The north American term “fall” has always struck me as the perfect descriptor for autumn, and though I don’t use it personally, I absolutely appreciate the sentiment. At the most basic level, it refers to the leaves of deciduous trees, which are falling to the ground. But fall also refers to temperatures, and to the light. If you hadn’t noticed, the sun is now setting at around 5pm and rising at 6.30am. Daylight hours will keep reducing – falling – until the winter solstice on June 21, after which they will start to increase.
No doubt the winter solstice will pass by with very little fanfare. Such is our disconnection from natural rhythms that unless you’re a pagan, a sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder or a dedicated food grower, you’re unlikely to give the date a second thought and business will carry on as usual. Most people, especially those living in the city, will wake up, switch on the air conditioner or the heater, head off to work, see out the day, arrive home in the gloaming, eat dinner, watch TV and tuck into bed.
Some say that we disconnect from seasonal living to our detriment, but its worse than that – to live a life severed from the seasons is to make yourself the major player in a modern tragedy. For thousands of years humanity has lived in harmony with natural cycles, celebrating every seasonal milestone together as a community with a shared sense of wonder and humility. Seasonal living wasn’t just a lifestyle concept. The seasons were life itself. Fail to live seasonally as a medieval peasant and you die. Fail to live seasonally in contemporary Australia and the consequences are that life isn’t as rich as it might otherwise be.
Look how far we’ve fallen. The two major seasonal events remaining on the modern Australian calendar – Christmas and Easter – have been almost totally stripped of their religious and natural significance (the two once went hand in hand) and have instead become little more than consumerist orgies. Instead of using the events to reflect on our place in the scheme of things and to celebrate the turning of the seasons, we’re encouraged to throw open our wallets for the good of the nation and buy the crappy contents of millions of shipping containers imported from Asia. And we wonder why, at the end of the day, our lives seem so utterly hopeless.
I believe that the seasons can infuse our lives with purpose and motivation. But we have to reconnect. Realign. Get back to the old ways and learn some new ones. We ought to re-establish annual harvest Sundays in our churches and give the donated crops to the poor. We should adopt something resembling the Japanese Hanami festival, the yearly celebration of spring blossom. We should wassail our orchards in mid-winter, rediscover midsummer bonfires and celebrate the wheat harvest with a Lammas inspired bread feast.
In gardening terms, I suggest that people get away from very formal gardens that remain static throughout the year and embrace intense seasonality. Plant lots of deciduous plants, spring bulbs, summer perennials, winter flowering natives – anything that has well defined seasonal characteristics. Arrange plants so that they flower in waves throughout the year. And if you really want to get in touch with natural rhythms, grow food. Nothing is as seasonal as a vegie patch or an orchard.
To get a small taste of what I’m talking about, come and along and say hello at tomorrow’s Hampton Food and Arts Festival (www.hamptonfestival.com). My wife and I are running the Community Produce Stall. We’ll be stocking a wide range of seasonal produce, nearly all of it grown locally and picked fresh, and most sourced from small farmers, market gardeners and backyard food growers.
It’s only a small gesture in the scheme of things, but to me initiatives like the Hampton produce stall are an observance of the season, a kind of merry, modern day, harvest celebration. The same could be said of April’s Felton Food Festival, which has more of a focus on autumn bearing, broadacre crops. This was celebrated not only in the stunning vistas across the Felton valley, but in the beautiful demonstration plot at the entrance to the festival site that featured soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers and other cereal crops.
It’s worth remembering that life is short. And in my view, its beautiful. We only get to enjoy a limited number of seasons in a lifetime, yet we fritter them away by hiding indoors and doing everything possible to make our lives bland and mundane. Embrace seasonal change, because the day will inevitably arrive when your life falls and fades as surely as the autumn leaves in May.
First published in the Toowoomba Chronicle 18th May 2013.