replaced with the companionship of my new baby who will be experiencing his first transition from summer to fall, and who is filled with insatiable curiosity about the world around him. He doesn’t speak much yet, but his encounters with the natural world often elicits shouts of amazement, laughter, and even singing. I am looking forward to sharing the stillness of the fall with him, as well as the autumn activities that I used to enjoy as a child, like apple picking, going on hay rides, bobbing for apples, and carving pumpkins, and to see these things through his eyes, and with his sense of joyous wonder. This will only deepen the sense of newness the season brings, as well as the sense of continuation of tradition. And if how intrepidly my son braved the Maine ocean at the beach near the house where my grandmother used to live this summer child is any indication, I may have someone swimming with me on Columbus Day for the first time this year.