End of September

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it rained in my sleep
and in the morning the fields were wet

I dreamed of artillery
of the thunder of horses

in the morning the fields were strewn
with twigs and leaves

as if after a battle
or a sudden journey

I went to sleep in the summer
I dreamed of rain

in the morning the fields were wet
and it was autumn
~Linda Pastan “September”

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I can choose to fight the inevitable march of time with sighs and sorrows,
thus arm myself with sour bitterness for what is no more,

or I can flow unmoved for as long as I can stay afloat,
only passively aware of the passage of all around me,

or I can smile with awaking each morning, whether to sun or wind or rain,
grateful I’ve been given one more day to get it right,

or at least to care enough to try.

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A Pathway of Flowers and Thorns

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We are to follow in His steps; and can we wish, if it were possible, to walk in a path strewed with flowers when His was strewed with thorns?
John Newton

A few years ago, our family made the necessary decision to have one of our two older dogs, just diagnosed with inoperable cancer, euthanized at home. The vet came on a blustery winter evening after his clinic appointments were done; my husband and son had worked in the cold wind preparing the grave on a little hill overlooking the barnyard. This peaceful but unmarked spot has become a pet cemetery over the years, now with three dogs and at least that many cats lying under the apple trees.

It was difficult for our family that night to think of our dog’s still warm body tucked into that cold ground. That bare patch of dirt stared at me as I walked past and our other aging dog paused there a few times, as if knowing where his old friend lay, and where within a year, he too would join him. Then a couple months later, still in the midst of wintry weather, with passing storms of hale, frozen rain and snow showers, I was astonished to see that plot of bare ground transforming.

Snowdrop flowers had appeared from nowhere. They had not been there before and I have no idea where they would have come from. Possibly disturbing the ground brought previously hidden bulbs closer to the surface. No matter how they found their way there, they were a breath of relief and promise after a dark winter. They were bright and clean and pure in the midst of otherwise unadorned mud, embraced overhead by stark bare orchard branches, their little white bells stirred by winter breezes.

These flowers became a brave and insistent symbol that life does goes on, thriving over the top of death.

So we are encouraged to follow in His steps, one slow difficult step at a time. The going is painful much of the time, strewn as life can be with thorns and tears. Yet, because He walked there first, going ahead of us, His footprints through the thorns fill with flowers, cushioning and adorning our path with unsurpassed grace and beauty.

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A Harbinger of Something Harder

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How hard it is to take September
straight—not as a harbinger
of something harder.

Merely like suds in the air, cool scent
scrubbed clean of meaning—or innocent
of the cold thing coldly meant.

How hard the heart tugs at the end
of summer, and longs to haul it in
when it flies out of hand

at the prompting of the first mild breeze.
It leaves us by degrees
only, but for one who sees

summer as an absolute,
Pure State of Light and Heat, the height
to which one cannot raise a doubt,

as soon as one leaf’s off the tree
no day following can fall free
of the drift of melancholy.
~Mary Jo Salter “Absolute September”

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I admit I’ve been clinging to summer, though the calendar says it is fall, the darker mornings say it is fall, and the coolness of the air necessitates turning on the furnace first thing to take the chill off. These last days of September bring on a drift of melancholy for time wasted during summer’s  pure state of light and heat and here we are again, reminded of our mortality and the shortness of our days.

And so the harder times are coming, there can be no doubt.  Wistful about whether I can weather it,  I am tugged, heart first, into October, ready or not.

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Smelling Their Sweetness

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A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.
~Robert Frost “Unharvested”

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Our trees are heavy-laden — the dropping fruit thuds to the ground with such finality,  it wakes me in the night and reminds me how far I’ve fallen.

“Fall” is just that: nothing will remain as it was. Autumn replays our desire for an apple that smelled so sweet, tempted with shiny sheen and lured with such color that we fell hard and fast for just one taste.

We ignored the worm hole.

And ended up in a hole ourselves, unharvested, hoping one day for the sweetness to return.

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A Burst of Fruit Flies

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The whiskey stink of rot has settled
in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises
when I touch the dying tomato plants.

Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms
flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots
and toss them in the compost.
 
It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready
to let go of summer so easily. To destroy
what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.
Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.
 
My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village
as they pulled the flax. Songs so old
and so tied to the season that the very sound
seemed to turn the weather.
~Karina Borowicz  “September Tomatoes”
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I have an uncomfortable relationship with fruit flies this time of year. The compost bin erupts with a black cloud of fruit flies when I throw in the day’s cast offs. The fruit I bring in from the orchard and garden must be preserved before it rots, but hundreds of Drosophila melanogaster decide their breeding grounds are far more hospitable in a warm kitchen than in the chilly outdoors.  And breed they do, each female laying up to 100 eggs a day just like in biology lab at Stanford 40+ years ago where we traced recessive vs. dominant genetic traits of curly deformed wings, stubby bristles and colored eyes. I am not interested in such subtlety in my current crop of flies.  In fact I have no sympathy for them at all.
I have laid out killing fields everywhere on the cupboards — fruit fly traps (paper cones feeding into apple cider vinegar baths in water glasses), a cautionary tale to the daily burden of fresh fruit flies.

It feels so cruel.

As rot and degradation is their happy place, the flies will win until the fruit is harvested, preserved and put away for a winter day.  Then the kitchen becomes my happy place again, fly-free with no more killing fields.
Then I must face the cruel task of pulling up carefully tended garden plants to ready the beds for winter.  Perhaps if I remember to sing as I pull them out by the roots, they won’t see me weep.
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Shed No Tear

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Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.”
~ Brian Jacques 

The end-of-summer farm is silently sobbing in its losses; tears of fall, from fog, mist and drizzle, cling to everything everywhere. I arrive back in the house from barn chores soaked through from walking through the weeping.  ‘Tis no shame to be drenched in such sorrow.

The memory of summer is pressed deep in our grieving, our wounds healed by Light that illumines our tears.

We are never left comfortless and weep in the knowing.

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Shed no tear! oh, shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
Weep no more! oh, weep no more!
Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.
Dry your eyes! oh, dry your eyes!
For I was taught in Paradise
To ease my breast of melodies,–
Shed no tear.

Overhead! look overhead!
‘Mong the blossoms white and red–
Look up, look up! I flutter now
On this fresh pomegranate bough.
See me! ’tis this silvery bill
Ever cures the good man’s ill.
Shed no tear! oh, shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
~John Keats from “Fairy Song”

Again and again we weep.
It is not simply the sorrowful loss
of the perfection of spring giving way to the dying of the fall,
the last gasp coloring of leaves and skies.

It is the loss of innocence, of sense of reverence for life,
this blight man was born for,
this bleeding out perpetrated for no reason.
What must drive one man’s selfish rage, loneliness and despair to compel him to deprive innocent others of their blood and life?
What unexplained evil overtakes one heart that he seeks to stop the beating hearts of others?
When will there ever again be safe havens in society, if not within our schools, our churches, our medical facilities, our malls, then where?
This is a day for lament, for tears, and for prayers to God that we bleed out the sickness that is infecting us all.

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Again and again we weep and know why.
It is not simply the sorrowful loss
of the perfection of spring giving way to the dying of the fall,
the last gasp coloring of leaves and skies.
It is the loss of innocence, of sense of reverence for life,
this blight man was born for,
this bleeding out perpetrated for no reason.
What must drive one man’s selfish rage, loneliness and despair to compel him to deprive innocent others of their blood and life?
What unexplained evil overtakes one heart that he seeks to stop the beating hearts of others?
When will there ever again be safe havens in society, if not within our schools, our churches, our medical facilities, our malls, then where?
This is a day for lament, for tears, and for prayers to God that we bleed out the sickness that is infecting us all.
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Thank you to Male Ensemble Northwest for singing this song based on the Keats poem during their concert last night.

 

 

Enter a Closing Door

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Enter autumn as you would
a closing door.  Quickly,
cautiously.  Look for something inside
that promises color, but be wary
of its cast–a desolate reflection,
an indelible tint.
~Pamela Steed Hill from “September Pitch”

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The door of summer has closed quickly behind me;
I am back to long days and interrupted evenings,
of worried voices and midnight calls with over-the-phone sobs,
of emergency room referrals and work-them-in schedules.

I want to tell them it’ll be okay, hug away their anguish
despite the encroaching lengthened nights;
that winter coming does not mean
the end of all.
It takes a background of darkness
for the light to shine brightest
Shadows are borne from illumination~
It will be okay, even now, even so.

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