Fall & the ephemeral

Making ephemeral nature art while Mokum cat chills nearby

Monday was the fall equinox, the time when day and night match in length, the marker of our entry into the next season.

Autumn. It’s a time of senescence. Most plant-life has matured, produced fruit and seeds if they do so, and is now shifting back toward winter mode. Leaves will lose their green color and float to the ground. Annual plants will brown, wither, and melt into the soil, leaving next year’s growth to the promise of seeds.

It is a time when the world reminds us so viscerally: “This too will pass.” All of it. In Autumn, the ephemeral nature of our existence is on beautiful, vibrant display.

We can respond in many ways. I think feeling some amount of grief is a natural response, and fall triggers those feelings for many people (even as others delight in pulling out sweaters and drinking pumpkin spice lattés!). I think many of us can share in Demeter’s grief as her daughter Persephone returned to the underworld for three months every year. Grief is certainly a real, human response to the ephemeral quality of our lives. Woven into the fabric of every beautiful relationship is the reality that it will end, somehow, someday. Before we kiss our loves on our wedding day, people traditionally said “until death,” acknowledging that future end. New parents feel this dual reality so keenly from day one of their child’s lives — the intense joy/pain of loving another person so fiercely while also being so keenly aware of their vulnerability.

So, there may be grief. But, there is also the potential for deep and profound love and awe when we acknowledge the ephemeral nature of flowers, of relationships, of communities, of people. Out of fear of future grief, should we not love the world because it changes? Because seasons take turns in the course of the year? Because plants die to make room for next year’s seeds?

Should we not love our babies because this stage of life is so passing too? That is not what my heart says. My hearts say to savor, to kiss those toes while they are tiny, to treasure the beautiful moments that we know are fleeting.

We were all babies once. We have been many things. Each season of our life passes to make room for the next one, for the next stage of our growth. The same is true for people in groups: families and communities constantly changing and evolving.

I’ve always been very inspired by scientific insight into the nature of existence, especially cosmology, those deep inquiries into the story of the universe. To that end, I want to share words from Carlo Rovelli, an Italian theoretical physicist and author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, from which I pulled this quote (which I have broken into lines for poetic emphasis):

“We are born and die as the stars are born and die,
both individually and collectively.
This is our reality.
Life is precious to us because it is ephemeral.
… immersed in this nature that made us and that directs us,
we are not homeless beings suspended between two worlds,
parts of but only partly belonging to nature,
with a longing for something else.
No: we are home.”

This weekend, we gathered with some friends to celebrate fall’s arrival and acknowledge the preciousness of our ephemeral reality, and especially of the natural world. We built together ephemeral nature art. Rather than being more permanent than reality (such as oil paintings of kings and queens, attempting to preserve their likeness forever), ephemeral art is intended to change almost as soon as it is completed (or even during the creation process). Andy Goldsworthy is an excellent example of an artist who has explored these themes and media throughout his long career.

For our piece, we collected many natural materials from our environment: everything from apples to phacelia blossoms to sticks to Douglas fir branches to stones from the river. Already, the wind has blown the lighter leaves away, the sun has withered the blossoms, and our cats have budged other pieces while walking across it. It will continue to change over the season, our work together lasting mostly in our memories and photos.

Among other things, the slow disintegration of one artwork — ours or Andy Goldsworthy’s — reminds us that if we want the world to be beautiful, we need to show up and join in its creation every day, to be a part of the process. The really important work of life is never done. It is through our presence and our work together that communities are sustained, children raised, that beauty persists. Not to say that nature doesn’t play a profound role in this too, but we are truly co-creators and our presence and work can foster health, beauty, joy.

The bouquet I cut and bring inside today will wilt in time — but I can sustain the beauty by nurturing my garden year-round, by composting the wilting flowers, by paying attention to new blooms, and by making a new bouquet.

Our presence and energy matter so much in this ephemeral world. We can embrace these few moments we have together here and fill them with growth and promise.

Enjoy this week’s fall vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Liberty apples
  • Comice pears
  • Concord grapes — These have seeds!
  • Sweet peppers
  • Green peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Chard
  • Delicata winter squash — Pretty sure at least half of the people who walked in our door last week said something along the lines of: “I am so excited about the delicata!” Us too! We harvested more this week!
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
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