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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The beauty of senescence

Senescence is a fancy word for aging, a topic that's been on my mind lately, probably because the year in the northern hemisphere is at the height of autumn (perhaps my favorite season) and because I am officially closer to sixty than fifty--by world-historical standards, thoroughly immersed in aging. It is a commonplace that American society is youth-oriented: we like new and shiny, and people who age "successfully" manage not to show any signs of aging until they suddenly drop dead at the age of ninety or thereabouts. But that's not the way the natural world works; decay and senescence are part of the process of living, and no less beautiful and vibrant than all that new growth of a few months ago.

Of course, we have the cliché of fall leaf color,

but fading flowers are sometimes as beautiful as fresh ones. Some echinacea go through interesting color changes as they fade,  
and grasses come into their own in the fall.
More important than aesthetics, of course, is what all this aging does in the physical world. It's not the fresh spring growth that feeds things (except, of course, for all the young plants devoured by deer, groundhogs, and rabbits). Instead, dying or dead trees become the nurses or nurseries of other lives.

(not the same tree, but I liked the fungi)
Today, walking home from a morning of reading at the U of Toledo library, I detoured past a brushy area on the edge of a neighborhood park and was struck by its liveliness. This isn't the area in question, but it's a similar spot on the edge of the botanical gardens a few miles from here. 
A large pokeweed was fruiting and, in places, going to seed, and the thicket was filled with the sounds of small lives going about their business. The patch next to a small stream was filled with birds and tall "weeds" going to seed, and while my ability to identify LBJs (Little Brown Jobs, for the non-birders in the group) on the wing is limited, I did eventually distinguish two female goldfinches stuffing themselves on the seeds of tall evening primrose. I didn't take the time to poke around looking for goldfinch nests in the trees a few yards away, but the presence of a large patch of thistle with some thistledown still present indicated that this wild area within an urban park was probably a goldfinch Garden of Eden.

Think how boring the world would be if nothing aged. There would be no fruit, no seeds, no flaming red maple leaves--and probably no life at all.


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Rebecca said...