Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Month for Painted Leaves and Lives

“October is the month for painted leaves,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. “Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year nears its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight.”

It’s interesting to think of this month as the sunset of the year. Having spent nearly a month in Iceland this past summer, it was jarring to return to Winnipeg after Labour Day with its shorter daylight hours. The abrupt loss of nearly an hour of daylight was unsettling and, although the days are now shorter in Iceland, having passed the fall equinox, I found myself experiencing each day’s sunset as premature.

Fallen maple leaves on the pavement in Ottawa.
(Photo by Heather Jonasson.)
I love October sunsets. The vivid colours of the autumn sky, set against the lengthening shadows in the foreground, invite reflection and gratitude, while the painted leaves of the trees evoke a sense of quiet celebration. Autumn suits my temperament and, while I mourn the shortening days, I welcome the feast that can only be enjoyed once the harvest is in.

It’s curious that the waning of the year, with its diminished light, brings out nature’s brightest and most varied colours. Sure, there’s plenty of brown and grey to go around, but they are only the background for the bright red and orange, amber and lingering hints of green, while the blue of sky and water seems to deepen. Autumn is as colourful as the people who, having completed their life’s work and having moved beyond its folly, settle down to simply be themselves.

This reminds me of the familiar and much loved words of the English poet Jenny Joseph: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn't suit me.” She goes on to say that she will “make up for the sobriety of my youth” and “pick the flowers in other people’s gardens.” Who among us hasn’t most cherished our ammas and langammas* when they have been the old woman in purple – the one who laughs off life’s vanities and simply dwells in the fruition of the present moment, content that life’s harvest is enough? Who among us doesn’t long for the day when we, too, will be the old woman or old man in purple?

It would be easy to think of October as the soberest of all months, but perhaps its riotous colours should be seen instead as an invitation to be our most daring selves. While rushing about to make the most of the days that remain before the snow flies, this is a good time to harvest the fruits that lie about us, whether or not they are of our own planting, and to let the sobriety of youth give way to the joy of fulfillment.

Let us radiate the brighter hues of our lives, like the painted leaves of October, so that this season glows with the rich colours each of us brings to the world and we ourselves shine through the light of its sunsets.

* Icelandic for grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

This post appears as the editorial in the October 1, 2016, issue of Lögberg-Heimskringla