Untertal, late August

I’ve never been in Europe in autumn.

I’ve spent several summers here, two weeks of winter, and one spring.  But all of my autumns, my favorite season of all, have been in Washington.

I’ve come back to Austria for the weekend–truly just for Saturday–to attend the going-away party for Julie Johnson, a fellow instructor from the summer who is leaving Tauernhof after two years.  And though it’s raining this Saturday, I can’t imagine anything better to do with a Saturday afternoon in the Alps than go hiking.  So hiking we’ve gone.

It’s fifteen degrees cooler than the last time I was here, and today I’m carrying an umbrella and wearing jeans, the perfect tourist.  To complete the costume, I turn around and take another picture from the top of one of Riesachsee’s many ladders.

The view of Untertal, one of the shady, narrow valleys that run down to Schladming, is breathtaking as usual.  Yet what keeps me taking pictures of places I’ve seen dozens of times is the changes.  Though southwestern Germany is still green and often warm, here it is fully autumn.  It’s been only a month or so since I left Austria, but the valley is transformed.  Emerald pastures are golden, evergreen hills blurry through swirling mist.

Untertal, late September

Later, on a long train ride home, I drink in the colors of Alpine autumn and think about seasons.  How you never really know a place until you’ve seen it in all its colors, knowing the quiet of watching the snow fall just as intimately as the delight of the first day you walk outside without a coat in the spring.  How this means that knowing any place takes a while, no matter how long I spend looking at the maps that have come to fill our house.

And, because I’ve just left the Austria of analogies, I think about people and their seasons.  How knowing people takes even more time and patience, waiting and listening and learning through the unpredictable circumstances that cause us to grow.  It’s why I love teaching, with its the promise that I’ll know these students long enough to experience a few seasons with them.  It’s also an important reminder now, as Kandern and its community start to feel like a place that I’m familiar with, but not yet a place that I know.

I am thankful for seasons, for changes, for growth.  And never more so than in the autumn, a time of stoic and graceful quietness, drawing into rest so that life can be renewed.


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