Life Under the Leaves:
Autumn is a time of seeds and shells.
My friend Suzanne recently visited St Catherine’s chamber in Siena. She said you could feel the warm radiant aura of the saint in the room. Her teacher told her that when a saint leaves the earth, sometimes they leave behind a ‘shell’ of energy, whose name in Sanskrit I do not know. This is what Suzanne was feeling, a residue that was left open when St Catherine cracked this reality like an egg, and went to another one.
There are shells everywhere right now, and husks. Fall is the time of pine cones and nuts, the strewn leavings of everything: birchbark stripped off like snakeskins on the forest floor.
Everywhere looks like shedding, and because of that, the easiest and most apparent thing in the world is to associate Fall with death. The Fall Equinox is the swinging on the hinge. If you live as a pagan on the Wheel of the Year, or as a person with any nature sense at all, you get accustomed to the Wheel’s most obvious rhythm: the rise toward the light, the precipitous plunge into darkness. That is the easiest thing to see, and to expect. But there is something else happening.
Life is a continuum. You must look a little lower, a little deeper down, than to come to rest in, ‘These are dark seasons’ and ‘These are light seasons.’ Each season has in it the germ of mourning and the germ of celebration.
Remember, if and as you are forgetting: that the Spring which everyone celebrates can be merciless with the life it so prodigally creates: the litter of fallen baby birds under trees, and all the animals killed while crossing the road for love. Spring can be cruel, just as Fall can be kind. Remember too that as seeds fall and are covered with leaves and pine needles, life is in motion.
These seeds all hold life. All around you on the forest floor is a shower of life. If you only see death, you are serving the wrong master. Every seed that you see and every nut on the ground has a tree in it. See through time. Do not see as man sees. The leaves that cover these seeds will rot and be richly nutritive, and the cold snow which covers the leaves will protect them safely and mercifully through the winter. If you have ever read Bernd Heinrich’s Winter World, you know how busy with tiny hibernating heartbeats the world will be, under the snow. The earth protects life against the harshness of its own Winter.
We all know this but it bears repeating: what looks like death is a function of life. Try to see it, beyond just reciting it. The quiet fall of leaves in surrender takes place while roots are growing vigorously underground. When Persephone travels away from this world in the Fall, it is Spring in the underworld. Flip things upside down. The falling-to-ground, the dying of the annuals, is real, but there is a deeper level. I wonder sometimes if that’s what the Eleusinian Mysteries were really about, and why they were only taught to initiates, and held in secret. Perhaps this is the secret.
Fall is the disseminating season, for seeding and spreading wisdom. Remember that life is relentless. Life is starting back up again, almost before you are done dying. And while you are alive, death is not your concern. Life is. The other side is someone else’s territory.
Live, while you are alive! Live in the Mystery.
Blessed be and Love,
Portrait of HerSelf, Megan E. LaBonte Photography.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta