I am no expert but I think I am making some progress in paying attention to what the land around me has to say. What I am noticing is that the iconography of Halloween and Samhain doesn’t feel quite right this fall. I think the land is asking me to create something entirely new.
I am not knocking tradition. I love Halloween! Where I grew up the land at this time of year told a convincing story of death that I very much appreciated. Leaves turned the colour of bruises and fell. Migratory birds fled the bare branches left behind. We all knew winter was coming and that meant a world of darkness, hunger and cold. In this context, stories of death were deliciously spooky and quite believable.
Our celebration of fall took the form of Halloween where children took to the streets to demand sacrifices of candy.
Children, the lowest of the low in a hierarchical society, ruled for one night. We dressed in disguises pretending to be something we weren’t. It was a kind of Saturnalia where those in power, the adults, had to comply or something bad would happen. There were always some children armed with eggs, toilet paper or other nasty surprises. Nobody knew who the troublemakers were so every adult was compelled to treat every child with respect. It wasn’t ever meant to be a polite event; it was a signal that order was being turned upside down. It was a celebration of chaos. And it was done in good fun because we felt safe in assuming that the seasonal change was temporary. We were confident that spring and life would return. I am not so confident anymore.
I now live in Central Texas and while I still recognize the odd bit of wildlife, the song of this land is wholly different. It has taken me a long time to understand the tune. This song is brighter because a subtropical land assumes continuous order and constant rejuvenation. Over time I have come to better understand why our neighbours celebrate Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) as a joyful event. Over here, fall is a happy occasion for both land and people.
Fall air brings relief from the solid block of heat that is summer. Summer here can be so oppressive that many plants will give up and sink into a semi dormant state to wait for better times. Fall air is alive. It moves. It tickles the trees and sometimes if we are lucky a Northern cold front will arrive tasting a bit like shaved ice. The wind brings with it migratory birds. Welcome back! In our homes we turn off the air conditioners and open the windows. We can breathe freely again.
In this subtropical land, late October means planting time for gardeners. We can usually count on a little spell of rain in the weeks around Samhain. Cooler air and moisture bring life to seedlings. Wild spaces also take advantage of this gentle time. The careful observer will soon see the earth spring to life. Rosettes of fresh growth will blanket the earth in green over winter.
Some plants re-bloom in fall. These flowers are gifts to the Monarch butterflies flying in from Canada. They dance in large numbers over the abundant flower tops. Then fueled up they begin the last leg of their journey to the Mexican cloud forests. We can’t really say farewell though because we normally can expect their return in March. Meanwhile, Mexican plums in every shade of purple and pink fall from the trees. The pecan nuts are fixing to follow them. Fall in Central Texas is a song of happy abundance.
It is true that some leaves are beginning to change colour. Outside my window I can see a mulberry tree. Here and there the leaves have become a kindergarten yellow. They contrast nicely with the apple green of the others and are so bright they look a bit like dappled sunlight even at night. Soon they will fall. But bare branches here are not a signal of death; the leaves are offerings to feed and protect the soil.
Normally, this land demonstrates confidence in life everlasting. I do not share that confidence. Even I can see that our summers keep getting hotter and that fewer butterflies return each year.
Long ago I read a book about a group of Dene people living in Arizona in the 1980s. They lived off the land and were in the habit of paying attention to the details of the living world. The changes they saw disturbed them. The phenomena they described then were what we now call climate change. Like James Hansen, the climate scientist who introduced the idea of climate change into mainstream discourse, they pieced together the big picture through close observation of small details. I wonder if people today who fail to see the reality of climate change never learned to ask the life around them about how things are going.
Climate change really does change everything. I want a new way to express my appreciation of life so this fall I am creating a new holiday with an old name: All Souls. I will use this time to consider and honour all the old and new souls around me. And while fall can be a time of hope and memory, this year it feels more like a time to be acutely aware of life. I am alive and I am here, now. It is time to reclaim and nurture the power of the green fuse.
Today, this is what the world around me whispers. What does your corner of the world say?
mitsubachi spends a lot of time with bees and flowers.