Predictable novelty: Why we love fall

I am away on a short vacation – enjoying fall. While I’m travelling, I’m re-posting some content from my previous blog site. Enjoy.

maple-leaf

I love this time of year, when the Earth’s spin and the tilt of the planet carries us into cooler temperatures, shorter days and colourful leaves. And wool socks. And the smoky aroma of logs burning the fireplace. And cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves.

The cooler weather rejuvenates people. The shorter days give us more time to read. Pumpkin Spice Lattes warm chilled hands. (My daughter works at Starbucks, and she spends much of her time these days preparing Pumpkin Spice Lattes. People love them.)

Most of us love these things without understanding why, but scientists have theories about our affinity for fall. Catherine Franssen wrote about it on Huff Post Science.

According to Franssen, we like “predictable novelty.” In other words, fall gives us the two things we crave all in one package: change and stability. It brings change that doesn’t make us anxious, because we know it’s coming. We also associate fall with pleasurable things, like pumpkin pie and walks in fallen leaves. Those pleasurable memories trigger neurotransmitters.

“The neuroscience behind that love is the trifecta of pleasurable neurotransmitters fired: dopamine (pleasure), serotonin (contentment) and norepinephrine (alertness). When all three are going at once, you’re in a heightened state of awareness in a really good way.” —Catherine Franssen

Apparently, many of us float through autumn high on dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine—not to mention cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves—as we eagerly anticipate football victories, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties.

Sounds good to me. I think I’ll have a latte . . . 

The new (ab)normal

After natural disasters, the landscapes around us feel decidedly unnatural.

I can only imagine how disorienting it must be for people recovering from catastrophic hurricanes, because I find the damages from our neighbourhood’s much smaller scale natural disaster bewildering enough.

Last fall, a tornado tore a swath through the Ottawa, Canada region. The twister uprooted trees and destroyed forests in the Greenbelt near my home and on paths where I used to walk my dog. For months the National Capital Commission kept portions of the path closed because they were too dangerous, and clean-up operations were underway.

Orange barrier fencing with the words "Temporarily closed for safety reasons."

I walked there for the first time two weeks ago, and I stumbled around lost. Paths that I used to walk on every day and knew as intimately as old friends looked completely different.

At one crossroad, I used to walk straight ahead into dark forest, but instead of dense trees and low light, the path ahead was bright with sky. I stopped and did a double-take. Was I in the right place? Had I somehow lost my way?

I retraced my steps to make sure, and I was not lost. The dense forest that used to lie ahead was just . . . gone.

Stacks of felled trees lay piled beside the trail. Ancient trees had lost limbs, and slender trees bent to the ground.

And then there was the swath.

Everything felt topsy-turvy and all wrong.

But, in the undergrowth, in areas suddenly bright with unfiltered sun, young trees sprouted. Buzzing insects had made a home in the torn-up turf.

Out of the new (ab)normal, life springs anew.

Sunrise, moonset

I awoke early on Sunday morning.

Well, I awake early every morning, but on Sunday morning, I decided that an early walk would be nice. I could see the sun rise.

When I walked out my front door, I turned west first. Above me, still high in the brightening sky, was the almost-full moon. I set out to watch the sun rise, but instead I watched the moon set.

A reminder that every end is a beginning, every beginning an end.

Full moon in the morning sky

Lens-artist photo challenge: Silhouettes

I’m inspired by the lens-artists photo challenge to do a bonus post this week. You can see more silhouettes of find the challenge here.

There is something about silhouettes that is particularly touching . . . haunting . . . inspiring.

I’ve added some of my own.

Man and tree silhouette
Hampstead Heath
Sandcastle in foreground with the silhouettes of two teenaged boys in the distance
Anna Maria Island
Silhouette of a harshly pruned tree
St. James’s Park, London
Shadow of skiers on a ski lift
Technically, this is a shadow, but I like it anyway – from Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec
The statue of El Cristo de la Concordia in Cochobamba, Bolivia
El Cristo de la Concordia, Cochobamba, Bolivia

Work, rest, play, or all three at once

What did you do for work this summer?

For rest?

For play?

How often did you work, rest and play at the same time?

Those questions were the topics for discussion at my church recently, and we were surprised to discover how often we choose to spend our time doing things that feed us in more ways than one.

Rocky shoreline of Lake Huron
I spent some time this summer on the shores of Lake Huron.

Gardening, for example, is work for sure, but meditative and joy-filled too. We take days to prepare for camping trips and more days cleaning up after, but the time spent resting by the campfire or playing in the lake make it all worth while. A hike up a forest path accelerates our heart rate and strains the muscles, and then we get to enjoy the view and sleep really well at night.

When those questions were asked of me, writing came to mind.

Facing down the blank page is hard work.

Writing is hard work. Whether it’s paid work for my jobs or labouring over the second draft of my novel, I must give of myself mentally, physically and emotionally—sometimes painfully—to get words on the page.

I also play with the words, move them around, change them, and chew on them until they feel just right. I feel that jolt of joy when I know that I’ve captured some elusive idea exactly right.

I’m a writer because it’s something I need to do. When I have fulfilled that need, expended the energy and played with ideas, gratified rest follows. Even if I know a work is not complete or that I will need to revisit a paragraph or concept, I rest with the same sense of accomplishment that the hiker experiences at the top of the mountain. The rest serves my writing too. When I step away and then return, the time away gives me fresh perspective and I see ways to make the work even better.

What did you do this summer? Did it feel like nothing but work? Did you play? Have you rested?

The garden sanctuary I look at when I am working, playing and resting while writing in my back yard.

Happiness is . . .

Welcome mat reading "this is our happy place, at the bottom of a set of stairs.

This is the welcome mat below deck of the Pride of Baltimore II, a Baltimore Clipper tall ship, circa the War of 1812.

The crew of the Pride of Baltimore II find their joy on a craft that catches wind in mighty sails that carry them across the bounding main — and the Great Lakes. They rest easy on a ship that can anchor when needed, save them in peril, and fire up weapons to fend off foes.

Their happy place is nothing like mine — I prefer dry land, uncrowded sleeping space and luxurious showers — but I find joy in knowing that the crew of the awesome tall ship is in their happy place when skimming across glinting waters .

What is your happy place?