• author
    • Dave Van Manen

    • September 11, 2015 in Columnists

    Autumn – a time to slow down?

    It’s quiet up here this morning. The squawk of a Clark’s nutcracker….the clicking of a grasshopper….the chattering alarm of a pine squirrel….chick-a-dee-dee-dee….the nasal yank of a red-breasted nuthatch. I hear these sounds spread over several minutes, with utter quiet between. It still feels like summer on this hilltop a mile or so up a favorite trail. The air is quickly warming on its way into the 80s, as the weather report predicted.

    None of the leaves have begun to put on their autumn colors yet, but the abundance of late summer wildflowers – sunspots, stiff goldenrod, smooth aster, Bahia ragleaf, Porter aster – clearly speaks to the imminent arrival of fall. The relative quiet does the same. Gone are melodious songs of birds in their breeding activity that seem to fill every audible space when the summer season is young. In place of all that ruckus are the occasional calls I continue to hear as I sit, think and write. The wind just kicked up. It’s a hot wind that reminds me that summer is still here. But it won’t be long before the wind’s message tells me that fall has arrived.

    The lack of bird song, the mature late season wildflowers with few newly sprouted plants – these all reflect how the natural world slows down in the fall, in harmony with the natural rhythm of the seasons.

    I’ve often reflected on how the human culture in which I live doesn’t seem to do a whole lot of slowing down in the fall. Regardless of the season, our weeks are essentially the same “grind” that can feel quite endless. Sure, there’s the break from school in the summer and a few weeks during the school year for children. But once a person steps into the adult world, the rhythm of our days and weeks is paced not by the seasons but by our jobs, technology and the numerous demands that our modern culture expects of us. Except for the week or two (or more if one is lucky) of vacation, illness, a few holidays, or some extreme weather event – and even these days often offer little real slowing down – many of us never seem to get a chance to truly slow down, in the fall or at any other time of the year. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as if the pace of the human world just keeps getting faster and faster as the years go by. Slowing down in the fall? How quaint!

    As a person who has always tried to stay connected to the natural world, I can’t help but question whether or not we as individuals and as a society are missing out on something that we really shouldn’t be missing by always being on the go. Instead, we continue on our seemingly ever-increasing pace that hardly seems to even notice the seasons beyond the inconveniences associated with inclement weather. Would we be healthier as individuals and as a society as a whole if our lives did reflect the rhythm of the seasons, and we did slow it down a notch or two in the fall?

    As I ponder such questions, thoughts about how such adjustments would impact our system of economics, a system that thrives on ever-increasing speed and growth, come up for me. I suspect such thoughts would probably be considered blasphemous in the halls of our economic institutions.

    Regardless, I still believe that much good would come out of choosing to live lives that more closely reflect the rhythm of the seasons. To paraphrase the great conservationist Aldo Leopold, “we are much more than cogs in a system of economics. We are at core members of the ecological community that includes the soil, the water, the plants, the animals – and the seasons.”

    I, for one, am ready to slow down this fall. How about you?

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