Fall Brings Life, Rest

3 Oct

I don’t know about you, but when I think of fall, I get all excited. The colors, the succulent foods, the crunching leaves, the cool breeze….everything incredible and magical about the season. But when I think about the time after the leaves have dropped, that awkward period between the sleeping of the trees and the first snowfall, my spirits sink as I imagine a landscape of dull brown, wet and near-freezing weather, chilly winds, and early nights. In my youth, it always seemed to me that the world died for a while during that time. The passing of fall into winter was the coming of death. I missed the pretty birds that are yellow and red and blue. I missed the leaves that provide shade for the ground and color for the skyline. I thought that the coming of winter meant all loss and no gain.

I have since stood corrected. I have come to a new understanding about this coming time of year, and to be honest, I can’t wait. Don’t get me wrong, I am loving the season as it is now, which is a firework of color. How can I not love this season with beautifully comfortable days and the sunlight’s wonderfully cast angle?  I do not wish for the passing of the glory that is now. Nevertheless, I certainly do not dread what is to come.

I have learned that what seems like a loss of warmth and light and life is really not a loss at all. It is true that the leaves have fallen, the sun visits us for shorter periods during the day, and the days are turning cold, but this isn’t really loss, it’s just different. We are living in a cycle, and we are just at another part of the cycle. With every loss, there is a gain. There are redeeming qualities of every part of the cycle. While you might not agree that the exchange of colorful trees for snow is a good exchange, it is an exchange nevertheless, and is a signal of the change in the cycle. I bet if you think hard enough, you can find one part of late fall or winter that you enjoy. For me, I love the ice over the water, the beautiful skies you get at about 3pm during the darkest time of the year, and the soft pink skies that come with a night of falling snow. I am so excited to experience those things again. Come spring, we will lose those things, too, and the next stage of the cycle begins.

My perspective on late fall and winter changed when I started to become interested in birds. I thought that all the birds left during the winter, save a few black ones, like crows. I thought that summer meant cheerful choruses of birds at bird feeders and winter meant silence. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is true that a lot of birds do migrate south for the winter. There is so falseness in that. However, there are a lot of birds left, and not only that, but there are some birds that are here in winter that aren’t here at any other time during the year. The dark-eyed junco is a great example. I mourned when the juncos left in the spring, but I eagerly await their return come this winter. Just as I will mourn when the gray catbirds leave (they haven’t left yet!), I will celebrate their return next spring. Birds cycle in and birds cycle out, and there are birds to welcome come the winter. That gives me excitement which I cannot describe.

Not only do birds migrate here for the winter, but there are lots of birds that stay– northern cardinals, black-capped chickadees, blue jays, american crows, american goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, ret-tailed hawks, cooper’s hawks, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers….and so on and so on. These birds are my friends through the winter, and they are particularly special in my heart because I find them extra wondrous– they actually stay here through the winter and bear it out! What a miracle! We aren’t the unfriendliest of environments out there in the world, but we certainly can be harsh, especially for something so small as a black-capped chickadee! I have probably thousands of times the body mass as a chickadee, yet they can stand the cold better than I can.

Thanks to a book called called Winter World by Bernard Heinrich, I learned of the incredible adaptations that some of these birds have to survive the winter. It’s truly mind-blowing, and I have infinitely more respect for the birds that stick it out here in southern Wisconsin. I cherish these birds for their durability and their company. And by the way– birds certainly are not silent throughout the winter. Give one sunny and kind-of warm day to a cardinal, and he will sing it out like it’s breeding season. And listen for the house sparrows congregating in bushes along the sidewalk….they are quite the gregarious chatter-boxes! Some of these birds display behavior in the winter that they don’t in the summer, and their winter behavior can be quite joyful.

This season of fall for me is extra exciting because the birds are moving, and this season can bring in birds that aren’t around ever at all except for these brief weeks of migration. One of my favorites is the american coot. The coot seems to stick around for a while during the migration times, but they are one of my favorite short-term birds. My bird field guide says the coots stay throughout the summer, but I see them in the highest quantities in fall and spring. It is an exciting time of year when the coot is around. See my picture at the top. It is actually a eurasian coot, not an american coot, but they look almost identical.

My point here is that fall for me is no longer a time of mourning for the loss which is to come. In my perspective, there is not just loss, but also new things to which to look forward. Besides, late fall brings winter, and winter is a time for rest. Without winter, spring wouldn’t be possible. The world sleeps a little bit– the animals rest, the trees rest, the soil rests. This rest is what makes new life possible. And in this time of rest, I go out and hunt for the little surprises.

Here is a poem that I wrote in reflection of this concept:

With the going of the winter,

We lose the glass over the waters on which to walk

We lose the open branches on which birds are so easy to see

But we gain the soils which are primed for new life

We gain the new sprouts which again promise a world of green

With the coming of the spring


With the going of the spring,

We lose the baby animals which are already growing up

We lose the rainbow of buds and flowers in full bloom

But we gain the long warm evenings with glorious sunsets

We gain all the flavors of the soil’s bounty

With the coming of the summer


With the going of the summer,

We lose the roaring thunderstorms and pouring rain

We lose the warm waters in which to swim and bathe

But we gain the magnificent changing of the leaves, bursting with color

We gain the dry, breezy weather that relieves the humidity

With the coming of the fall


With the going of the fall,

We lose the blanket of leaves which color the ground

We lose the last of the warm days before the freeze

But we gain the soft snowfalls that coat the trees in white

We gain the restful silence during calm snowy days

With the coming of the winter


With the going of each season there is something to mourn

But something to celebrate with the coming of the next

This is the cycle

In all its tragedies and all its redemption.


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