Fall colors, salmon festivals, bird migrations & yoga meditations…autumn in Leavenworth inspires mindfulness about the natural world.
Fall returns to the Pacific Northwest like an old friend bearing gifts. The trees are gathering their bouquets: maples are turning heart red, aspens burnished gold. There’s a cool edge to the air, and the scent of campfire stirs the memory, playing with our sense of time. Autumn holds a poignant beauty, precious in its impermanence.
It's a nostalgic season. Back-to-school feelings still tug at us from the past, as do our deep cultural ties to the land, around which the public school year was originally designed. There is so much nature has to teach us in the fall, and I realized I'd better start paying closer attention. Here are a few recent experiences in which I found myself in the role of student again.
Salmon in Session
Last weekend I visited the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, located a quarter-mile from Snowgrass Lodge. Built in 1940, the hatchery was one of three created as reparation for the Grand Coulee Dam’s devastating impact on migratory fish populations (salmon, steelhead) after the dam blocked access to spawning habitats in the Columbia River basin.
The Leavenworth hatchery helps restore Chinook Salmon to the rivers and streams, and replenish Native American tribal fishing grounds.
As I toured the grounds, looking at young fingerlings in their tubs and full grown salmon born last year, I learned about the incredible the lengths they’ll go, traveling miles and miles of waterways to reach the Pacific Ocean, where they’ll live for years before returning (by scent) to the rivers of their youth. Back to this very spot.
Their life is literally a journey, their marathon swim upstream a perfect metaphor for perseverance. Nature, I thought, is the best teacher.
This weekend, on the September Equinox, I returned to the hatchery for the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival. Featuring hands-on learning activities for kids, reptile shows, birds of prey exhibits, and Native American art, the free community day celebrated the return of the salmon to our Northwest rivers.
Other Migration Lessons
I also recently went on a bird walk at nearby Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort a half-mile farther up Icicle Road. There, I joined more than a dozen early morning risers armed with binoculars. Led by retired U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Heather Murphy, we spotted American goldfinches in the aspens, osprey on the wing, and dippers in the river, and we chased an elusive white-headed woodpecker through the organic garden, its call leading us down the primrose path.
As we scoured trees and snags like detectives, searching for signs of life that hadn’t yet migrated south, I felt grateful for the thrill of discovery, and to be learning something new. It was the final bird walk of the season, and last chances are always exciting.
Perhaps that’s fall’s hold on us, too—the last-chance splendor that feels like “a second spring, when every leaf is a flower." Fall reminds us to be ever mindful, to not miss a thing.
A New Practice
Autumn is an ideal time for starting new activities, and not just outdoors. One of the founding texts on Hatha Yoga, the Gheranda Samhita, suggests starting a new yoga practice in spring or autumn, “for in these seasons success is attained without much trouble” and one “does not become liable to diseases.” Sounded good to me.
After the bird walk, I took in a gentle yoga class at Sleeping Lady led by Joanna Dunn. The transition from investigating the natural world to more inward observation felt like the right progression to me.
Clearly, fall has already been working its magic on me. For me, the deep learning of autumn lies in paying attention to my changing world. I like to think of every trip around the sun as a metaphor and a microcosm of a whole lifetime, from the spring of our youth, to our ripe autumn years. The current season holds great lessons for us, not the least of which is to make the most of our lives with the vibrancy that fall knows best.
What feelings does fall inspire in you? What activities are on your calendar? Share them below!
 Voiced by a character trying to connect with an estranged family member, this line from Act II of Camus’ play, Le Malentendu (The Misunderstanding), seems to assert that life offers us second chances. The encouraging quote belies the play’s dark themes and Greek tragedy-style ending, but I still love the metaphor. You can read contextual dialogue along with one reader’s commentary here.
 The 17th century Gheranda Samhita, translated by Rabbahadur Srisa Chandra Vasu, is viewable online here.