Anthropapa has been reading A Mantis Carol, by Laurens van der Post, one of his favorite authors. I was idly flipping through it the other day, when I came across an extraordinary passage (not really so extraordinary: his writing is consistently beautiful) that I want to share.
He is talking about how he has a deep love for his native southern Africa, yet the passing of the seasons is much more marked in other climates:
We have nothing so awesome as the fire of autumn sweeping through the great maple forests of America, stripping their leaves from them in tongues of flame until they stand naked and penitent before the reckoning we call winter. It is a moment always full of a profound and natural sanctity for me, when the earth round about me becomes like an antique temple wherein this conflagration, aflame and aflicker among the trees, accomplishes the final metamorphosis that fire did for the dead in those archaic places of the great forgotten mysteries, removing what was provisional, false and perishable from the spent life, so that only what was permanent, true and imperishable could accompany the spirit that once invested it on the journey to whatever lies beyond the here and the now.
It is almost as if in the fall everything around me there suddenly becomes allegorical and each tree represents some prodigal being, its inheritance spent in a summer of celebration, standing bankrupt before the great impartial necessities and recognizing for the first time that where it started from was the home to which it inevitably must return, and the bleak rounding journey about to some unimagined increase in that inexhaustible place of origin comes to us all, always disguised as a fear or retribution.
The image of the leaf color as a fire burning away the inessential, and the bare trees reminding us of what is essential, somehow resonated with me.
I’ve noticed over the last few years of living in such a maple forest, that in the cold months I experience an opening up — when all the leaves are gone and there is little but dark trunks and white snow, I feel as if I could see for miles where in the warm season I am constrained by the intense greenery all around. Even the falling of the leaves themselves and the snow floating down evoke a distinct sense of space, an experience of three-dimensional space become visible with each falling particle near and far.
I think it will take a long time for me to really penetrate why I have always loved the autumn. There are easily seen practical reasons — a love of warm clothing and winter holidays, a love of returning to school — but those are not the root of the feeling. There is something personally symbolic about it, which van der Post comes close to in this passage.
Probably I’ll never come to any permanent conclusion about it. But as it’s such a strong feeling that has been with me my whole life, I’ll keep trying as an attempt at some sort of self-knowledge.