Saturday, September 26, 2009

`Autumn Enjoys Itself'

“Naturally, there are those who enjoy autumn, but they’re generally the more contemplative types, who consider `loving spring’ child’s play, something for beginners, comparable to `loving dogs.’ It’s easy to love something that loves you, but as seasoned cat-lovers know, nothing beats love which – totally randomly – may or may not be reciprocated. I wouldn’t be surprised if studies showed that autumn-lovers were to be found mostly among cat-lovers.”

So writes the Dutch biologist Midas Dekkers in The Way of All Flesh (2000), an entertaining anatomy of dust, aging and decomposition. Farmers and life-scientists tend to be realists, I’ve observed, when it comes to the nitrogen cycle, and I recognize myself in Dekker’s description of the autumnal personality. Humans can be divided between those whose notion of paradise is an endless party at the beach, and those for whom that vision approximates hell. For those of us among the latter, September and October can represent the aesthetic and emotional zenith of the year. Dekker writes:

“For nature, autumn is the king of all seasons. There’s no other time of year when so many goals are achieved, so many expectations met. At last, the trees and shrubs are filled with berries and nuts. The complex time-consuming process of budding, germinating, pollinating and fertilizing is finally over.”

In Dekkers’ counterintuitive view – and mine -- spring and summer are times of labor. With fall, the season of bounty, comes anticipation of rest and reward. A reader asks if I know “Lament for the Makaris” (also known as “Lament for the Makers” and “Lament for the Makars”) by the Scottish poet William Dunbar (c. 1460 – c. 1520), and adds, “I hear a church bell chime in it.” “Chime” seems too bright a word for Dunbar’s stately lament, though Louis Armstrong’s first recorded solo (with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band), dating from 1923, was on “Chimes Blues” – a title that nicely expresses the oxymoronic nature of Dunbar’s danse macabre. The poem consists of 25 quatrains, each concluding with “Timor mortis conturbat me” -- “The fear of death troubles me”:

“Sein for the deid remeid is none,
Best is that we for dede dispone,
Eftir our deid that live may we;
Timor mortis conturbat me.”

Dekkers acknowledges fear but suggests the “contemplative types” might consider the example of the fallen leaves:

“Even on the ground, autumn enjoys itself. What we see with our human eyes as a layer of rotting and decay is, in reality, a banquet in which millions of moulds and bacteria are having the time of their life with the now-superfluous leaves and other organs. In autumn, nature harvests itself. After that, it can finally go to sleep – until it has to wake up again the following spring.”

1 comment:

dearieme said...

You're right; "toll" would have been better. But the word had escaped me.