by John Colgan-Davis
It is fall now, and I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of that quiet and beautiful spectacle that we call “autumn colors.” We were playing in Chestnut Hill on Sunday, and there were some trees that has already started the change from green to orangish or yellowish.
It is still early, and it was warm on Sunday, so the spectacle was dull and very subdued. However, we are in the midst of a cold snap now, and that usually means the explosion of colors is on the way and will be here soon.
And walking through the city, traveling by train or even driving around in cars will see us surrounded by the magic of this part of the cycles. And for me, each step and ride will be filled with smiles and wonder.
Once, in my 20s, I was taking a train from Philly to Boston. It was in late October, and a couple in front of me kept getting up, looking out the window and pointing and oohing and aahhing. Finally I asked them what the big deal was.
They said they had lived their entire lives in Southern California, and they had never experienced a real fall before. They were beside themselves with joy and amazement as we hurtled through upstate New York and Connecticut, and they couldn’t stay seated. It was then that I realized how truly spectacular fall in the mid-Atlantic region is. And ever since then, I have been a lover of autumn.
We have had the Harvest Moon, the full moon nearest the coming of fall, and farmers are now turning their time to preparing to bring in the crops, i.e., the harvest. It is an age-old process; for most of human history we were gatherers and/or farmers.
What grew, how it grew and where it grew pretty much determined whether a group survived or not. Even in hunter-gathering societies, it was that way. We celebrate the dramatic feats of the hunters in our culture, but about 65% of the diet in hunting and gathering societies came from gathering, not hunting.
The gathering was essential. And so the harvest became a nearly universal symbol or metaphor for receiving a planned-for reward or for getting your “just desserts.” Or for getting “what you worked for.” Or for “meeting your long term goals.” Or even for “sowing the seeds of your own destruction.” We came to see huge sections of our lives as reaping what we sowed.
That made sense when many of us were involved in the production of our goods and more directly supplied our needs and the needs of our neighbors. Now, though, in the age of full-fledged civilization, we are separated from the supply processes on which we depend, and the holdovers in our language may be the only remnants of that connection.
The etymologist in me knows and accepts that-words and phrases change and come and go, and they change meaning overtime. But the mythologist in me sees it just a little bit differently. Maybe, just maybe, there is hidden deep within us, or as our psychologically oriented friends would say, “in our unconscious,” a flicker of memory of an earlier time; just a hint of how we were so intensely tied to the cycles of the earth around us.
And maybe every now and then that connection comes to us to both remind us that we are connected and let us know of that connection again. And maybe, if we slow down enough to look for it, and if we listen to ourselves speak, we can find that link and treasure it for a while. At least, I like to think so. Happy Autumn!
John Colgan-Davis, a long-time Mt. Airy resident, is a lover of nature, a teacher and the harmonica player for The Dukes of Destiny, the region’s top rockin’ soul/blues band.