John Darling: Autumn, when you know what’s possible

Lithia Park fall color photo posted by John Darling on his Facebook page on Oct. 20, 2020.
October 6, 2022

Sit still for a long time and you can feel fall falling

By John Darling

If you go out in a big field in the middle of October and sit still for a long time, long enough that all your thought slows down and your awareness becomes a still pool, still enough to reflect the sky and the living things around you. You can feel fall falling.

John Darling teaching high school in 1967.

There are only two seasons, really, summer and winter. The other two are journeys in between. And like all journeys, they heighten awareness and call on us to spend that which has fulfilled us in our labors at home.

The benign air of summer has gone south toward the equator. The northern reaches of the earth tilt away from the sun. It is not as bright. Its shadows are not as sharp.

The stars shine more fiercely at night and glitter more as polar winds reach down to stir up the high-altitude air. The bird songs are different as strange species rest on their way south.

The life drains away from the weeds of the field, leaving crisped and sere forms, as detailed and infinite in variety as an etching. And, of course, the leaves grow richest as they near death.

Everything is leaving; only we are stationary. And the message is clear: there will not be time or warmth enough to do what you will in the hills and forests and streams. Nature is again impressing on us the dazzling speed with which she can take a year. She requires us to respond to her once more after a summer of easy fraternization with her. We are gone from the hammock and raise our collar to the wind.

This is the season we feel most alive, but a different kind of life than spring, with its chaos of so many things around and within, coming to life at once, with its infinitude of possibilities.

Fall has no illusions. Three-fourths of the way through the year, like three-fourths of the way through life, you know what is possible. The survivors of spring’s promises have braided themselves into their theme for the year. You see it clearly. Your juices are flowing in concert and, without having to ask why, you embrace it.

In this valley, the first autumn came a few weeks ago, when the leaft trees began to turn. Now it is the second autumn, when the oaks perform their slow magic. Many of you will get in your cars to see this. You can go for a drive in October, but you can’t go for a drive in autumn.

This essay by John E. Darling aired Oct. 24, 1972, on KOBI-TV, Medford. Darling lived in Ashland from 1971 until he died at age 77 in January 2021. A US Marine Corps journalist, he went on to write for the Oregonian, Mail Tribune, Daily Tidings, and United Press International, among others, along with stints as a news anchor at KOBI, executive assistant to the Oregon Senate President and press secretary of campaigns for Oregon governor and U.S. Senate. Ashland.news is, with permission, publishing monthly excerpts from his collection “The Divine Addiction: Essays Out of Oregon.”

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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