NATURE NOTES – From the backyard to the biosphere – Fall or Something Like it

NATURE NOTES – From the backyard to the biosphere – Fall or Something Like it

Fall; it’s one of those times. It means something different to each individual. On the West Coast it no doubt means rainfall. Here in central Canada the biophysical world has decided that the term means leaf fall. In the north, this season may well bring snowfall. For wild animals fall is a time of preparation, of gathering, caching, building, or maybe just plain leaving. The cold months are coming, and if you’re not ready when they hit you won’t likely be here to greet next spring’s arrival. Luckily, for most of us human Canadians the scenario is not quite so extreme.

What does fall mean to us? And how does it differ from the experience most other life forms go through between summer and winter? We have just passed Thanksgiving, a holiday that has in recent years become quite a contest for who has the biggest turkey (or Tofurkey, as the case may be), the juiciest sauce, the coolest electrical meat cutter. But Thanksgiving is so clearly rooted in taking time to acknowledge what the land has produced, for harvesting, for bounty, for gathering, caching and storing. Much like our furred and feathered friends, fall is a time for revisiting the origin of our livelihoods.

Let’s not get all mushy and wax poetic on our relationship with Momma Earth, but fall really is one of those seasons with characteristics worth pondering. It’s a time of parallels between human culture and the natural world, perhaps more so than at any other time of year. Our bundling in fuzzy sweaters, close-knit scarves and warming mittens is so clearly akin to the growth of the animal’s winter coat. We may not be genetically predisposed to sprouting our own insulation from the follicles, but our eager minds have come up with ways to protect this generalists’ morphology of ours from the same elements with which all creatures in these northern climes must soon deal.

We clearly have less in common with the tree, that elegant creature that decides to grace the forest floor, streets and sidewalks with its senescing sun-catchers at this time of year. But it too is preparing, taking this time of transition from warm to cold, from humid to dry, to ready itself for the coming cold. This tree, much like us and the many other creatures that have worked so hard during warmer times to build up supplies, will soon begin to draw on those reserves. Those roots, deep beneath the surface of the ground, below the cruel cold of winter’s days, are full of energy, gathered, cached and stored for what the tree, like us, knows only too well is just around the corner.

And what imagination we have drawn on to symbolise this utterly unique time of year, this season whose identity lies more in its transition role than its existence in our minds as an entity unto itself. Thanksgiving, whatever it may have become on the surface, is a time to pause and give gratitude, to recall that this period of change is actually one of the most vital periods in our annual existence.

Halloween, that time of spirits, so perfectly captures the changing mood, the darkening days and the fearful months now due. While we may not know what lies in the depths beneath the busy squirrel’s endless activity, the tree’s slow changes in form, or the mass organisation of the migrating flocks, our imaginations have given us new realms through which we relate to the changing world that we and all organisms around us experience in common.

Fall: this is a season of unusual beauty, of rich and vibrant colours, a time when our visual senses are catered to in such a special way. But more than this, fall is a time when our cultural imagination has created for us a reawakening of our direct linkage to a commonality shared by all species in our incredible part of the world. Winter may be coming, but fall is still here, still around us with its message of community, of a linkage, of a place for us in this wild wild world.

Zoe Dalton is a graduate of York University’s environmental science program, and is currently enjoying working towards a Master of Arts in Integrated Studies with Athabasca U. She can be reached for comments or questions at