Saturday, November 04, 2006

November: A time for poignancy

From my Nov. 2 newspaper column:

This time of year is always poignant for me.

We are full-blown into fall now, even in north Texas, let alone places either further north or at higher elevations where I have lived elsewhere in my life. With the change in seasons comes not just cooler weather, but more clouds, more rain, more fog.

The days have already been shortening, and the change in the length of the daytime speeds up the more we get into fall. The increase in cloudy days means less sunlight yet.

And then, sharply, comes this change back to Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time. No transitions, like moving time back 15 minutes each of four Sundays. The full hour of earlier eventide hits at once.

Again, the effect is even sharper further north, where the day has been ending earlier than this far south, and fall is often cloudier, if you go far enough north.

Poignant? Yes. Philosophical, pensive, reflective, even.

First, I think of the ludicrousness of the idea that we are actually controlling time, let alone "saving" any time or daylight as the phrase "Daylight Saving Time" would have us believe. (Someone like a dairy farmer would probably say we're actually losing, not saving, anything.)

But, if we recognize time as an elemental dimension, part of the fabric of our world that Albert Einstein identified as space-time, the idea of saving or controlling it really sounds ludicrous, or hubristic.

Do we change the defined length of a foot or meter in summer because objects expand in hot weather? Of course not.

Now, especially as a night owl, I will say I appreciate our collective action of Daylight Saving Time, even if based on a fiction.

Besides, the measuring units of time in hours, minutes and seconds, outside of daytime and nighttime, are arbitrary anyway. As I wrote in a poem:

"What was saved or conserved these last months, really,

When divisions, boundaries, and placements of time

Are all arbitrary? ...

Nothing is saved;

Rather, the human mind is slaved,

Enslaved to the idea that an elemental dimension

Can somehow be tweaked and bent to our convenience

And put to work, like a six-month summer CD, to earn interest."

But, I started this column about the feeling, the emotion, of poignancy, not as a disquisition on either philosophy or Einsteinian relativity.

First, just what is poignancy? Here's how I defined it, in another poem:

"Poignancy is

A gentle sadness tingeing life

A gentle, tender, humble sadness

One that does not diminish joys when they come

But knows that every joy has seeds of pain

Of limitation, of human frailty."

I went on to tie it to seasonal changes and nature:

"I am poignant

Upon seeing near-bare trees

Of late fall, or

Pale, thin sunsets

In February."

Some people have seasonally-affected depression. For these people, the production of, or sensitivity to, brain neurotransmitters like serotonin, is affected by the shorter, cloudier days. Some people actually need to have expensive "full spectrum" artificial lighting around them as part of their treatment for this.

That's not what I'm talking about. Rather, it's a being in touch with, and appreciation of, the changes in nature and the finiteness of life they indicate.

At the same time, those shorter days, cloudier skies and de-greening trees show that beauty can come out of change, even decay.

And this year may be a good one.

Earlier this year, I was worried that summer drought might mean a drab fall. But, early signs indicate that may not be the case.

Pecans and other early turners don't look too affected as they have started showing their colors. But, those aren't the big fall trees for us.

The various species of red oaks, offset by bur oaks and any other white oaks around, key our fall, since we are conspicuously short on northeastern maples and high-country aspen. Early signs indicate they may have some colors besides various shades of brown in their palettes, too.

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