Rethinking Fall

“In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die.”

Parker Palmer, “The Paradox of Fall”

Like Parker Palmer, when I think of fall, I think of trees changing color and dropping leaves. What I don’t usually think of is the way those fallen leaves are a signal that seeds have been dropped. Seeds that will quietly persist all winter awaiting the warmth of spring to sprout.

I wonder though, if my heart has secretly known about the beginnings of fall all along, even though my conscious mind has taken so many years to catch up.

While out walking in these last few days before the official start of the fall season, my dog has been discovering these:

a snakeskin
a snakeskin

It seems to me that a snakeskin is the perfect symbol of the new beginnings of fall.

Snakes shed their skin when they have outgrown it. Curious about the variation in the scale pattern on each individual skin (sometimes almost like rings, sometimes a perfect pattern of scales), I did some light research. I discovered the shed skin is twice as long as the snake from which it came because the skin peels off from the top and bottom of each scale. I found this reassuring as I was definitely more excited about finding the empty skins than I am about finding the inhabitants of snakeskin!

A snake’s skin can only stretch but so much before it must be shed to make room for continued growth. While the concept of shedding skin is not unique to snakes (humans and other animals shed skin all the time to grow new layers), this ritual of shedding the skin all at once is definitely something to marvel at.

It makes me think of the beginning of a new school year each fall. The skin of the previous year is shed and left behind to make room for new identities and new growth. How marvelous it is to have so much potential!

Now, while I am walking through the woods this fall, I will no longer be thinking of the quiet loss of energy as leaves pile up at my feet. Rather, I will listen to my heart remind me of the seeds being planted. The glistening new snakes emerging ready to grow bigger, stronger, wiser.

I will think about the way classrooms in the fall are filled with a similar planting of seeds whose growth may not be visible for months. And whose potential is already signaled by beautiful, colorful leaves.

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5 thoughts on “Rethinking Fall

  1. All the years of going to school, then teaching have probably shaped me into always feeling Fall is the start of new beginnings. Your piece expresses what I have felt but never articulated in such a poetic way. This thought especially “…potential is already signaled by beautiful, colorful leaves” grabs me.


  2. What a wonderful metaphor. I have never thought of the return to school in precisely this way. I need to take some time to think about how these rhythms have shaped me too. Thank you for sharing this!


  3. Fall is my favorite season! But I’ve never thought of the seeds that fall at this time and lie in wait for spring. I liked this thinking so well that I looked up Parker Palmer’s writings on the seasons.
    As for the snakeskins . . . I would not want to wander across the former inhabitant either.
    Love this connection you make: “I will think about the way classrooms in the fall are filled with a similar planting of seeds whose growth may not be visible for months.” Lucky sixth graders to have you in their classroom.


  4. This is beautiful. Fall is my favorite, and I’ve always felt it as a rekindling to my soul, but never had a reason for this to be true. Your words give me the reason. Fall is about sowing seeds and shedding skin and beginning again.


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