Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 24, 2023

Fall's mixed nature

Autumn leaves

    The autumn leaves dance in the sunlight,
            glimmering crimson, gold, copper, brown.
    They drift to the ground,
            creating a glorious carpet of colors and patterns.

I wrote that some 30-plus years ago, framing it with photos I had taken and samples of leaves I had gathered. My parents hung it above the living room couch.

The photos and leaves have long since faded, but I bring it out every Thanksgiving - out from the storage box that holds paper turkeys daughters Mariya and Katie made in grade school, a stack of children’s holiday books, and a basket of wooden fruit I bought in Ecuador when I was a Peace Corps volunteer there.

Then, as now, autumn is one of my favorite seasons. I can't seem to get enough of its brilliant leaves - some still clinging to the trees, others fluttering to the ground. Wind gusts form them into crunchy piles, ready for children (of all ages) to jump into and scatter about.

Still, soon the trees will be bare and cold weather will be upon us, prompting a bit of melancholy.

I'm not alone in that feeling. This latter emotion emerges in the autumn and comes from our discomfort with change. In his September 2022 New York Times article, "Fall Is the Season for Building Mindfulness and Resilience," journalist and science writer Erik Vance says "... The melancholy we feel is a form of grief, mourning the lost sunlight, the ease of summertime, and the greenery that abounds in the warm weather."

But, he added, fall also brings with it "bright, brisk days, pumpkin patches and cozy sweaters" and it is "the ideal season to build resilience and practice mindfulness."

We sometimes think we have everything under control, but life throws us curves - gives us both sadness and joy. Perhaps autumn best captures the combination of those emotions. Psychologist Jelena Kecmanovic, the founder of Arlington/DC Behavior Therapy Institute, says if we "lean into" that knowledge, we can stop worrying about the future and instead, enjoy the moment we’re in.

Simply observing the world around us helps ease seasonal anxiety. I do this by looking up at the colorful leaves against the bright blue sky or looking down and marveling at the carpet they create once they fall. It calms my soul when I take a moment to enjoy freshly-laundered linens, snuggle in a warm blanket to read a good book, feel my cat Minnie on my lap, watch the flickering LED candles on our dining table, or observe the changing shadows created by the setting sun.

Remembering the past year's good times with family and friends makes me joyful, too. Husband Art and I had the good fortune of traveling overseas three times and to his home state of Wisconsin four or five times this year. Along the way, we relished the company of relatives and friends.

A special treat was having sister Gaila spend extended days with us in Wisconsin and in Kansas. Although she has visited us almost every year since she moved to Bolivia in 1983, most of those times involved a full schedule of activities to keep our young daughters busy and to help our parents.

This time, it was largely us two doing ordinary things - buying Double Stuff Oreos and milk for an evening snack; walking on the Kansas State University campus; shopping with daughter Katie, who surprised us by coming home for a few days earlier this month; meeting daughter Mariya and her wife Miriam for meals; and just generally enjoying each other's company. Brother Dave, his girlfriend Marilyn, and friends Tom, Nedy and Christopher also joined us recently for some easy conversation and simple meals.

Autumn, like spring, is a season of change. But spring, with its flowers and emergence of new life, is easily embraced because fall's melancholy aspect is missing. Spring is about hope for the future, while fall cautions us that life also ends. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley compared falling leaves to corpses in the grave. William Shakespeare called it "Death’s second self."

But that is only half the tale. Fall's beautiful leaves blown here and there are every bit as wondrous as spring's plentiful flowers. Fall is the time to harvest spring's hopes.

Midwestern poet James Whitcomb Riley was born in in the fall - October of 1849. He captured the season's dual nature well in his dialect poem "When the Frost is on the Punkin."

... O, it's then's the times a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock. ...

Top row: Shadow box given to my parents 30-plus years ago; a colorful collage of leaves; Gaila and I enjoy some hot chocolate in the Wisconsin cottage; Minnie sleeping on my lap. Bottom row: Gaila playing with leaves in Wisconsin; a leaf's outline on a wet sidewalk in Madison, Wisconsin; in the top, I join Gaila, Nedy, Tom, Art and Christoper on our deck while in the bottom, sisters Mariya and Katie join sisters Gloria and Gaila and Mariya's wife Miriam as the five settle in for some serious movie watching; a Wisconsin farmstead receives 2023's first snowfall.

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