Another September is about to arrive in the world with its changeable skies, autumn rains, and tumbling leaves. At times, the deck behind the little blue house in the village is ankle deep in rustling oak and maple leaves, some fallen from on high and others blown into the garden before their time. The driveway, cobblestone walk leading to the front door, and threshold are a sea of twigs, tattered foliage and nibbled acorns, random gifts from the village squirrels.
Nights are becoming longer, and we are on our way to some of the most spectacular skies of the calendar year. The cosmic dome is chilly and clear before dawn, and Orion dances just above the south horizon, Taurus cavorting above his left shoulder and Gemini over his right, another gorgeous constellation, Auriga, twinkling over the giant's cranium like a wreath of Yule lights or a crown of stars. Autumn's glorious Orionid meteor showers will begin in just a few weeks, and I will be out in the garden every clear night and gazing up at the show. Here on earth, throngs of swallows congregate on power lines, geese fatten up in corn fields for the long trip south, and squirrels scurry about with their cheek pouches overflowing. 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, the word describes the orderly movement of an atom from one place to another within a molecule. More commonly, we use the word to describe the seasonal movements of birds and animals from one climate zone to another and back again. We will probably never understand the algorithms of migration completely, but it appears that sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic fields, the length of days and nights and the positions of the sun and stars overhead all play their parts in the equation.
I am continuing my journey through David Lewis-Williams' seminal study, The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art, and his weighty (and controversial) work is providing me (again) with much food for thought. It's intriguing to think humans were once migratory animals too - that we were compelled to follow the seasonal movements of the ancient herds that provided our food supply along with materials for our clothing, footwear and tools. Somewhere along the way in our seasonal to-ings and fro-ings, we became conscious of 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 presents compelling arguments to support his theories, we discovered art, ritual and shamanic transformation around the same time and have never looked back.
After a visit to Lascaux in the forties, the painter Picasso exclaimed that humanity had not learned a thing about art in twelve thousand years. He was wrong about the age of the magnificent paintings in the French caves (they are at least five thousand years older than he thought they were), but his awe and wonder as he stood in front of the Chinese Horse echo down the years. How far have we come anyway?
The music on the CD player this morning is the original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, and that seems appropriate. It's a wonderful offering for the splendid bosky trail between summer and autumn, and I am off to the woods in a few hours. My migrations are small ones, but no less splendid for that.