Sunday, October 9, 2011

Between Abundance and Annihilation

Autumn is that rare moment of horticultural certain uncertainty.

Okay: I understand that some would challenge me on that. I understand that even I, the author of such a view, stretch the bounds of my own logic. But hear me out. And before you "hear me out," let me remind that I write from a peculiar microclimate: in northern Delaware, just below Philadelphia, in the fair "city" of Wilmington that, I've often heard more-as-legend-than-documented-meteorological-fact, experiences less snow on average than Philadelphia just 27 miles to the north, but more snow than just a few miles south.

Summer remains that quintessential season of growth, whether it be hot or cool, dry or wet. Rarely do we face the threat of annihilation, even in the once-every-few-years July or early August hail storm.

Winter, well, here in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast US, nothing really grows in winter, even if some stalwarts like the myriad evergreens (including the dioecious Aucubas, of which my garden now hosts two varietals, though much to my chagrin they have yet to engage in any amorous relations) reward us with all-season interest.

Spring, though, potentially rivals Autumn and thus may disprove my hypothesis. But no, it cannot. Sure, the threat of frost or a late season snow storm loom large. But early spring bloomers in their fortitude stave off frost and snow. Many a daffodil and crocus and paperwhite have survived the harsh ravages of early and mid-spring weather. The others? Well, they just know not to rise until the probability of winter-weather has been significantly reduced.

Autumn, though, is quite another story: the season teeters on the precipice between abundance and annihilation. One evening of frost can destroy it all. Uncertainty is certain. Certainty is uncertain.

Funny what mortality can do. We usually do not think of it; mortality recedes into the background, and we are emboldened by sheer illimitable possibility.

But autumn amplifies that rhythmic cycle that spring mutes and summer anesthetizes. We feel, whether in the chill of the autumn morning or the sting of a northerly breeze, movement; we see the omnipresence of metamorphic processes that signal, in the end, abandonment and release as chlorophyll drains, leaves fall, colors mutate. Wind-tousled landscapes become the norm.

And yet we also experience conspicuous abundance.

Flowers last longer: cool evenings act as preservatives, and we are treated to a floral multitude for just a while longer.

The garden accommodates in a way it previously could not. A mum past its prime hardly calls attention to itself in the way a declining daffodil or tulip demands immediate excision else the garden look unkempt. Indeed, senescence introduces a complexity and depth to the garden.

Colors intensify, as if to scoff at the gardener's attempt to restrain the palette.

And each day, we teeter, coming closer to an inevitable: so powerful is that inevitable we self-respecting gardeners dare not speak its name.

And therein we realize that other aspect of abundance: not the material abundance celebrated in the nearly ubiquitous image of the cornucopia brimming with vegetative success, or the masses of mums so tightly packed. No.

We come to experience the converse: an immaterial abundance, an incorporeality, a spirituality that is an abundance of thanks, an abundance of gratitude, a recognition born of time for all that lies before us and for all that we have experienced.

That might be the exception that proves the rule: autumn's only certainty in an otherwise uncertain world.


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