Dagwaagin – It is Autumn

Time has a way of passing by whether we notice it or not. This feels especially true in a contemporary world filled with artificial lights, endless entertainment on demand, and the casual repetition of the every-day mundane. Each day is filled with many of the same experiences and tasks, and those don’t change very much from season to season. This is not the case for communities which live according to the seasons, where food is gathered and harvested in its own time, and where tending, nurturing, and observing the ways the plants and animals work in their own way is integral to survival. As I’ve gotten older, this experience of time—of daily life being similar and slow, while the years seem to pass more quickly with each passing winter—has become more familiar.

The emergence of autumn, however, often feels like a surprise. It’s irrelevant that I know that it’s coming, as inevitable as the spring that will eventually follow, after the trees and animals have slept through their winter times. I usually realize that autumn has arrived when I can hear the geese calling overhead, talking with one another as they make their way to winter homes. Hearing the geese reminds me that I forgot when I stopped hearing them last year. How soon we forget our place in time or lose touch with how the Earth moves on its own rhythms, regardless of the politics or other human-made dramas that fill so much of our experience and obsessive thoughts. But then, without our permission and with their own timing, the leaves are tumbling down the road in cool winds, as the trees are preparing themselves for slumber. If we are lucky, we can breathe in the sweet smell of the temporary deaths that will fuel next spring’s emergence.

It is a fallacy of Western culture to think that humans are separate from nature and that our man-made places are one solid thing—that “nature” is an untouched place that must be travelled to, an escape from the “real world.” The baby spiders that hatched on my back patio, tiny orange dots clustered together for their first few weeks in a whole new world of lived experience, have now spread to the trees and wood pile and nearby structures, large as half-dollar coins and spinning their own webs to house their own babies next spring. That which we call nature is always here, and doing its work, honoring its own timelines of birth and death, increase and decrease, feeding and being fed. The changing of the seasons is a reminder for those of us lulled by the sameness of contemporary life that this ebb and flow is ever-present. We can feel it in our bodies as we breathe in and out, the community of our own cells doing the work of feeding and being fed, of sharing the air and water and food that is so freely given by the earth and her beings.

I can’t help but think of the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

In my tribe, autumn is a time of harvesting the work of the prior year and preparing for the winter that comes next. The geese flying overhead are searching for a good winter home, readying themselves for rest. May we take note of this and learn from our relatives. And may this time of change remind us of our own place in the family of things.

Mickki Garrity (Bodewadmi) is an enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a Cobell Scholar, a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, and is pursuing a BS in Native environmental science at Northwest Indian College.

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