Two reasons make November 11 a noteworthy date for me: it’s Veteran’s Day and my oldest daughter’s birthday. Most of the trees are now defoliated, but I chanced upon a group of fiery red maples on my way to the gym this morning. Whether their direction to the sun or their location in the shade of apartment buildings accounts for their belated change of colors, these trees didn’t get the memo. They’re defiant holdouts rebelling against the seasonal shift toward nature’s slow death. Whizzing by in my car on a heavily-trafficked road, I almost missed them, but a quick view out the passenger-side window was enough to tug at my heartstrings. I didn’t emit a tear, even though I could have if the dictates of manliness, however outmoded and ridiculous they might be, hadn’t prevented me. I confess I’m a hopeless Romantic in any season, perhaps born two centuries too late; but an arresting natural landscape in autumn takes me aback and inevitably plunges me into a wistful, introspective state of mind.
What is it about this season that induces such reverie, for me and countless others? I suspect this pensiveness has to do with the tension between the beauty of this world and the inevitability of death, a longing for transcendence and a painful reminder of our mortality. Our intuition, I think, picks up on this dichotomy more than any fully-conscious thought-process. Autumn is bittersweet. It evokes the same feelings in me as does a viewing of a David Caspar Friedrich painting, a sampling of Chopin’s Prelude No. 8 in F sharp minor, or a reading from Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Art and nature conspire to inspire. I must make another confession: I’m no stranger to tree-hugging in the Sequoia National Forest or prolonged Zen-like meditation on a rocky outcrop above the lakeshore. If you see a middle-aged man in a black overcoat weeping uncontrollably under a barren oak in a desolate field, don’t disturb him. This lachrymose creature is just enjoying a pleasant November day.