As I sit at my computer, typing these words, falling leaves drift by my window. And I can’t help thinking about the song penned by Johnny Mercer back in 1945 about “autumn leaves of red and gold…”
Mercer wrote his words as a love song: “I see your lips, your summer kisses… but I miss you most of all, when autumn leaves start to fall.”
But I think the song’s haunting quality derives from its universality: “Soon I’ll hear old winter’s song…”
None of us gets to this time of year without realizing that “Winter is icumen in,” as poet Ezra Pound put it in his parody of an olde Middle English song that originally celebrated the coming of spring.
Pound went on, (pardon his profanity, please, but it fits the way we often think of winter conditions) :
“Raineth drop and staineth slop…
Lhude sing: Goddamm.
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us…
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm…”
Beauty that can’t last
Satire aside, there’s a poignant beauty in this season before winter. The days are clear and bright, the temperatures temperate, the nights brisk. Here in the Okanagan Valley, we don’t get the flaming colours of Vermont or Ontario. But the golden leaves of aspens, back-lit by low sun, framed by the dark greens of spruce and fir, still make me catch my breath.
Part of the beauty, though, comes from knowing it can’t last.
This is a precious time, as “the days dwindle down to a precious few” (Anderson and Weill, September Song). I remind myself, as I walk the dog these autumn days, to savour every bit of beauty, every moment of enchantment.
Because it won’t last, can’t last.
As saxophonist John Coltrane and singer Johnny Hartmann put it in Autumn Serenade, “Autumn kisses are beautiful souvenirs."
When I was younger, I saw autumn and winter as temporary inconveniences to be tolerated, so that I could get back to spring and summer again.
As I grow older, I realize that spring may not return. Certainly the spring in my step will not. And my career is not likely to burst out in new leaf.
A time for everything
Younger people may find it hard to think in these terms. Dylan Thomas – my mind seems to be running to poets today – told his dying father, “Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
I agree with the writer of biblical book of Ecclesiastes, whoever he was: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… A time to be born and a time to die…”
But I’m not as pessimistic as he was. Human life is more than “futility, sheer futility.”
If I have made someone’s life happier, if I have made someone wiser, if I have made someone feel loved, my life has not been in vain.
The seasons of a human life move more slowly than the seasons of the year, but they are just as inevitable.
So let the leaves fall! I cannot halt the seasons of the year; I cannot stop the seasons of life. But autumn is a good time to look back at the seasons that have passed, and to celebrate the season that is still present.
Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I closed last week’s column with these words: “We have monuments to unknown soldiers. We should also have monuments to unknown nation-builders.”
To which Cliff Boldt responded, “Yep, and that is a long list including many immigrants during the 19th and early 20th century. Nameless, but look wat what we inherited from them.”
Tom Watson was not impressed by Conrad Black’s history: “I recently sat down to compile a list of 500 books I want to read and am at 499. Having only space for one more book, I now know one that won't make the cut!”
Nor was John Willems: “Thanks Jim. You’ve saved me hours of reading. The same criticism could be levelled at many a sermon I’ve heard.”
Isabel Gibson agreed with my assessment: “I had some of the same reaction reading about the building of the Panama Canal -- too much politics and not enough project management.
“If your workshop participant ever writes his book on the CPR in the trenches, let me know.”
Ruth Buzzard contributed her own experience: “I had a truly Canadian adventure last summer, a solo camping trip to Bella Coola on Highway 20 with my little trailer. I had always been scared to drive ‘The Hill’ a notorious gravel road with a 14% to 18% descent, some of it single lane, dropping 5000 feet.
“My Canadian moment was driving around a corner on the way to the Bella Coola harbour and seeing an enormous rock with ‘Alex Mackenzie from Canada by land, July 23, 1793’ written in red on it. It isn’t the real rock -- you have to take a boat up an inlet to see that -- but the impact was enormous.
“The story of the ‘Freedom Road’, built by the locals in 1952-53 because the Provincial Government deemed it too expensive, should be better known. The locals obtained two bulldozers, an old backhoe, and an expert blaster. They started at Anaheim Lake and Bella Coola, and touched ‘dozer blades 62 kilometers later, having spent a total of $62,000. (Flying Phil Gagliardi, then Minister of Highways, squirmed into the completion photo). This road gave the residents of Bella Coola road access to the rest of BC, instead of just by boat and float plane.”
David Gilchrist noted, “Conrad Black’s philosophy of life, goals, and ambitions is so far from the ordinary citizen that he probably would be incapable of seeing the heroism in those early country builders. I expect Canada would have developed (though perhaps more slowly) without the Conrad Blacks and his ilk; but it certainly would not have without those prepared to take more risk than just financial, and who offered both their backs and brains.”
David also offered some thoughts on the previous column, about opposing forces: “Dark may be the absence of light, and cold the absence of heat; but I’m not sure that evil is just the absence of good. If I see a homeless woman with little in her purse begging for food money, it is obviously ‘good’ to give her of my surplus; and if I fail to do so, that would be ‘evil’. But if instead I stole her purse, taking even the little she had, it seems to me that it would be a greater evil than simply failing to give her something. [Some evils such as] attacking other countries to take their land or murdering someone you’re mad at, I think of as evils beyond just the absence of good.”
I made a reference to multiple negatives complicating sentences. Bruce Fraser recalled, “I once played the role of a gritty detective in a skit, and I made up the line, ‘There ain't never been nobody that I couldn't track down.’ That's a quadruple negative (!), but the meaning was clear to all -- unless one tried parsing that sentence…”
It’s hard, sometimes, to reconcile modern understandings of the universe with those of a psalmist some 2500 years ago. Here’s a version of Psalm 104.
1. You are weak, but you are strong.
Not one thing in the universe can ignore you.
2. Your influence pervades everything.
Your tendrils thread through empty space and writhing galaxies.
3. You bend the web of all relationships,
so that bodies fall together.
4. Because of you, trees stand tall,
tides surge, and mountains fall.
5. The earth spins in its orbit;
you guide it through the trackless void.
6. Because of you, rivers rush down through their courses;
7,8. Your power fuels the furnace of the sun,
That warms the waters, that rise into the air,
That fall on the mountains, and rush down again to the sea.
9. Because of you, the seas stay in their beds;
They do not rise up to flood our cities.
24. How infinitely intricate are your works!
Did you know it would work this way?
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,”an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony”-- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet