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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Rhythm of Life**


Words and image Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
October 7, 2011
as "The rhythm of life"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 8, 2011
as "The Rhythm of Life"

I love the changing seasons.  To experience the world as it shifts from summer to fall, to winter and spring, and back to summer is to take comfort in the orderliness of a universe that is impervious to the mistakes and missteps of man.  It’s the way we mark the passage of time that goes beyond clocks and calendars.  

The shift from summer to fall is my most favorite time.  I don’t do well in heat and humidity, so I tolerate summers.  But in mid-September, the air begins to cool.  They sky sheds its milky, hazy summer film to be replaced by a blue that is vivid beyond words.  The nights shift from cool to cold, and some mornings, a coating of frost sparkles on the grass.  The leaves begin their shift from green to a riotous orchestra of brilliant color.  Even the sunlight changes.  Freed of atmospheric haze, the light angles through the forests brilliantly illuminating the changing foliage.  

One morning last week, the alarm went off at its normal time of “too early.”  I’m not a morning person, so the process of going from sleep to full functionality is long and difficult.  It is in this time of year that the shortening day adds an unwelcome degree of difficulty to that process.

I don’t mind getting up early when the sun has beat me to it.  Even rising in the grey light of pre-dawn is acceptable.  But now, when the alarm goes off, it’s still completely dark.  I’m now engaged in a battle between my brain that stoutly insists it’s time to get up, and my body that steadfastly proclaims, “Are you kidding?  It’s still dark!”

Humans are subject to what are called “circadian rhythms,” biological cycles driven by the 24-hour rotation of the earth.  These rhythms are built in; part of how we are hard-wired by our planet.  These rhythms are externally influenced, usually by the amount of daylight.  That’s why the best cure for that geographical disruption called jet lag is to sit in the sunlight for a period of time each day, training the body to adjust to the new schedule.

I guess what I have is “season lag.”  When the day shortens and I’m forced to wake up in the dark, my instincts resist that change.  Intellectually, I know that this happens every year.  In another three months, it’ll be dark when I leave for work, and getting dark when I head home at the end of the day.  I’ll be more tired, as my body, influenced by the dark and fighting off the colder temperatures, will demand earlier bedtimes.  Humans are not alone in this.  After all, bears and raccoons hibernate.  But then, they don’t have jobs and mortgages.

Winter is really tough, especially around here when we might go a week or more under a gloomy blanket of clouds before the sun peeks out again.  Having to work all day, we miss the sunlight, how it raises our spirits.

Nature has begun to react to the change.  Deer are becoming more active, increasing the risk to drivers on area highways.  Everywhere I look I see squirrels and chipmunks scurrying around, their cheeks stuffed with nuts as they work to store away food for the winter.  Ducks and geese are making practice flights, their V-shaped formations criss-crossing the sky as the sounds of their calls float down out of the blue. 

For us, it’s time to get the house ready.  The chimney has to be swept, the radiators bled, the furnace checked.  Outside, we begin the laborious process of clearing the garden of the summer’s growth of hostas and other plants and putting down a layer of mulch to hold the soil.   Soon, the trees will begin to shower their leaves to the ground, and we will be raking them up.  That smell of those leaves in the cool air is for me the signature aroma of autumn.  I can smell it in the yard; I can also smell it in the forests along PA Route 31 between Somerset and Donegal.

We lived in Hawaii for five years, a place where the difference in the seasons is mostly restricted to the amount of rainfall.  I’ve never been more bored.  When we moved back to the mainland, I was delighted to once again feel the change of the seasons.

It is a rhythm of life that connects us to our world.
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