“Whatever permanent, uneasy question is native to men comes forward most insistent and most loud at the fall of leaves. … It is no wonder, then, that at this peculiar time…the desires which if they do not prove at least demand–perhaps remember–our destiny, come strongest. They are proper to the time of autumn, and all men feel them.”
Hilaire Belloc, ‘The Autumn and the Fall of Leaves’ in Hills and the Sea
Belloc speaks of two things native to all men: a permanent, uneasy question and some deep desire. He suggests that these tend to come to the fore in autumn, at the fall of leaves.
Trees are always speaking to us. Sometimes they speak more insistently.
It would be hard not to notice the change of color and the falling of leaves. Whence and whither all this pageantry? I must say that in autumn I feel a little on edge; it’s as though I’m going to miss something. The leaves are changing, and they are going away. Indeed, they are dying.
Death can be very beautiful; it is also very hard. And we miss miss people, and things.
The deep desire I tend to feel in autumn is for stability; especially the stability of being with loved ones; of being at home. I think the uneasy question is: how can I achieve that stability, where can it ultimately be found? It seems elusive.
I’m convinced the trees have the answer. In any case they plod along, slowly and surely, with what seems an air of confidence, striving to become more fully what they already are. I for one will keep watching, trying to learn from them, especially in autumn.
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), born of a French father and English mother, was a poet, historian, and essayist.
Image: leaves of the sassafras tree. My father always loved the sassafras, of which Donald Peattie wrote in his great book A Natural History of North American Trees: “Against the Indian summer sky, a tree lifts up its hand and testifies to glory, the glory of a blue October day. Yellow or orange, or blood orange, or sometimes almost salmon pink, or blotched with bright vermilion, the leaves of the Sassafras prove that not all autumnal splendor is confined to the northern forests. Deep into the South, along the snake-rail fences, beside the soft wood roads, in old fields where the rusty brook sedge is giving way to the return of forest, the Sassafras carries its splendid banners to vie with the scarlet Black Gum and the yellow Sweet Gum and other trees of which the New Englander may hardly have heard. The deep blue fruits on thick bright red stalks complete a color effect in fall which few trees anywhere surpass.”