A strange, liminal time of the year is this, for the old Celtic year is passing away, and we stand on the forward edge of a brand new year, in the north a chilling contraption of fallen leaves and frozen earth, short days, darkness, frost and wind.
The word edge has been around for centuries, dating at the very latest from the tenth century. We have it through the Middle English egge, the Old English ecg and the Old Germanic ecke meaning "corner". It is kin to the Latin acer meaning "sharp", and the Greek akmē meaning "point". At the root of all these edgy word forms is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) ak meaning "sharp".
Our storm-tossed highlands seem empty in late October and early November. Migratory birds have (for the most part) departed for warmer climes. Most of our wild and furry "year round" residents are settling into deep hibernation. The good dark earth and her life giving waters are freezing up and falling asleep, even as we watch with our collars turned up against the wind.
On trips into the woods, long shadows fall across our trail, and their edges are as sharp as the finest examples of the bladesmith's art. For all the emptiness, frost and morning sunlight change the Two Hundred Acre Wood into something rich and elegant and inviting: milkweed sculpted into pleasing shapes, glittering fronds artfully curved and waving in the fields, bare trees twinkling like stars, the edges of wild rose and blackberry leaves rosy and sparkling with frost crystals.
Late autumn is chthonic. That engaging word with its odd and bewildering arrangement of vowels and consonants springs from the Greek khthonios, meaning "in, under, or beneath the earth", and mythologists use it to describe deities and spirits of the underworld (Hades). The noun form is also Greek: khthon, referring to the interior of the soil and not the living surface (Gaia) or territory (khora).
Chthonic doesn’t turn up often in modern speech, but when it does, the person saying it is focusing (often without even realizing it) on what is deeper or within rather than what is apparent at first glance or resting on the surface of things. Abundance and mortality abide together in the word, coexisting and enfolding each other in a deep embrace. Held within too are seasonal notions of rest, sleep, fertility and rebirth. I am rereading a work by Roshi Joan Halifax, and its title comes to mind this morning: "The Fruitful Darkness". All in all, chthonic is a fine old word for the here and now.