Monday, 12 October 2020

The Symbolism Of Autumn


A curious side-effect of growing older is the growth of what seems to be a new sensory gland which allows you to observe and ponder over aspects of the natural world which you'd never considered before. In the spring of my youth I hardly noticed the passing of the seasons at all, weather and climate doesn't change much in a bar, after all.

 Another trait of middle age is a renewed ability to get up early and ''do something'' which I duly did on Sunday by needlessly getting up at the break of day and walking my dog in the fields. My newly acquired middle aged sensory glands enjoy soaking up the fresh morning air and general calm and quiet. However, that calm and quiet was disturbed when large flocks of geese flying in V-formations began flying over myself and the dog.  I estimated that there must have been at least a thousand birds and the ''gaggle'' was actually deafening.

In modernity we've long since stopped paying attention to the habits and goings on of the natural world, such a scene would simply be a very distant background noise most people didn't even think about. Yet as I stood there gazing up I couldn't help but notice that the word ''migrating'' didn't quite describe what I was watching. The term ''migrating'' is obviously a heavily politicized and loaded one these days, and it's true that the geese were migrating south for the winter, but there was something else...

A herd of cows may migrate from one side of a field to another because there is more grass there, but there's a docility and lack of haste to it. The geese weren't migrating in that manner at all, the speed that they moved, the noise and energy, the sense of emergency and purpose, the geese were escaping.

It is tempting at this point to draw some analogy to ''fighting age men'' crossing the channel with I-Phones and their migration, which seems more cow-like than the frantic geese, but that just goes to show how banal the word ''migrate'' actually is. What's missing is language which connects to nature in a symbolic way or goes some way to give meaning to events in the natural world.

The geese are fleeing the northern winter by going south, if they don't they'll die. I as the observer won't be fleeing south but that doesn't matter too much because I have heating and warm clothes, and so the disconnect begins. The trials and tribulations of the natural world are essentially meaningless to moderns. For most of history the geese fleeing south would have meant something quite different to northern man, was the fish salted properly? do we have enough pork? is the wheat infected? do we have grain for the animals? do we have enough firewood?

Autumn is the season of foreshadowing and preparation because ''winter is coming'' which is to say, the changing of the seasons is an external force imposing itself on the denizens of the northern hemisphere. In America they refer to 'The Fall'' meaning the trees shedding their leaves, yet here too we get the impression of a descent into darkness, we're ''heading into winter'' as if it's a tunnel, like death.

This is of course to ascribe meaning to the seasons we no longer really understand, now it's simply ''bad weather'' in the same way geese are just migrating. Winter is no longer an ominous and grueling external force, but the time of year you put the heating on. Autumn is when you might get mud on your shoes.

What today, then, is the equivalent of a 14th century peasant seeing the first leaves fall from the trees? for him it would have symbolized mortality and impending doom, for today's de-worlded consumer it's the chance for a social media post and photo.

The Meaning of things is lost to us because the external pressures which form our lives are entirely man made, our technology domesticated us, and so, like the cows, we graze aimlessly on a farm of our own making as nature, alive and vital, burrows below us and flies over our heads. 

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