Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time. — Naomi Shihab Nye
We have had three weeks of delightfully temperate weather — days in the 70’s, nights cooling to the 50’s, gentle breezes which at times gust and shake the foliage and fruit from branches.
It feels a bit like autumn in July, with leaves loosening from tree branches, tumbling to the ground two months early. Our annual July family gathering is coming up soon, but without an older generation of birthdays to celebrate as in previous years: the last of our family elders passed on two months ago. The inevitable shifting and sifting of generations is keenly felt; we middle aged folk now bounce grandchildren on our laps rather than our own children. The last fifteen years have changed much in our family tree.
I feel badly for the trees parting with their leaves too soon. I am sad our family has parted with our elders before we’re ready.
I am no longer invulnerable, seemingly protected by a veneer of youth and vigor. Located high in the canopy of branches, I may wave bravely in the breezes, dew glistening like sweat on my skin, feeling the sun on my back and the raindrops running off my leafy shoulders. Yet my grip is loosening, slowly, surely. My color is subtly fading. My edges are starting to fray, and there may be a hole rent here or there. Yes, I am feeling more and more leaf-like, knowing how far I could fall any time.
That knowledge makes all the difference. I hang on ever more tightly while I can.
“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.” ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
We are meant to be more than mere blemish,
more than a sullied spot or gaping hole on the surface, imperfect and inconvenient.
We are created as air and water and flesh and bones,
from the covering of skin to our deeper darkened cavities that fill and empty.
We are created out of Word and Silence.
We are created to weep and praise, praise and weep.
We are meant to be mystery, perfect in our imperfection.
Blemish made beautiful.
Season of ripening fruit and seeds, depart; There is no harvest ripening in the heart.
Bring the frost that strikes the dahlias down In one cruel night. The blackened buds, the brown And wilted heads, the crippled stems, we crave – All beauty withered, crumbling to the grave. Wind, strip off the leaves, and harden, ground, Till in your frozen crust no break is found.
Then only, when man’s inner world is one With barren earth and branches bared to bone, Then only can the heart begin to know The seeds of hope asleep beneath the snow; Then only can the chastened spirit tap The hidden faith still pulsing in the sap. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Our farm has been changing dramatically over the past several weeks, each day moving a little closer to the reality of winter around the corner. Most of the fruit which is not residing in our freezer has fallen from the trees, and the walnut husks are hanging lonesome and bulbous as a windstorm pulled many leaves to the ground creating a multi-colored carpet everywhere I walk.
Readying for winter’s sleep is quite a glamorous affair for some trees on our farm–they are clothed in rich crimson and gold like the most alluring and ostentatious negligee. However the majority of tree leaves turn drab yellow or brown, as if donning a practical flannel nightgown or an oversized t-shirt without any pretense of grandeur. Even our Haflinger horses laze about, comfortable in their soft winter woolie coats and feathered slippers, happy with their gift of hay. I’m understand their contentment as I prefer fluffy flannel myself.This has not been a leisurely autumn for me, instead full of turbulence and fretfulness, too much work to do in too few hours, rushing full force toward the hoped-for calm and quiet of winter. Like so many others, I’m ill at ease with this transition, as unready as a small child who resists the approach of bedtime, even when exhausted to the point of meltdown. It takes someone to quietly sit down with me to read a good bedtime story and to sing a soft hymn of lullaby. I keep leaping up, eyes propped open, pushing on, aware there are still too many “miles to go before I sleep”.
The time to sleep will come, sooner than I think. Just as a storm brings the leaves to the ground, so shall I be laid to rest, to be restored when the time is right.
Maybe I should think about wearing that bright red nightie.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn. —John Muir
The Pacific Northwest has been anticipating a “historic” windstorm for the past four days, comparable to the west coast “Columbus Day” storm of 1962. I remember that storm vividly as an eight year old in Olympia, as the wind gusts were clocked at over 140 mph. Large fir trees toppled over like toothpicks in the woods all around our house. The root balls stood 15 feet tall, headstones over a mass of tree graves. We lived without power for at least a week, losing all our stored food in our freezer and depending on canned goods, a camp stove and kerosene lights and hot dogs roasted over our fireplace.
When the predictions came for a similar strength storm last week, like millions of others in the region, I dutifully prepared by storing up water, getting a battery operated radio ready and counting up my canned goods. We waited, en masse, for the monster to storm into our yards.
The lights flickered a few times, but the winds were meager in comparison to our usual storms.
Some people were disappointed, having geared up for “the big one.”
I’m among the relieved this morning, having aged past the desire for an adventure without power, and today my cares have dropped away like the leaves that let go to settle silent for the winter.
There is a desperation to these October days:
the leaves torn from branches by unrelenting gusts
with no thought to where they may land~
upon which patch of grass or gravel will be their final resting place
to wilt and wither in the rain,
buried by eventual peaceful snowbanks
until they return to dust.
Or in my need to hold on to what I can
of what was,
I preserve a few like precious treasure,
tucked between book pages
to remain forever neighbors
with the words they embrace.
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”
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 stateof 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.