Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Under the Influence of Light

When the fall season is almost over in the Midwest, there's a litany of activities that are both pretty and a  little bit mournful.  The geese gather in great conventions at the lakes, line up, take off, fly over the house all day long, and honk at intervals; it's different from their honk all summer. You start to hear it early in the morning, while you're still waking up. It's more purposeful and even a little complain-y. They're making formations for their exit south, and they seem to be saying: later for you, flightless sucker. The whole thing tells me that it's about to get much colder.  

The leaves change color.  That's a little cliché of them, but that's their thing, this change from green to the reds, scarlets, and soft yellows.  I don't take the whole green leaf concept for granted; it's all plant science from my grade-school years, plants taking water from the ground, and carbon dioxide from the air, and using the sun to turn that water and CO2 into oxygen and glucose. Who's not a fan of photosynthesis, using the sun to transform elements for a specific purpose, mainly survival? There's a formal definition in the OED:
The process (or series of processes) by which the energy of light absorbed by chlorophyll is utilized by plants for the synthesis of complex organic compounds from carbon dioxide, with the accompanying oxidation of water to form oxygen....
but an easier, prettier, compact definition is "putting together with light." Chlorophyll helps photosynthesis— it's what gives their leaves that green color—and as the season changes from summer to fall, the trees shut down this food-making process, and the chlorophyll fades. Then we see what we think are new colors, but in many cases, the colors were always there; it's just that  they'd been obscured by the chlorophyll. Glucose that was stuck in the leaves is affected by the cold weather, by the sun's diminishing returns, and it changes color too.  

Winter is coming, and maybe some see that as an end to productivity, but it's hard not to see the colors of fall's leaves as a epiphany for them--a discovery, as they use all they have— their artful moment, having worked steadily and quietly and without seeming to make any kind of change or progress all season long.  What appears as diminution, the degraded leaves, the lessening and collapse of spring and summer, can be understood, too, as a sustenance; sustenance can be extraordinary. So the season that brings with it a sense of things ending can be quite the opposite. 

This is you.  Get it?
I'm always taking lessons from the garden and the backyard, or maybe it's better to say I can't help seeing what's outside my window as instructive. Writing each day, drafting, and nothing much coming of it—and that's really the major process of writing, isn't it—is a lot like taking the elements of the world and "putting it together with light."  A steady activity of absorbing and generating, writing is a photosynthesis from the inside, and maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the steady, seemingly unchanging act of our drafting, which can feel stagnant (when we feel fixed and almost motionless, and heading into a cold spell, when we feel we are being deserted by our powers) will, either quietly, or with a great flourish, surprise us with what we have, for however long, stored in.  Drafting is never easy, and maybe patience is the point. It's not the end of things that is coming on, but that potential for a bright intensity, always.

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