The slightly cooler mornings indicate that summer is past its peak. There are signs all over the farm that show that we have begun the slide into autumn. The sun rises a little later now. In June, dawn begins as we are leaving the farm for market at 4:30a on Saturday mornings. This past weekend, the sky cracked with morning light about half way to our market. By October, when the summer market ends, it will be dark even while we set up around 6:30a. Our evening light is also waning, and our day ends almost an hour earlier than during the peak in summer.
Many of the vegetables, especially the fruits of summer, are peaking now. That makes sense when one realizes that the plants sense that winter is coming, and they need to finish out their life cycles to ensure successful continuation of their species. The production of fruits like tomatoes and melons also coincides with the needs of the animals (including us) and insects that require more energy for the impending winter. Even some of the birds have started to migrate away, like the red-winged blackbirds who are usually one of the first to return in spring and one of the first to leave in late summer.
For us, it is a time to ensure that we have food prepared for winter and that we have planted fall and winter crops for ourselves and for our markets and CSA. We also need to up our firewood for the winter, to help supplement our geothermal heating system. We are, after all, a part of the world in which we live. It is fitting then that we find ourselves synchronized with the natural world and its seasonal activities.
We are fortunate, however. Some plants and animals like wasps will only live to see one season. Their entire existence will be lived within the span of time that exists between the spring thaw and the fall freeze. No individual of these species will survive a season. Every member of the current generation dies each fall. Their species will continue, carrying with them the genetic lessons of these ancestors, but no individual will never live to see their contribution directly.
Other species, like the burr oak tree in our front yard, will observe the lives of many over its half millennium or greater lifespan, noting the fleeting existence of even the humans who live their entire lives like the many fireflies in the field on a summer evening. Perhaps while watching its offspring grow, produce, and sometimes die, it will note that no human can understand such a perspective. It may also note that while humans live so fleetingly, their ancestors rarely know the children of the future.
Watching carefully over its future generations, the oak tree also notes that growing old and wise is feared by these transient humans who spend great energy worrying about their deaths while forgetting to live in the process. Fearing death so much, they seem to hide all evidence of their long-lived experiences. The oak tree proudly displays its injuries, like the scarred bulges in its trunk that indicate a triumph over death. Humans are ashamed of their age-related scars, choosing to value their youth, a time in their lives when they were yet un-molded and incomplete. It is puzzling to the aged oak who sees the value of experience. After all, what greater gift can an ancestor give to future generations than knowledge and insight, and what greater gift can be returned to an ancestor than to honor their value.
Yet, in those fleeting summer nights when our lights shine transiently over the fields of time, we pay little attention to our impact upon the earth and her future generations. How can we when our entire attention is on that of the impending winter of our existence? We forget to consult our elders who would tell us to treasure our summer without fear and to embrace our autumn because there is great beauty and peace in autumn. In return, our elders can share, once again, in the sunshine and verdant pastures of youth, teaching and re-learning in the exchange. They can then look into the eyes of the future, recognizing the impact of their present actions on the generations yet to be born. We are, after all, descendants to our elders and elders to our descendants.
All life prepares for winter, especially this time of year. On closer inspection, however, we realize that winter is not permanent. Winter is simply a transient yet cyclical state that we all must experience. It may take the perspective of an oak tree to see clearly that we bloom in spring and set fruit in summer. Our fruit, just as the fruits of the plants we eat, serves two important purposes. The first is to pass on what we are to the future, and second is to feed the future. The wasps and the grass know this, and the oak tree bears witness to this. We only need to look to the natural world, of which we belong, to see and experience this for ourselves. We may prepare for winter, but we need not fear it. Spring inevitably follows, and some part of us will always be present in spring.