Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower Albert Camus
It brought it all back to her as she walked down Oak Street toward the city center a few weeks ago, the shrill whistle and the chug chug chug of the approaching train. As my friend Muriel scurried up to the tracks to watch for the first sight of the engine, she was transported to another time and another set of tracks faraway from this one in Bath, Maine. She was a little girl again down south in Greensboro, North Carolina, visiting her grandmother and her aunt, a little girl running across the street from the old family house and up the hill and to the bridge by the tracks, a little girl squealing with delight as the sound and the sight of the engine filled her with its whoosh of wild energy. And as she stood there on Oak Street all these years later remembering this little girl part of herself, she was startled back to the present by another little girl who was running up to the tracks with her father, who was joining Muriel in carrying on the ritual of the squeal and the jumping up and down and the power of an engine so close you can almost touch it. And is that what it is that makes this particular ritual so compelling? Is it the power that calls us to it, to be so close to a sound and a sensation that almost bowls us over? Because it is a ritual that seems to draw us in. My husband still wears the badge of a slight bump on his forehead that he received as a ten-year-old boy when he bumped into a tree while running his own full-throttle and wide-open race to the railroad’s tracks to check if the approaching train was going to flatten his penny.
I feel this charge in the air, this freight train feeling of energy on the move, how autumn in the far north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is not a quiet season. The air is warm and then it’s cold and the wind is howling and then it subsides and the owl is hooting at us in the darkening evenings and I don’t know what to wear and even on the calmest and sunniest of days, you can almost hear the maple leaves bursting into scarlet and the aspens whistling a golden tune. And the chipmunks, they are scurrying from feeder to feeder, stuffing their cheeks with a winter’s supply of seeds, while the red squirrels are skittering and screeching their autumn song. And my own mind is right there with the chipmunks and the squirrels, skittering and scattering about in the fallen leaves. It’s my mother’s voice I hear as I try to rein my wayward mind back into the present moment. “Just settle down, Helen. Just settle down and breathe!”
And it’s a good thing to settle down and breathe. And it’s a good thing to nestle into the deep place of calm at your sweet center. I know this and I appreciate the reminder from my mother whose voice still lives in my head. Last week in yoga class, a student shared with us an autumn story, how she was taking photos of the sunset at her lakeside home when her eye zoomed in to the late-blooming blossoms in her cottage’s garden. As she was focusing the camera, she noticed a bee, a bee nestled tight in the curl of a flower, a big fuzzy bee who seemed to be sleeping, or maybe even dead, and she snapped its photo and felt the sweetness of this sweet bee and this quiet moment at the end of an autumn day. And then, the next morning, at dawn, she walked back to that same flower and the bee was nowhere to be seen. It had flown away. Maybe it had hummed away or buzzed away. Maybe it had even skittered. Maybe it, too, had felt the power of the season.
There are days in an Upper Michigan autumn when the north wind blows off the wildest of the Great Lakes and the waves thrash Superior’s shore and we Yoopers rush to the beaches and to the rocks with our surf boards and our cameras and our child’s sense of enthusiasm. We are little girls and little boys again remembering the freight trains and the beach-waves and the thrill of a Universe that is bigger and more powerful than we can contain, a Universe that makes us feel alive when we breathe it in. So, good that we take care of ourselves, that we heed the voice that says that we can rest for a while, the voice that says that we don’t always have to skitter about or charge full-throttle ahead, that we can pay attention to the path and the trees that might be in our way, that we can nestle into a flower and dream our honey-scented dreams. Good for the quiet moments, and good for the moments of awakening, too, when we realize that there is frost on the ground and the wind has picked up and the coyotes are howling and the leaves are a kaleidoscope of color. It’s okay to be stirred, to enjoy the rush, to race out to the tracks, to jump up and down, to squeal in delight as we feel autumn’s freight train of power.