Lessons from a Fall Morning

The dark night was filled with stars, although blemished somewhat in the south and southeast by the corrupting plume of light from nearby Nacogdoches. It was pleasantly cool, almost chilly, and directly overhead the Milky Way spanned the firmament, bright Vega in the constellation Lyra a little west of the sky’s apex. Mars blazed red to the south and an owl hooted his ownership of personal woodland space. The breeze had died early in the evening and a wonderful stillness lay upon the land.

The morning dawned dewy, the grass sparkling bright with tiny reflective water droplets. A cool, gentle breeze stirred the branchlets and leaves of the trees and shrubs, but they barely moved, and then only reticently, as though resentful of the disturbance. Daybreak was foggy, the sun beamed lazily through the mist between the pines to the east of the house. Two does, a mature buck with a fine rack, a young six-point and a fawn, followed by two more does paraded leisurely across the backyard near the margin of the forest. In no hurry, they seemed to reinforce the tranquil mood of the day. Plaintively, Chickadees called repetitively from the trees west of our home and their complaining buzz announced annoyance at my presence. In the distance, crows raucously announced their presence and discussed intentions. But, even their usually intrusive calls seemed somehow muted.

The world seemed to be pausing, waiting, patient and comfortable in its inactivity. Early fall, to a degree, is always thus, but today the air rested even more lightly, fragrantly, on the land, and the autumnal drowse was more pronounced, producing in me a similar mood. Unhurried and at peace, nature’s calm flowed into me, soothing and relaxing.

Nowadays however, everything about modern-day activity seems to flow counter to the appreciation of such gentle natural influences. Wind, like the sound of water tranquilly flowing, contrasted sharply with the rushing sound of distant automobiles speeding along the highway to the south, seeming to emphasize the need to move and hurry and accomplish --- something, anything.

Who today takes time to experience the therapy provided without charge by the natural world? Certainly not families whose desire to maximize their children’s learning, playing and experiencing, drive them into a marathon race by over-involving them in ballet, soccer, baseball, football, martial arts, piano, debate, dramatics, French Club, Math Club, and the endless demands to excel academically through enrollment only in advanced placement, gifted and talented, honors and early college course placement. The list is frighteningly endless. Add to this the frantic drive of many adults to excel in their chosen profession by clambering, or stumbling ever upward on the job ladder, often over the crushed aspirations and self-concepts of their competition, and the makings are in place for a life of exhaustion, frustration and disappointment. Jobs, too seldom fulfilling, demand continual production – of products, tangible and intangible, often or usually measured against ill-defined and poorly understood standards of performance by supervisors themselves caught up in systems they only vaguely fathom and cannot articulate. And so, the treadmill moves continuously, inexorably drawing us along, unthinking, largely unaware, as we go from birth through youth to old age and death.

If I seem critical of this all-too-typical urban rat race, I mean to be. The intensity of our nearly manic search for better, biggest and best deprives us all, youth as well as adults, of the richness of experience that could be far better. We are constant seekers, but with no clear goals, either short-term or long, and in this unending quest, we too often lose the prize, not having caught even a glimpse of the treasures we never knew eluded us. Our stresses build insidiously, gradually, subliminally, until finally full-blown, we feel crushed by them. “Oh, if only it was time for our vacation,” we say. “I need some time off,” we murmur. We study, musicate, orate, athleticate, dance, and work at a pace that winds our mental and emotional springs to maximum tolerance and at last on holiday, we work ourselves into another frenzy trying to unwind 50 weeks of tension in 2 weeks of accelerated, intense activity. Instead of the re-creation so needed, our recreation only heightens our dissatisfaction and misery. Very sad.

Uncaring, the world spins and speeds along its orbit around the sun. The days pass, the seasons change, and our stresses grow. Do not despair. There is a solution to this illness producing syndrome.

John Muir, the famous naturalist and writer, once wrote, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as the sunshine into the trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

But, one need not seek such solace only in the heights. Beauty and peace are found all around us, in the hush of night and the delightful and therapeutic pause of a warm fall day and in the gentle flutter of a leaf and the blaze of goldenrod, gilding our roadsides.

No physician’s consultation or prescription is required for nature’s emotional medication. No fees must be paid, with the exception of the painless loss of time too many sadly think is unconscionable. Do it anyway. The benefits are measureless. Slow down, re-evaluate your priorities. Take some time for yourself. Life is short. Train yourself to gain pleasure from the moments or relaxing natural beauty that constantly surround you.

Be very careful that you do not find, at the end of life, that you have never really lived at all, only existed. The fields and forests and the heavens above are not just biology lessons, they are nature’s rest homes, replete with peace, tranquility and relief from life’s inane rat race. Take advantage of them.

They are God’s gift to his over-stressed and priority-distorted sons and daughters in nature’s fields and forests.

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click paulrisk2@gmail.com to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.