Long autumn ahead

The first day of autumn 2020 is September 22, roughly six weeks away. Yet these last few days, I have felt the harvest season creeping in. Some greenery is already turning a deeper shade, or browning, or turning red, beginning the process of giving back the nutrients that will ensure both the soil’s health and the continued propagation of life. The leaves of the hostas are yellowing as the trunks send up little purple flowers, around which bees and hummingbirds dance. Blossoms in my garden are transforming to tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini, which I will share with my family. The morning and evening air is laced with the scent of mulch and moist earth. I think I smell wood smoke on the breeze, but that may be an olfactory hallucination, both a memory and a predictor.

The older I get, and especially the more time I spend in nature, the more this cycle astounds me. Reading the novel The Overstory in the early days of the pandemic enhanced this. (Recommended, although it is sad. You will never look at trees the same.) And I daresay I have spent more time in nature these last months than I have since I was a free-range child on barefoot walkabouts in the Georgia springs and summers.

In those days of mystery I did not bother to learn the names of trees and plants, my head was so full of music and stories and plans. I could easily tick off the names of all the members of Paul McCartney’s band Wings, or tell you what time certain DJs would be on WQXI, or I could enlighten you of the PBS after-school schedule (Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Sesame Street, the Electric Company, Zoom, the McNeil/Lehrer Report), but aside from the oaks, pines, magnolias, dogwoods and azaleas, I was clueless as to the names of my plant companions.

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Now, I know more tree, plant and bird names than ever. And I retain the information like I do song lyrics, jokes, and stories. My passwords? Not so much. It occurs to me that may not be an accident.

When the autumnal equinox occurs six weeks from now, we will have been in this pandemic two entire seasons. The WHO officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11. The spring equinox was eight days later.

The general consensus is the seasons have felt much, much longer than ever before. “March was the longest year ever” is the joke.

The act of processing a deluge of information, most of it stressful, elongates time perception. It’s an evolutionary tic. Our brains are wired to take in more information when we’re stressed, so that if and when we’re in similar danger again, we’ll have copious information to keep us from perishing on the savannah. The aperture widens.

We interpret this increase in data as “more time.” That’s why a car accident “feels like slow motion.”

We wished we could slow time. Everything was moving too fast. The kids were growing up too quickly, the gray hairs coming in seemingly overnight. How to put on the brakes, so that we may appreciate “the now,” which is the only thing that really exists?

Careful what you ask for.

In the meantime, I am preparing for a jam-packed, extended autumn, perhaps the longest autumn ever, by gathering plenty of firewood, which I apparently have ample time to do.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.