An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of October 4, 2015
Written in Yaxunah and issued from Pisté, Yucatán, MÉXICO

SEASONS & LANDSCAPES

Up north, October was my favorite month. After a long summer on the Kentucky farm, October's gathering crispness was like iced-tea brought to workers in an old-time tobacco field, the coldness a pure delight amid all that sweat and shimmering heat.

Down here, October is thought of as the hurricane month, and the peak month of the rainy season. By now nights have cooled so you don't just lie sweating until dawn, as has been the case since March or so, but most days continue to be powerfully hot. By 9 or 10 AM, white, summery cumulus clouds form in the blue sky, and they grow in size and number until sometime in the afternoon when on one or more horizons, vast, darkly slate-blue bruises form in the sky, thunder starts rumbling in from that direction, and chances are that that's where the afternoon's rain will come from.

I like thinking about the special features of specific landscapes and their seasons, and how they make me feel. The process of savoring seasonal landscapes is like the traditional Japanese ceremony of "Listening to Incense," during which you identify several discreet incense fragrances and combination of fragrances, and relate them to specific events in ancient Japanese history and mythology. Except that meditating on a landscape during a given season is a more profound, richer experience.

Lately on my Kindle I've been reading Sigrid Undset's expansive, lovely and historically accurate novel "Kristin Lavransdater," about a family in medieval Norway during the early and mid 1300s. The novel is rich in evocative seasonal descriptions of Norwegian landscapes. For instance, she writes,

"Thin tendrils of water shone on the mountain slopes, which were shrouded in a blue mist day after day. The heat steamed and trembled over the land; the spears of grain hid the soil in the fields almost completely, and the grass in the meadows grew deep and shimmered like silk when the wind blew across it. There was a sweet scent over the groves and hills, and as soon as the sun went down, a strong, fresh, sharp fragrance of sap and young plants streamed forth; the earth seemed to heave a great sigh languorous and refreshed."

The book lapses into such imagery so often that it's clear that the author does so with a purpose, and I think her reason goes far beyond merely painting pleasing mental images. Undset was born in 1882, so she was writing for people who probably carried within themselves powerful feelings which they associated with similar natural landscapes and seasons that they themselves had experienced. By reminding her readers of those landscapes and seasons, Undset tapped into the feelings, let them set the mood for the book's upcoming events. It's the same way that in operas background melodies intensify feelings, and add richness of texture to what's happening on stage. Instead of using melodies, Undset evokes blue mist on mountain slopes and shimmering meadows.

Moreover, after thinking about the matter awhile, it seems to me that natural seasonal landscapes do more than impress us with their moods. They speak to us of fundamental patterns in Nature, suggesting to us how we can live happy, healthy and sustainable lives.

For example, October landscapes up north, coming as they do every year, can be like aphorisms repeated to a child, reminding us that a long summer of work naturally ends with gorgeous bounty. Deep-forest scenes are audiovisual presentations on the theme that when many different kinds of things cooperate for the community's good, the result can be overwhelmingly beautiful. Pastoral and rural scenes are commentaries on how simple labor done in harmony with the land's basic ecological laws can lead to peaceful, wholesome, sustainable lives. Seascapes and mountaintop views are lessons on how one's perspective is free to range between things up close busy with details, and the infinite far-way where truths remain unstated, yet one knows they're there, and can be meditated on.

Every landscape in a given season is a revelation.