Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Autumn leaves: seasonal musings

We've celebrated fall with this array of gourds in an old bread mixing bowl. My aunt drew the chalk pumpkin paintings in her later, self-described Grandma Moses years. Our good friend CindyLou made the fairy.

Autumn has become my favorite season - full of richly hued colors that slowly give way to a myriad of browns and tans, offset by darkly green conifers and other evergreens. This wasn't always the case, for in my younger days I preferred summer, reveling in the heat and humidity of the southern Appalachian mountains. Fall holds sway now, and I love the colder nights, the lay of the light as the sun angles lower in the afternoons, and the views that are beginning to emerge from hillsides as foliage falls. Offered here are some autumnal musings.

Mid-afternoon oak leaves, backlit by the slanting sunlight. War Spur Loop trail, late October.
Autumn is a time for festivals and celebrations, when the harvest is brought in and victuals are stored for the upcoming winter. Nearly every culture has some form of harvest festival, dating back to festivals in ancient Egypt, China, and Babylon. A contemporary version of the traditional harvest festival is the modern America celebration of Thanksgiving, complete with all the patriotism and mythologies associated with European colonization.

Of course, the Pilgrims were fleeing Britain, which has a pretty well established set of autumnal celebrations. Tucked into mid-November after Hallowmas, is Martinmesse, or Martinmas. While widely celebrated today, it's been called the "forgotten festival" of Great Britain by scholar Martin Walsh, who says that Martinmas "is seen as both the last harvest festival and a curtain raiser for the extended revelling season, in effect, a 'Carnival' in late autumn" (if you're curious, see the citation below). Celebrated in honor of Martin of Tours, a "pacifist soldier-saint," Martinmas falls on November 11, and is marked by butchering beasts and testing new wine. Walsh cites scores of literary references to revelry accompanying St. Martin's festival in British litertaure, and unlike the holy reverence that Martinmas has in other European countries, Walsh notes that "St. Martin quite comfortably belongs in the raucous world of the Elizabethan tavern" as part of "a long English tradition of Martinmas inebriation."

A cult of St. Martin developed in early England, and persisted for centuries. But such merrymaking wasn't always seen in a good light. In fact, the Puritans cited the cult of St. Martin as one of the problems with the Catholic Church in 1580 in the tract Beehive of the Romish Church, where they lambasted the poor saint thusly: "St Martin...the aleknight, tavern-hunter, and drunkarde." Another anti-Romish tract of the time associates St. Martin's behavior, "drinking deepe in tankardes large," with the coming of the Antichrist. That's St. Martin on the right, and he appears curiously sober.

Festivals aside, autumn's a wonderful time to go hiking. We took a hike up to War Spur Loop a few weekends ago, and Asta had a great time. That's her on the left, zipping down the trail with abandon. I had stopped to take some photos and Barrie had gone ahead, so this is Asta coming back to herd me.

Hiking brings this Zen poem to mind:

Visiting the Mountain Hermitage
of a Monk at Gan-Hua Monastery

He waits at dusk, bamboo walking stick in hand,
at the headwaters of Tiger Creek,
leading us on as we listen to mountain echoes,
following the water's way.

Patches of wildflowers bloom.
A solitary bird calls from the valley floor.
We sit evening zazen in the empty forest:
quiet pine winds bring the odor of autumn.

Morning light on Poverty Creek, mid-October.

Finally, a few live performances of a seasonal favorite, "Autumn Leaves," originally written by Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prev with French lyrics and the title "Feuilles Mortes." Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyrics for the 1956 film Autumn Leaves, and the movie version was performed by Nat King Cole. It's a true jazz standard now, having been recorded by dozens of musicians. These two versions are by two of my favorite piano trios. The first is the great Bill Evans Trio:

The second is Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Peacock:

Another backlit leaf and moss. Love that autumn light!


"Medieval English Martinmesse: The Archaeology of a Forgotten Festival, by Martin W. Walsh. Folklore, Vol. 111, No. 2 (Oct., 2000), pp. 231-254

"Visiting the Mountain Hermitage of a Monk at Gan-Hua Monastery." Crossing the Yellow River: Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese. Boa Editions, Ltd., 2000. p97.


we_be_toys said...

Breathtaking pictures, as always - that last one of Poverty Creek is just wonderful.
I'm thinking it's time to reinvent Martinmas, because who doesn't love sampling new wines and eating large amounts of meat? Oh, right, Cindy Lou, that's who! (just kidding Cin - don't beat me!)

Bantering Bibliocrat said...

I, also, would forgoe yon meat for the thrille of drinking deepe in tankardes large