• author
    • Dave Van Manen

    • October 2, 2013 in Columnists

    Seasons of Change

    A soft breeze moves across the moisture on the back of my t-shirt, sweaty from being underneath the small backpack that I just took off. My back feels cool while the rest of me is quite toasty. A late summer heat wave is in full swing, and the morning sun only makes the air seem hotter. It certainly feels like summer on this hilltop where I just sat down. Yet, in spite of all this heat, I can sense that a change is in the works. I can see it in the angle of the sun and the texture of the sunlight, as if the light itself speaks in light waves that summer is winding down.

    I can see the change on the land. Where a few weeks ago there were penstemons and wallflowers all along the trail, this morning the trail was graced with so many late season wildflowers – sunspots, four o’clocks, many species of asters – all in happy bloom. The soundscape was alive in bird song and was inescapable to my ears when I sat on this hilltop earlier in the summer. It is not devoid of the sounds of birds this morning – I listen carefully and hear a flicker, a chickadee, a robin, a Steller’s jay, a towhee. But the bird music this morning sounds more like a sparse avant-garde piece with generous use of rests between somewhat sporadic bird calls. This is quite the change from the full-on symphony of bird song that was blasting around this place a couple of months ago.

    When I return here in a few weeks, most of those happy blossoms will have become brown, dried out flower heads, the oak leaves will no longer be green, the sun will be weaker and lower in the sky, and the breeze will be chillier. A few weeks further, and the oaks will be leafless, the grasses will all be brown, maybe poking up through a layer of white, and I will have traded this t-shirt and pair of shorts for several layers of insulation from the air that will be many degrees colder than it is right now.

    The only thing constant in life, as they say, is change. This truth is never more apparent than to those who take the time to pay attention to what is happening in the natural world that surrounds the places where they spend their time. Being a part of Nature, and in spite of our efforts to sometimes prevent it, change is a constant with people, and with all of our activities and enterprises too. Birth, aging, injury, education, sickness, death, marriage, construction, destruction, economic booms, economic struggles, new jobs, lost jobs, new businesses, failing businesses… Everything in our lives and families and workplaces and circles in which we live is moving, evolving, growing, shrinking, starting over, ending, morphing into something that maybe we expected, but probably more often we never expected. Everything is changing.

    I pause in my writing and notice that all the birds are quiet. A full minute passes before I hear the call of a chickadee, way off in the woods. Even in the course of an hour, change is constantly underway.

    I look around and see brown-needled trees peppering the green hillsides. I take notice of the young ponderosa in whose shade I am sitting. If insects or drought or fire do not get to it, maybe it will become a massive two-hundred year old tree someday. Or maybe not. One thing is for sure, though, this tree will not stay just as it is – it will grow, or weaken from disease, or blow over in a windstorm. It will change!

    As I look out at this very familiar yet ever-changing mountain landscape that surrounds me,  these poetic biblical words of wisdom that Pete Seeger adapted and set to his lovely melody find their way to this hilltop, “To everything turn, turn, turn; there is a season turn, turn, turn; and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

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