“How pleasant to walk over beds of these fresh, crisp, and rustling fallen leaves…. How beautiful they go to their graves!”
—Thoreau, October 12, 1853
Thoreau, our great chronicler of the seasons, wrote a lot about the falling leaves in October, noting all the different colors and hues. Their colors aside, he thought, like many things in nature, they could teach us something about accepting our own internal seasons, and our mortality.
October 22, 1853:
Consider what a vast crop is thus annually shed upon the earth. This, more than any mere grain or seed, is the great harvest of the year. This annual decay and death, this dying by inches…. The year’s great crop. They teach us how to die.
October was a the time he thought about the end of life. On October 20th, 1857, he meets a poor old man who has gathered apples in his shoes. “This man’s cheeriness was worth a thousand of the church’s sacraments and memento mori’s.”
October — Harvest Time — was also a month for Thoreau to contemplate his “harvest of thought.”
October 14, 1857:
I take all these walks to every point of the compass, and it is always harvest-time with me. I am always gathering my crop from these woods and fields and waters, and no man is in my way or interferes with me. My crop is not their crop. I am not gathering beans or corn. Do they think there are no fruits but such as these? I am a reaper; I am not a gleaner.
And on October 24, he writes, “My eye is educated to discover anything on the ground…. It is probably wholesomer to look at the ground much than at the heavens.”
[Update: 4PM: I had no idea that Thoreau actually collected his thoughts on fall in the 1862 essay, “Autumnal Tints.” See this piece, “Revisiting the Splendor of Thoreau’s ‘Autumnal Tints,’ 150 Years Later.” This is one of the amazing things about reading Thoreau’s journal before you read the published work — he pilfered so much from his daily writing that you know exactly where sentences and sections come from, and it’s fascinating to see how he changed them.]