Representations of Autumn

Fall 1999, when I was doing my Master degree in Comparative Literature at the University of Tel Aviv, we had a seminar with Professor Ziva Ben-Porat discussing autumn in literature.  Prof. Ben-Porat had just returned from a year of research in Japan, where she did a comparative study of Japanese and Israeli autumn” representations in the literature of the two cultures. She claimed that the representation of autumn in the Israeli literature is not very common since there is no “real” autumn in Israel, while in Japan the season has very prominent characteristics that appeal to writers.

At the time I could not understand her statement about the lack of an Israeli autumn; I knew for sure that the calendar says that we have autumn between September 21st to December 21st.; I knew that autumn is the time when squills and cyclamens bloom on rocky foothills; when flocks of migrating birds cross the sky of Israel on their way to warmer places; when little wagtail birds show up to stay for a longer visit; when tree leaves change their colors before falling off; when mornings and nights are cooler but the days are hot.

Now, after years of living in the US, I think I understand what she was talking about.  California’s autumn is more similar to the Israeli one, but when people in the US think of fall they think of the New England-style fall; a real autumn with never-ending stains of flame-like colors on the trees; ground covered with a polychromatic tapestry of leaves; cooler days and chilly nights; crisp air; rain; smell of burning wood coming out of chimneys; all of which we don’t have in the Middle East. Looking back at the Israeli autumn it is more of a shifting in seasons, between summer and winter, rather than a season by itself. 

Despite the fact that I live in the Evergreen State, in Seattle we still enjoy beautiful autumns, some have turned out to be breathtaking Indian Summers. Beyond the natural impressions of the season, and despite the cultural association between fall and death, for many people autumn is a time of new beginnings; when school starts, or life after school starts; when gardeners plant spring bulbs; when colder weather begins; when holiday season begins.  Autumn is a beautiful time to look outside and see the shifts on the planet, but it is also a great time to look introspectively and observe its personal representations.

More autumn photos on Tumblr