The Autumn Equinox

And so the heat of summer gives way to the cool nights and gentle days of September. The harvest is in full swing with fruits and vegetables piled in abundance on farmer’s market tables. Bushels of vine-ripe tomatoes are ready to process into sauce for the winter if only some quart jars, harder to find right now than a politician’s sense of decency, can be scrounged up. Root crops are starting to come in and soon it will be time to tincture valerian and elecampane. Everything is still green and lush but in a mere couple weeks the balance will tip and we will fall into the long slow slide to winter.

I’ve been thinking about Fall a lot lately, about transitions and balance and, most of all, about perception. To our human senses, Spring and Autumn appear to be seasons of movement and transition, while Summer and Winter mostly seem to be culminations of those transitions, fixed and solid and static. This is, of course, an illusion. Nature is always moving, always transitioning. It’s only to our human senses that things seem to have temporarily stopped. Underground, even in the depths of our long Ohio winters, the forest is busy growing and regenerating. In fact, most of the forest actually is underground, the roots of trees and bushes and herbs twining together and connecting through a massive mycorrhizal network that makes our human internet seem simple and uncomplicated. Every moment of every day, vast flows of data travel this network, negotiating trade and exchanging information about the environment and any looming threats facing it or its inhabitants.

That vitally important mycorrhizal network is the reason that permaculturists resist tilling the soil in almost every circumstance. Tilling creates disturbance and, while disturbing the growth of unwanted surface vegetation may seem highly desirable, the reality is that tilling the soil destroys the underlying structure necessary to a healthy ecosystem and forces each member of the forest community to rely solely on its own resources. In fact, instead of a “forest”, after tilling we just have a bunch of individuals all standing alone: a tree, a bush, a vine, a flower. And, in a true irony, by bringing deeply buried, dormant seeds to the surface, churning up the soil actually causes even more unwanted “weedy” growth to occur.

It doesn’t seem to me that humans and human societies work too much differently than this. While we may appear to be simple and straightforward and easily categorized to the people around us, the vast majority of what makes us the persons we are is hidden beneath the surface. We look at each other and see “the skin”, the outward facing persona we throw up above ground, never noticing that underground we are each an oscillating bundle of tangled hopes and fears and dreams and joys and sorrows housed in a biological package made up in turn of innumerable complex pieces and countless trillions of other living beings, all connected and all constantly in motion.

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