Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Crown of the Year

Life, like the year, comes full circle when one returns to one's earliest sensations. Ideally, the adult returns, or should return, with a wider perspective and understanding while still recapturing the child's first impressions.

For me, as a child, Autumn was new polished sturdy shoes, the knots of shoe laces. It was a new desk, in a new room at school.  It was a week day walk home from our bus stop along pavements awash with the dampish debris of summer: split beech nuts, acorns, kernels, dead leaves. Where we lived, we had many beech and horse chestnut trees. The latter delivered conkers, rich brown, polished, like fine furniture. My mother would pierce the best, with some kind of screw implement and string them, to enable my brothers to fight, gradually chipping the ripe seed of the tree, to pieces.

The tedium of this walk for small legs carrying a heavy leather satchel was lightened by kicking through piles of dry leaves, to bring out the sound of their rustling. It was broken by the occasional discovery of a prize conker which went into the pocket, but was then forgotten.

As non-churchgoers, we had no wider view, as children, on Autumn.  If we had been taken to Church, we might have known "The Harvest Festival". If we had been botanists, we might have known that trees shed their leaves to give high up frost-resistant buds enough light to deliver more leaves, next spring. Nor were we farmers' children, reared tending lambs. We were children of the English village and country town. However, even we sensed  the bounty of Autumn : who could miss it? This bounty was awash with nuts, late fruits ripe for pickling and preserving, gathering animals and trees being touched with a fire of holy auburn.

Psalm 65 states:  "You crown the year with your bounty ".

Autumn is the fulfilment of Nature, the satisfaction of its reproductive efforts for that year.  In a way, it is like the Earth saying to the Creator: "This is what I have achieved with what You have given me. Can I now rest for a bit?" As Shakespeare points out, Winter is a time of infertility and barrenness. It is also a time of rest and sleep.

Jean Calvin points out that Autumn, this short period of burnished fulfilment is given not by Nature, but by God, its Parent.  He alone gives the sweet chestnuts now falling on our roof with a thud, by preparing conditions of plenty : the sun and the watering of the earth, the rain.  They, and the whole harvest are His free gifts of loving care and sustenance. So let's really enjoy them.

Let us also meditate on the Author of these rich blessings.

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