Reflections on a fall walk

Being totally unable to concentrate on what I should be working on, I gave up, found my mp3 player, and went for a walk.

Until the last year and a half or so, when I started to feel the draining effects of the depression, I used to very much enjoy walking.  I could get lost in the music and the pleasure of my own body moving, just wandering around the city.  It’s a pattern reaching all the way back to when I was 17, when just before we left my dad, I would take my walkman and a couple of extra cassettes and make the hour-long walk to the village just to be out of the house and alone with my thoughts.  I’ve been known to get… almost high from it, I guess, from the increased adrenaline and blood flow and the enjoyment of it all.

So, with a mixture of Depeche Mode, Heather Alexander, Evanescence, Roxette, Nickelback, and assorted other music to listen to, I went wandering.  The posters of missing cats made me sad, and the coolness of the air reminded me that summer is over.

Still, it wasn’t so cold that after a few minutes of moving I was uncomfortable in a lightweight sweatshirt.

Then I happened to step under a maple tree just as the sun came out from behind a cloud.

If you’ve never seen sunlight hit a maple turning in fall, I don’t know the words to convey the sheer beauty of the sight.  I’ve seen it compared to fire, but I think it’s a bad analogy.  Yes, it’s yellow and orange, but the glow is far more mellow and soft than fire, I think.  There’s something almost unreal about it, and yet, it’s absolutely real and elemental, the product of the earth and the sun.

My mood changed instantly.

Everywhere around me, for the rest of my walk, I couldn’t help noticing maples in all stages of changing.  Some still almost entirely green.  One that was a fascinating motley of green leaves and yellow leaves, even right next to each other, and another with great swathes of green and swathes of yellow.  Some that were farther along and turning from yellow to orange.  Some red maples that were all but black now.

Being me, I of course started getting all philosophical about time and cycles and all that stuff.  It’s cliche, of course, but some cliches become that way because there’s truth in them.  It’s the twilight of the year, a time for thinking about rest and shelter and preparing for winter.  Which made me remember a really fascinating Wikipedia article I saw a couple of weeks ago:  Segmented sleep And while Wikipedia is of course not the source of all knowledge, what I can find from other sources seems to confirm it.  Here’s part of the beginning of the Wiki entry:

Segmented sleep, divided sleep, bimodal sleep pattern and interrupted sleep are modern Western terms for a polyphasic or biphasic sleep pattern found in medieval and early modern Europe and many non-industrialised societies today, where the night’s sleep is divided by one or more periods of wakefulness. This is particularly common in the winter.

The human circadian rhythm controls a sleep-wake cycle of wakefulness during the day and sleep at night. Superimposed on this basic rhythm is a secondary one of light sleep in the early afternoon (see siesta) and quiet wakefulness in the early morning.

<snip a paragraph on various names>

This period of wakefulness was often only semi-conscious, as the French term implies. It was highly valued in medieval Europe as a time of quiet and relaxation. Peasant couples were often too tired after a long day’s work to do much more than eat and go to sleep, but they would wake later on to talk and make love. People would also use this time to pray and reflect, and to interpret dreams, which were more vivid at that hour than upon waking in the morning, and even to visit. This was also a favorite time for authors and poets to write uninterrupted.

What have we lost, I wonder, as we’ve lost touch with natural cycles, both of the individual day and of the year?

Winter has stopped being a time of rest for humans–and I’m not romanticizing this, I know winter is a harsh season, especially on the very poor, but it’s also down-time for farms, a rest period after harvest and before the next year’s calving, lambing, foaling, ploughing, sowing, and so on and so forth.  Now, we go-go-go all year round, except those lucky enough to have a job with vacation time, and even then, I’ve heard more stories of non-restful vacations than restful ones, no matter how fun or satisfying or productive it might be.

Sleep expectations have changed, too.  How many of us fall into bed, sleep until morning, drag ourselves out of bed still tired after less sleep than our bodies insist we need?  And, more in line with my current subject, how many of us feel tense, anxious, stressed all our waking hours, from waking to sleeping?  By sacrificing that hour or so in the middle of the night, a quiet time for introspection, sharing with one’s nearest and dearest, creativity, spirituality, in favour of more productivity, what have we lost?

Does modern life’s lack of these slower periods to regenerate, rest, recharge, have anything to do with the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders, I wonder?

Ah well.  There are no answers on any of this.  There are countless factors that contribute to making modern life rushed and fixated on frequently destructive values and priorities.  Still… can’t help but wonder if this is one of them….

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