Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.



*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

27 responses to “Autumn in Tennessee

  • Colleen

    Oh, so beautiful. Here in deep summer, we long for fall. Bonfires. Oh, yes. Bonfires.

    • jubilare

      Heck yeah! Though not until we get some rain as well as cool weather. If I lit a match in my yard right now, there’d shortly be a big black blot where the lawn was.

  • Mary

    I’m jealous of your recent cool weather. Every summer I realize again how much I hate it. Or at least, how exhausting it is for me. Because like you, I love the cicadas, and the hummingbirds, and the lush greenness of, well, everything. But then I have to spend time outside, in that heat, and I just feel the energy being sucked out of me.

    Truly, I love everything about this article and wish I had written it myself. Being just a bit further south than you, I always feel that summer is too long and the best parts of the year (fall and spring) are much too short. But perhaps I appreciate them more because they are so short.

    • jubilare

      The trick, I find, is to spend many short moments outside. That way you get to see stuff, but don’t melt into sluggish goo.

      Aw… thanks. Maybe you should come up and visit when your fall is spent, and maybe ours will still be lingering. I fear we might not get a lot of color this year, because of the drought.

  • Rob

    I start looking in mid- to late- August for the first brief touches of Fall. Here in central AZ it’s more of a quality of light that gives it away. That and a softness in the air that filters the heat just a touch. We don’t have the colors you do in TN, but who does? I’m with you all the way. Fall (or Autumn) is my favorite time of year. Thanks for the brief taste. Now I’m Jones-ing for it bad!

    • jubilare

      You have a whole different range of colors, though, aye? I’ve never been to Arizona (which is a shame, I should rectify that) but I’ve been amazed at what light does in arid landscapes.
      But even so, I can understand longing for a different kind of Fall. I want to see a New England Fall some time, but I love what happens here at home.
      A friend just moved to Colorado last year, and her reaction to Fall, there, was interesting.
      “The color is beautiful, but it’s all one color, all aspen, and I felt like telling people that there’s more to Fall than yellow.” It made me laugh. I’ve looked up pictures of aspens in the Fall, and they are gorgeous, but I think I would miss the variety.

  • palecorbie

    It’s smelled like autumn for a while here. I shall not pass comment on the one sentiment I disagree with, as I’d likely be mobbed here as well as sighed over by yourself, but oh, Autumn can be felt at least as deeply without it, I swear. I do so swear. I envy your trees, your colours and your hummingbirds.

    Also, some more of your prompts are up – ‘hauberk’ has a picture!

    • jubilare

      Ach, ‘ly, your word should be worth more than swearing to something so subjective and speculative. Unless we can know, first hand, the experiences of others as opposed to what they can express of their feelings, then there is no way to know such a thing. Ten people can swear that they see red as clearly or more clearly than the other nine, but the truth of their statements cannot be judged unless someone is able to see through all of their eyes. That said, though, I think the question is not only unanswerable, but beside the point. This post’s purpose is to express the only experience I can speak of with authority: my own. It is neither a statement of judgement on other experiences, nor an attempt to preach.

      I’ll defend you from mobs, but I can’t always defend you from myself. Please understand that it takes some courage for me to freely speak of my faith, even here. I’m used to being ridiculed and judged for my religion, being considered gullible, stupid, even mentally ill. Speaking or writing about it is not something I do lightly. It isn’t off-the-cuff. It is an effort to be honest about my allegiance and experience, to not be a coward who lets fear imprison her thoughts in silence. I’ll defend your right to do the same.

      Yay! I will check it out when I get home.

      • palecorbie

        Aye, and I do feel bad to chase you down at prayers, as it were, but if ‘church’ is the only place you hang out any more and my wish to communicate a shared thing so strong, your poor heathen’s tongue will be over-bit at times…if I declared, cheerful, that it takes a Taoist to drink tea properly, and described with something anigh but slightly short of your own thoughts the wonders of the amber brew…might you not feel yourself judged, unfairly, as lacking and deformed for your true faith, though I had not meant to say so in your hearing? I’ll set it down.

        I’d as fain disturb your safe spot as your bath, ’tis but that I miss you. As for my own…you may consider me more than two parts coward (as I know I am, and aye, a gnawer of bones) not to declare at rooftops though my faith moves in my self as breath…but for my part I find no shame in reserving what is deeply personal to me to my person, faith to fetishes, save it should be fairly asked of me to speak (and in this place it could not be fairly asked).

        You might perhaps like ‘pangolin’…

        • jubilare

          Nay, my friend. I never did believe that any person, or any faith, could be strong or healthy without being challenged or forced to think. I still believe that, and wouldn’t cloister myself if I thought I could. I’m as much surrounded by a mix of voices and thoughts as ever. That I am more bold to speak my mind about my faith, now, is only an indicator of my effort to be honest with myself.

          *tilts head* No, please don’t set it down yet. I need to understand. Where do you feel I said or implied that it takes a Christian to fully enjoy seasons or Autumn? You reacted as if I were stealing something and you are using terms of relative value on me. “At least” and “slightly short” imply that your, or other’s, appreciation of Fall is of more worth, or deeper, than my own. That you believe such is fine, but to represent it as fact is to reduce it to an insult. I doubt insult was your intent, but that is how it comes across. The world we live in is hostile. Being on the defensive is understandable. But because the world is as it is, we thinking people have to be that much more careful about what we say, to challenge instead of insult.

          If you said that it takes a Taoist to drink tea properly, I might challenge you. You would have made a relative statement of value, and that is something that can be debated, though probably not proved. If, however, you described what it is like to be a Taoist drinking tea, that would be sharing information. We need more sharing of information, not less, if people are to understand instead of hate each other.

          While I understand the keeping of things within (not everything is for sharing), I also feel, strongly, that if we are all so silent, interchange of experience and thought will all but cease. How can misconceptions be combated, or common ground be found, or ideas be discussed if we all keep our experiences to ourselves? Ignorance thrives not only when people refuse to listen, but when people refuse to speak.

          This place feels hostile to you (which is something I regret) and so I wouldn’t expect you to express yourself fully, here. So long as you have somewhere you do, that is enough.

          Pangolins are nifty. I think quandary was my favorite, though.

          p.s. If you want to reply, but to avoid comment-squishage, reply to my first reply instead of this one.

      • palecorbie


        for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. ” ~ there…you name the thing and not the feeling as Christian, as though Autumn took the host.

        …then you say in that same breath that you do not fully understand what is, that eternity there, because to you there is more – a deeper layer of ghosts and a Heaven, surely, but also a Face, layers of unseen light unexplored – wheras what is there to me, as described, is simply awareness of the Tao – the Is, which is also the Infinite – and comprehensable. I understand what you say you do not in your example, but only because you live in your world and me in mine. I could not claim to comprehend your incomprehensable and, to me, contradictory God, just as I know that if you looked on leaves, trying to imagine yourself without Him, you would see only some leaves, dry shadows, and not Some Leaves, at once awesomely significant and trivial by their very being…that is all I meant by ‘slightly short’. Your necessary claim to incomprehension. [laughing] …though it is so hard to cut this into language (and language cuts me so hard at present, you see I revert to archaisim and awkward neology) that I am half-sure you’ll decide I’ve claimed to understand the universe now. Ah, duality. At least we – possibly – agree that it is the area between comprehension and incomprehension in which faith moves and compassion grows.

        Would you like an extract from an article I was reading lately? It’s a Westerner trying to make sense of ‘scattered relics’ and a-theist/animist thought to others more hardheaded, but it has salient points…indeed, if you were up for it I might give you two pages of another article on deer dancing, but do let me know/if not, for I’d not like to pile on your inbox.

        I have never proposed a silencing – I should hope by now you know I am too noisy a beast for that – but where one stands token one is not listened to as oneself…we should not misconceive so much, I think, if we assume all different and ask in fairness.

        Would it were so.

        I think she left him fighting the Sikh policeman… (Thanks.)

        • jubilare

          *shakes head* The relevant words are here: “What I feel coming near is different from that.” It is what “I” feel, and it is “different” from what some others apparently feel. That in no way denies other experience, or claims supremacy over such. That I name my own feeling, and tie it to the experience of others who share and have shared my faith, is not planting a flag. It is sending out a call to those who know, from their core, what I am talking about, and telling those that do not that there is such a thing. If I did not believe my God to be the deepest, most True thing, I’d be a hypocrite to call myself Christian, but I know better than to discount other beliefs offhand.

          “slightly short” is still careless, and as such an insult, in that context. You should never use such language on anyone in a discussion like this. Thank you for acknowledging that you do not fully understand, though. I appreciate that doubt. However, I am skeptical when you say you see “Some Leaves,” as you put it, for that would make you a materialist, and I do not think you have ever been that, at least not while I have known you. The leaves are part of, and surrounded by, and involved with Tao, as is everything, if you hold fairly traditional Taoist views, if you mean something else, I am in the dark about it. In any case, all we can know for sure is that your experience is different (though perhaps not very different), from what I see and believe. Value, less, more, greater, lesser, higher, lower, are all subjective. That is why “slightly short” is, put kindly, an unwise choice of words. Doubtless there are subtleties that I miss in what you believe, or that language does not serve well to express. I call such things “mystical contradictions,” things a person can see in the mind, or know in the spirit are not real contradictions, but that seem such when translation is attempted. Differences and subtleties too fine for language to capture. That is why I can call my God, as you do, contradictory, and yet mean something very different.
          I do agree about the area between, but sometimes I think I believe it much larger than you do. Maybe I am wrong, though.

          Send them. I will try to get to them, but I cannot promise when. Inbox is hellish.

          It seemed as if you were criticizing my choice to express my faith in a blog post. If that was not your intent, then I misunderstood. I understand your reluctance, otherwise. I am also token in most places I go, for various reasons, because the world around me is becoming increasingly extreme and I am not playing along. Here is a rare exception because few, save friends and family, bother to read if they don’t agree with at least most of what I say.
          Aye, I’ve said that myself often enough, and it’s good to be reminded of it, but I was speaking mostly of connecting with people who haven’t gotten that far yet. People who have never had their basic assumptions prodded. Unless someone speaks up, and they happen to hear, and that happens to make them think (it may not happen often enough, but it does happen all the time) then they will continue along, causing unintentional harm with their assumptions.

          If you do not have one, you should seek one out. It is healthful.

          Horseface can take care of hisself, I would think.

      • palecorbie

        Ah…see, that seemed to refer soley to the fear of Themselves. Hm. I will say, then, that that reading is difficult to arrive at from outside, though I do not doubt your stated intent.

        Point taken; you have my apologies for sounding quasi-objective and objectionable, in that case.
        Ha! You see what I meant when I said you’d see Some Leaves as some leaves, then? They – nothing – can be separated from the Tao, made material-only and nigh-nonexistent as the things you describe…ack, perhaps I should go back to ‘second-air’ as description. [tangerine] Have you read The Book of Tea? I might’ve asked and then forgotten…

        Oh, many. I often feel straw-atheist’d or worse around you, but there’ve been times when what you’ve said surely has to be many times simpler than what you believe, too, and I can’t follow along because that world’s not mine. It’s good to be reminded of that.


        Oh, hell no, you just seemed to be saying that only Christians genuinely felt the love of the season of mists, which was a bit heavy-handed…I was simply explaining that – as you appeared to be chiding me for not talking to the world in general (likely never to be seen, true, but still) about the deep effects of my faith on my self and self-expression – to me, that sort of thing would be akin to stripping in public. I have no objection to others wearing a burqa or a bikini wherever they like, so long as they’re not forced to do either. I do generally leave your godful posts alone.
        Pfft…well, I did introduce a millitant American Jew to the idea that perhaps other minorities “couldn’t let go of past injustice” in a similarly wise way because present injustice was too, well, present for them yesterday…good kid, but living proof that the the rich camel cannot pass through the needle of Heaven or however the parable goes. Not many like that up here, though. Religion has never really stuck in the Northern Isles (Christianity arrived via mass conversion literally at swordpoint), so those that have it tend to be curious/thinking types who nonetheless get on with their neighbours.

        [bites back a Millace-like response] I am not entirely sure what you are suggesting I do.

        He can, but bruising big Sikh policemen doesn’t make one popular with them…

        • jubilare

          Fair enough. I am sorry it was unclear.

          Accepted. “You see what I meant when I said you’d see Some Leaves as some leaves, then?” If I were a materialist, yes, but I am not a materialist. I am not sure what you think I see when I look at leaves, or anything. There is likely a difference, there, in what we see, but I suspect it is a small one. Yes, I read The Book of Tea back when I was in college. I remember only generalities as happens when a decade stands between me and a reading.

          I never mean to straw-atheist you. I am sorry. I often feel straw-christian’d by you, so there is obviously misunderstanding as well as damage between us. I simplify because, in the past, you and I always grabbed onto the wrong angle of things, and twisted what the other said. We stopped having fruitful discussions and fell into cyclical, frustrating arguments. I still fear that. The more I try to explain, the more it goes awry… or at least that is how it seems.

          *smiles at “season of mists.”* Tangent: October is one of our driest months, here. Winter and Spring have most of our mist. Mm, I was making no comment on your choices, merely trying to say why I post such things. Often, when you say things such as “you may consider me a coward” I am both injured and confused. When I say “I do this” it means only that, and never an implied critique of others. If I want to critique or question someone else’s practices, I try to do it openly. I’m not good with “implied” things, or hidden meanings when it comes to conversation and discussion.

          That is a good thing you did, then. Every sort of person makes assumptions, even curious/thinking types. It isn’t only extreme folk who need their assumptions prodded in order for them to grow.

          *raises eyebrows. Hadn’t meant any offense* Find somewhere you feel safe and private enough to express these things. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it with anyone around, then perhaps write it out yourself. You can burn it after. Maybe such a thing wouldn’t be healthful to you, I could be wrong, but it seems that experiences ought to be looked at sometimes as well as experienced, and it can’t be done internally as well as externally.

          Nor having them think you are a robber, I imagine.

          • palecorbie

            I didn’t think you were – go back a few steps, the point of that bit was that you could not see as I see even if you pretended hard, because you have a God-or-nothing wordview. It isn’t actually very different, no. Ah! Pity, for it has probably the best mini-explanation of the Tao for Westerners I’ve ever seen.

            I honestly wouldn’t know how to go about constructing a straw Christian, they’re so diverse…hm, well, I get frustrated when things aren’t logical, and benevolent monotheisim is only so to the faithful, as they can fill in the gaps with their ‘mystic understandings’. It’s like an equation full of bananas to me. Also…you seem a lot more willing to condemn and dismiss these days, particularly foreigners, and that sharpened-blade side of you appears to ride with the god. The mutual distrust certainly doesn’t help, no.

            You tend to frame “I do this” in its moral context, however, so it reads as more “I do this because it would be cowardly not to”. I respond to the entire statement, being quite as literal. You mean only to explain yourself better, I think, but it is the framework presented for discussing within, so I am in there too.

            Sure, but it’s rare that comes up.

            There is no safe place.

    • jubilare

      “God or nothing worldview” is not correct, though. You seem to think I haven’t explored other possibilities. That you could not create a general “straw Christian” does not mean that you cannot or do not turn me into straw.

      Please stop, for a moment, and examine what you are saying. Consider the arrogance inherent in the belief that my faith cannot be logically held without “mystic understandings.” What is creating a straw “Anne-Christian” or as many “straw-so-and-sos” as there are Christians, if not that?

      That I am part mystic and part logical, I freely admit, but if my faith did not hold together logically, no amount of mysticism would bind me to it. There are many Christians, even of my acquaintance, who came to the faith because it made sense to them before any touch of the Spirit, and not all of them are from my culture or cultures akin to it.

      You speak for others with “I get frustrated when things aren’t logical, and benevolent monotheisim is only so to the faithful,” when I know from personal experience that you have no authority to do so. There are people in my life who do not share my faith, but also do not share your view that it is illogical (though some do). They have other reasons for not adhering to it. The arguments against Christianity are even more different and varied than the expressions of the faith itself, and many of them are completely contradictory. I get slammed with them all the time from all angles everywhere I go, and I try to take the more logical ones seriously, to think about them.

      And yet the faith survives and is held by thinking people who do not throw their brains away when they go to a service on Sunday. It is held by people who are getting imprisoned and killed for believing it. The faith has a cost, one no one in their right minds would pay unless they were sure. That some people claim the word “christian” without understanding the cost, I won’t deny. That people, silly fallible prideful judgmental things we are, make mistakes and bad judgements, believe false things, and do bad things under the Christian flag, I can’t deny. That I do stupid things, bad things, speak foolishly, and have much to learn, I won’t deny. I am truly sorry for some things I’ve said to you, and injuries I have done to you. But if there is a large body of diverse people who come to a faith from millions of different angles and hold that the faith is true, and you are not able to accept the possibility that they see (and not just through “mystical understandings”) sense in it, then perhaps the problem lies with you.

      I am not saying that you have to accept the conclusion of any mass of humanity. Not at all. I am only saying that being dismissive of such is illogical.

      And that leads me to ask, where do I condemn or dismiss especially foreigners? I cannot help feel that this is a function of the straw-Anne, that you see things implied either because you expect them to be, or because you associate the religious language I use with such condemnation or dismissal. If I am wrong, show me how I am wrong, because I have no desire to condemn or dismiss unless I see a clear moral reason, such as condemning rape, or slavery, or exploitation.

      Perhaps I do frame my statements in a moral context, or perhaps my context is trying to show the moral basis for my decisions so that they can be compared or understood. If I am being judgmental, I apologize. I will try to keep watch for that in myself. If I am not, if you infer judgement, then what can I do? Any interpretation of what someone says is largely out of the speaker’s control. You attribute feelings I do not have, to me, judgements against you that I do not make. I cannot prevent you. You assume emotional or moral or some kind of undercurrent when I intend nothing of the kind. All I can do is deny.

      Not even within yourself? …if that is so, then *lifts hands, helpless gesture* Remember that I did say “safe enough.” No place is really safe for anyone, especially not anyone who is trying to grow and understand. I come into conflict with even the few people who are closest to my own beliefs, and that is a good thing, I think.

  • Bill

    This is beautifully written. Here too it feels like Autumn has awakened, looking around but with no intention of getting up yet. It’s been cool and wet. Not good weather for ripening tomatoes and watermelons, but good for kindling the desire for Fall.

    Even now the poplars are starting to turn. But I suspect we have another stretch of hot weather before us. This is just a taste of things to come. :)

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    I am an Autumn person – and although it’s August, a 3rd cool-ish front made it through to the coast. Usually I search the air and skies for that slight change of sun in the morning -it’s tinged just a bit different, then I know fall is arriving…I swear it appeared once already early last week. Just enough to get me through the end of this summer – a tease well welcomed. With Autumn comes an energy …a sharpening of colors
    The aspen are quite solidly golden in CO in fall – but more wonderful is the sounds there at that time.
    The palms here rattle, but persist in maintaining their emerald dress.

  • technicolorlilypond

    Lovely post, Jubilare! You have such a wonderful way with words. I think all seasons are good, I enjoy them each in their own way, but Autumn has always been my favorite too. We’ve been spoiled here in the north with a delightfully cool summer but the autumn colors will be grand when they come. I hope your autumn is enchanting, even with the drought. :-)

    • jubilare

      It’s been a remarkably cool summer here, too. Good for me, bad for the tomato crop. ;)
      The drought has lifted a little, but it’s always a question of whether it lifted soon enough to make a difference. Here’s hoping, though! May your autumn be glorious and full of crow-chatter.

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