In Margaret Roach’s beautiful book “A Way To Garden” I came across a chapter heading that intrigued me. It was a word I had not heard before: Senescence. When I looked it up, its use in a book about the annual lifecylce and maintenance of a garden made perfect sense. The term senescence refers to the period of decline in a lifecycle: the endogenous and hereditary process of accumulative changes. In other words, old age.
Senescence in the natural environs of North America’s northeast begins in September and runs through the end of November. We refer to it as Autumn or Fall, but if we look at the natural year through Margaret’s interpretive lens, this phase of bare branches and wilted grass takes on a more human note and (to me at least) makes the mournful skies and bleak landscape more poetic.
I need that poetry this last week of November. Too early for snow in most parts of this region and too late for Autumn’s brilliant, tumbling leaves, there is not much left to dazzle us. The gardens have been laid to rest, the flowers have long since died and anything deciduous is now a frail husk, crumpled and trampled on the ground, leaving skeletal trees to rattle in the icy winds. In our overcoats and boots, we rush to enliven the landscape with ribbons and bows, twinkle lights and garlands. The resilient evergreen becomes our best friend.
It took me a very long time, but these days I do see beauty in this cold and barren time of year – this fallow period, between bright colour and bright white. The beauty lies in the restfulness and peace of nature’s slumber: the new length of the shadows at twilight, the muted sounds and colours, the heavy textures and striking silhouettes we observe only during this time of year in the prelude to snow. Brave the chill and go outside to see the beauty of senescence for yourself. It may take time to train your eye, but beauty is always there.
Andrew Ritchie is the creator of Martha Moments, a blog devoted Martha-Stewart related content and her community of supporters. He lives and works in Toronto, Canada, and has been a longtime friend of Brent & Josh, Beekman 1802 and Sharon Springs. Each week he’ll scour the world (wide web) to find the 5 most beautiful things to inspire you. Follow Andrew on Pinterest.