While I was in school at ITEA (The Institute for Taoist Education and Acupuncture, in Louisville, CO), one of our main assignments throughout the whole program was a Nature journal. The assignment was simple – go out into Nature, and write about what you see.
Classical Five-Element Acupuncture (CFEA) always teaches from the very start of the learning that Nature is our greatest teacher. If we have a question about how acupuncture works, or how life works, go into Nature and find the answer in her display. Even if we don’t have a question, going out into Nature and finding stillness allows for the wisdom of Nature to permeate us – the more time we spend in Nature, the more deeply that wisdom penetrates.
I spent some time yesterday exploring some of Sugarloaf Mountain park, outside of Frederick, Maryland. It was an amazingly beautiful day in late October! We walked through massive trees, and vast forest floors covered with the downed leaves of fall. Many of the fall colored leaves were still on the trees yet, but enough were strewn about the ground to alert us to any activity from local squirrels and birds. The sound of a distant deer running through the forest, out of eye-site, carried through the woods.
The smell in the air was amazing. I spent the last eight ears in Colorado, where the fall is a very brief experience. Here, back east, the Autumn has a fullness to it, a robust presence. The sweet smell of newly decaying leaves was ever present. Usually for me, smell seems to come in a wave, and when the olfactory nerves are loaded with the smell, I am not able to detect it any longer. But the sweet smell of these leaves stayed with me the whole time. It is difficult not to be grateful for all of life when each full breath is filled with warm, crisp, and sweet fall air. The sweetness of the decay was a constant reminder of the decline around me with every breath I took – gratefulness tempered with respect for the vast movement from summer-time splendor towards winter bleakness.
Autumn is just that – a time of decline – a time of decay. All the vegetation of summer is falling away, those things which are not essential are dying off. It is a time of deep sadness, as all of the joyful playing, warmth, carefree qualities of summer are on their last leg. If we were still hunter-gatherers, dependent on the local land to sustain and nourish us, this would be a time where we would be harvesting, perhaps frantically harvesting, to make sure we will have enough to get us through the winter. Remember that most species, and most humans throughout history, do/did not have supermarkets. Not harvesting and treasuring the bountiful produce of summer meant starvation. It meant death. And Autumn is that peak time, that brief blink of an eye when we are on the cusp between abundance of Summer, and the bleakness of Winter. What a powerful time…
There was a dryness to the landscape. All of the water seemed to have been whisked away, astringed from the land. The crunchy dry leaves betrayed the presence of anything which moved in the landscape. The air itself had less humidity to it, and felt somehow more cooling and crisp because of that. Couple that sensation with the warmth of the late afternoon sunshine, the freshness and potency of the sweet fall air, and I was in paradise. The full splendor of Fall was presenting itself to us – a swirling, crisp and gilded paradise; full, sweet and transitory.