Musings from the Well...
Copyright © 2019 Catharine Mitchell. All rights reserved.
Late Summer Cleanup
I return home after a few days away
To discover my plants dry and wilted,
Some leaves even crisp for lack of care.
We had experienced rain away
So this evidence of neglect (Nature's or mine?)
Surprises and chides me.
As I carefully trickle bucket after bucket
Into the dry soil, I notice
That the leaves which have fallen, dessicated,
Have gathered in corners of porch and deck,
Held securely by cobwebs -
In some places so thick as to be opaque white.
(More evidence that my attention was elsewhere.)
I consider getting the broom to return
The steps to a neat, tidy, austere emptiness,
But I look around -
Leaves falling here and there,
Late summer weeds with gangly stalks,
Grass brown and brittle in places,
Pieces of walnut shell scattered by
Scavenging squirrels, preparing for a change of season.
My cobwebs and leaves are the remaining fragments
Of the dream of summer. Who am I
To sweep them away?
It's funny how in late August it's like we cross some sort of invisible threshold from summer to not-summer. While hot weather may find us yet, there will be no more of the humid nights where heading outside in the evening is like stepping into a warm bath. The sky looks different. Air-conditioning is off and windows are open to welcome breezes. Goldenrod has unfurled its deep yellow flowers everywhere along fences, ditches, and the edges of forests. Birds are gathering in flocks, frequently changing direction en masse, swimming through the air like schools of fish. We know that something is changing, even if we haven't looked at a calendar lately.
September has always been a bittersweet time for me. I loved school as a student, and even more so during my thirty years of teaching. There was great excitement and a deep sense of purpose in setting up a classroom and preparing to meet the hopeful new faces I would shepherd over the course of the coming school year. But... I would see the geese heading south, listen to their honking from high above me, and wish that I could travel too, somewhere, anywhere. People would chuckle when I mentioned this longing - especially when I mentioned my theory that some part of me was listening to an ancient pattern embedded in my DNA, a desperate need to move with the seasons.
These liminal, or threshold, times were honoured deeply by the ancient Celtic peoples. Any time or place where one thing was transitioning to another was recognized as sacred. This could be transition in place, such as water meeting land or forest meeting field, or transition in time, such as day meeting night at dusk, or summer meeting autumn during Lughnasadh (August 1-November 1). One of the blessings for me of retirement has been a slower pace, where I can take the time to feel into these times and places, rather than noting them in passing during a busy schedule, or even worse, ignoring them completely. Some transitions (such as seasonal changes) are cyclical, while others (such as moving from daily working life to retirement) may appear more linear. Certain transitions grow into our lives more slowly (think hair becoming progressively more grey as we move into eldership, or the planning involved in moving to a new home) while others, such as the unexpected loss of a job, loved one, or health, can come upon us with the force of a hurricane.
Navigating a period of transition can be difficult, especially if it is a change we did not choose. These times require great care, tenderness, and support. But even changes seen as happier, such as moving or marriage, often require a constant searching for balance between the old and the new. This is where Nature can be very helpful. Taking a moment, even within a breath, to note the slow shifting of colour in the leaves of a tree in the yard or the movement in exactly where the sun slips below the horizon, can remind us that change is part of life. It takes attention, but we can begin to develop deeper awareness in what is happening to and within us, and then find a more stable stance where we can both grieve what is leaving and find a way to welcome what is coming. Life presents us with plenty of opportunities to practise this. One of my most persistent teachers has been the coming of autumn.
While my awareness of this liminal seasonal transition used to occur during the busiest time of a teacher's yearly cycle, after retiring from the classroom my schedule is my own to craft. This is the fourth September when I have had this freedom (still somewhat strange to me) to go where I wish, when I wish. I have travelled somewhere during each of those years, intentionally honouring this deep longing. I try to structure my journeys around having opportunities to wander through forests and fields with Nature as my companion and teacher, as well as scheduling time to rest in silence. Stepping into this space with a degree of reverence helps me to remain aware that I am fortunate indeed to have this opportunity. Now I sit quietly in gratitude instead of frantically organizing materials and planning lessons. It's as though September has been calling me for years, and only now am I able to accept the invitation.