by Leanne Ogasawara
According to my Japanese almanacs, of the four seasons, it is autumn alone which is heard before it is seen.
This can happen after a windless, blisteringly hot Japanese summer, when autumn arrives around the end of August. Ever so slight, it makes itself known by the sound of the stirring of the leaves in the trees–for autumn arrives carried by the wind.
Nothing meets the eye
to demonstrate beyond a doubt
that autumn has come–
yet suddenly we are struck
just by the sound of the wind
— Fujiwara Toshiyuki no Ason
The great Sei Shonagon also reminds us to stop and listen:
“In autumn the evenings, when the glittering sun sinks close to the edge of the hills and the crows fly back to their nests in threes and fours and twos; more charming still is a file of wild geese, like specks in the distant sky. When the sun has set, one’s heart is moved by the sound of the wind and the hum of the insects
My little boy's Grandpa took him along to Catholic Mass not all that long ago. As they stood in line to receive Holy Eucharist, he looked up to his grandpa and wondered aloud about “what the sauce was they were dipping those crackers in?” My sweet little boy is always all about the snacks….!! And, you can probably imagine his mind boggling later when I tried to explain that that snack was –in fact– the blood and body of Christ.
One of the things that has always attracted me to the Catholic church was the calendar. After all that time in Japan somehow not having a shared calendar anymore makes life seem so flat. It was a blue moon, my beloved and I went moonviewing. It was so nice to sit with him and look at the moon together. And sharing that moment with him, I realized how much I still really miss all the shared seasonal events of Japan.
Bendictine nun, Joan Chittister, has written a book on the Liturgical calendar. Reading it recently, I was struck by how calendars–based as they are on the turning of the seasons– enable people to step outside the frenetic and frantically fast-paced world in which we live. having the power to re-enchant us, calendars can relieve a person of their need to constantly control and consume things and can allow–or maybe even force– a person to step back and try and just be a part of something bigger than oneself. Calendars help us learn to wait, and they also teach us that there are rhythms to life and that it is in the shared details of things that life can take on a certain poignancy.
One of the friends of this blog and I have sometimes discussed cultural values which can pose a danger in justifying “the interfering with each other's liberties in things.” He feels that the danger of these collective enterprises will always be too great, and that we are better off in a secular society that protects individual liberties. Maybe he is right, but when individual liberties and freedom from interference becomes the greatest good, what is there to restrain hedonism–even an enlightened form of hedonism? And how can we possibly remain enchanted by the world without things which draw us outside our individual projects?
I think it cannot be denied that collective practices do help teach us to wait, as well as to beckon us to something beyond our own personal concerns and predilections…
And so we enter the time of waiting. In ancient Japan, the Ninth Month was known as the 'Long Month' (長月). Long, of course, because the nights are growing longer and longer. And as the Heian period Lady said above, autumn is all about the evenings. Long nights can be rough, though. Indeed, everything conspires against a person during those lonely long nights: early darkness, dewdrops like tears, the crickets crying and crying outside your window— everything reminding you of your lover's absence; and the transitory nature of the world–seen as clearly as the colors of the grasses fading in the fields outside one's window.
Autumn is the season of Waiting, Longing, Pining, Omou.
As autumn deepens
and the bush clover also change color
there cries the crickets
like me despairing the sadness
of these sleepless autumn nights
Back home in the house
pitifully covered in lonely grass
I wait, listening
to the crying pine crickets
and sadly long for you to come
Mono no aware. I wonder what is it about this aspect of being swallowed up in insignificance that is also something so strangely comforting? Autumn–for me, it is the most beautiful season of all…
For more autumn thoughts:
Oil paintings by ” target=”_self”>Le Thanh Son.