Can it be? Another September is about to arrive in the world with its changeable skies, autumn rains and winds, confetti colors and tumbling leaves. One of my favorite British poets, John Keats, called this time a 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", and his words come back to me this morning as I tap away here at the keyboard and look out the window occasionally. However one looks at it, this is a time of transcendent change, restless movement, journeying and migration.
A lovely word, migration has its roots in the Latin migratio, migrationem and perhaps the Greek ameibein, all meaning to change or transform. In chemistry, we use the word to describe the orderly movement of an atom from one place to another within a specific molecule. More commonly, we use the word to describe the seasonal movements of birds and animals from one climactic zone to another and then back again. We do not (and perhaps never will) understand the precise algorithms of migration, but it has long been speculated that sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic fields, the length of days and nights and the position of the sun and stars overhead all play their parts in the equation.
I am continuing my journey through David Lewis-Williams' The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art, and his weighty (but controversial) scholarly work is providing me with food for thought. How interesting to think that in the beginning, humans were migratory animals too - we were compelled to follow the seasonal migrations of the ancient herds which provided our food supply along with materials for our clothing, footwear and tools.
The music on the CD player at the moment is the original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's magnificent mythic Into the Woods, and that seems appropriate somehow - it's a wonderful offering for the trail between summer and autumn.
Somewhere along the line in our migrations, we discovered time and started to mark the passing of days and seasons on the walls of our caves. If Dr. Lewis-Williams is correct, and he makes compelling arguments, we discovered art, ritual and shamanic transformation around the same time, and we have never looked back. After a visit to Lascaux in the early forties, an astonished Picasso told his guide that humanity had not learned a thing about art and creativity in twelve thousand years. He was wrong about the antiquity of the magnificent paintings in the French caves (they are at least five thousand years older), but his amazement and awe as he stood in front of the Chinese Horse echo down the years. How far have we come anyway?
In autumn, geese and ducks fly south, and we listen, far from traditional rhythms of hunting, gathering and seasonal movement. Modern day human migrations are those of the spirit and imagination for the most part, but no less adventurous and transformational for all that. No longer compelled to travel from one place to the other in search of food and warmth, we curl up by our hearths, and from them we can indeed take wing.