After an interminable string of hot, humid days, the weather gently cracked Monday night. Off and on showers and light silvery storms popped up yesterday to open the first day of meteorological autumn.
Astronomical autumn doesn’t start until the 21st or 22nd. That’s fine. My head and heart have already switched into fall mode way ahead of the curve. The transition starts when the very first faint tinges of gold and scarlet rim the edges of the leaves and the acorns begin to drop. Then a bare handful of leaves in full fall colors drift to the ground on the soft wind. Next come the geese honking their way into flocks, just a couple here and there, gradually increasing in numbers as they find their places in the V-shaped formation gliding across the sky.
And then noticing that the lights need to go on earlier, and a little earlier the next night, and stay on a little later the next morning.
As the days grow shorter, this not-so-young woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of comfort food. Two recipes I want to try this fall are risotto–I’ve never made it but have wanted to do so–and two new soups. One is Finnish salmon soup which kind of resembles chowder; the other is plokkfisker, a potato and fish dish from Iceland that looks like chowder on steroids. I will report on the results.
Books are a necessity any time of year, but more so in the months where a person needs to gather by the hearth. I started rereading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley over the weekend. Ms. Bradley retold the Arthurian legends from the point of view of the female characters. It weighs in at over 700 pages and a couple of pounds, but worth the time and (physical) effort. In addition, I have a couple of cookbooks requested for my birthday next month, Mimi Thorrisson’s newest, Old World Italian, and The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson. I’ll review them after I play with them.
In the mean time, there are preparations to be made. Blankets? Check. Go through the pantry and freezer to inventory what we have and what we need? Check. Get outside and enjoy it while we can before the really cold weather sets in? Check.
The weather finally decided to warm up and act like spring here in the soybean field. The final measurable snow fell a couple of weeks ago and yielded four inches of slop. We stayed inside, needless to say.
Except for that day, we’ve been able to resume walks with our friends on weekend mornings. Oakley and Bonnie Blue read and respond to the social media posts left by other dogs as we meander the riverside trail connecting two parks, the one where we meet and the one that’s our turnaround point. It’s not a long walk nor is it a strenuous one, but it’s good friend hangout time for us as well as the pups.
Here at home, the first task outdoors will be cleaning out the raised garden bed. I still have a couple of weeks before I can plant this year’s crops, but remnants of the rogue lettuce and other plants I don’t recall inserting into the soil last year need to be pulled before that happens.
It is good to have that to look forward to. It’s good to participate in the cycle of life, of growth. In the last weeks, I had yet another passage to process. The husband of a close friend (and a friend in his own right) made his journey to the Other Side a couple of weeks ago. He had Parkinson’s. It wasn’t a battle, nor a journey during the 10 or 12 years of living with it. It just was a part of their lives. Until the last couple of weeks he was still engaged, curious, and did his best to follow the tango steps from his wheelchair as my friend and their teacher danced during a visit. Not long after that he just started the quiet drift to the distant shore. It was peaceful, comfortable, and full of grace. His funeral and interment will be next week.
Last Friday brought the first frost advisory via the five o’clock weather report. I went out into the rainy late afternoon and pulled the last of the tomatoes so they could ripen indoors. Covering the plants last year resulted in watery, sour spheres despite a stretch of warmer days afterwards. Not something I wanted to go through again. At least in a brown paper bag they’ll get some semblance of color.
The cool rain didn’t bother me, even as it trickled down my neck and back. Earlier in the week we’d had to turn the air on after cooler weather briefly flashed its ankles at us. That had lasted for a few days until heat and humidity returned. Friday marked the end of the run for the heat and the beginning of weather more in line with the autumnal equinox.
I can’t say that I was sad to see September go. I let the rain wash it away.
I let it cleanse me of the anxiety over my brother-in-law’s bypass surgery. Four of the five blood vessels were 80-100% clogged with the gunk that collects in them as we age. Some can circumvent it with diet and exercise. In his case despite doing everything right, plaque still took up residence on his arterial walls. The surgeon was shocked that BIL hadn’t had a heart attack before this. No damage to the muscle, and just a couple of days after his surgery, he sounded more energetic if a little breathy. He was able to walk to the end of the block and back ten days after surgery.
I let the rain wash away the sadness surrounding the passage of the father of my high school best friend. He was funny, kind, and flew a B-26 in WWII. His students in the agriculture department at Michigan State were lucky to have him. He was 96, and living with problems peculiar to people of an advanced age. It was time, not to take from anyone’s sorrow. It was just time.
In the fading light, I looked upwards at the variegated grey clouds.
We’d had one call Tuesday night from Hubby’s oldest sister, one of the calls after ten p.m. that bodes unwell when you get to be our age. Second oldest sister was on her way out. Another round of sepsis came on and the weapons-grade antibiotic couldn’t touch it and it’s any minute now. Oh, and Oldest’s husband is failing, fading. Maybe six weeks according to the doctors at Cleveland Clinic. The radiation intended to kill off the cancer irreparably damaged his lungs, making them look like the red lace doilies used by children to make Valentine’s cards.
The call we’d hoped some miracle would stave off came about 2:30 Thursday morning. Second Sister had slipped the veil into the next world. She was only 64. A retired junior high guidance counselor, gardener par excellence, and active in helping refugees.
Hubby had been able to get an earlyish flight to Phoenix. He left at 5:30. Called me at 8:30 that night. I supported him as best I could. Funeral the next day, Friday. Family members flying back and forth between Detroit and Phoenix, tending to the living as they prepare to say goodbye to the passed and the passing.
The rain washed away the helplessness, the sorrow.
I took the tomatoes inside, then sat in my spot on the sofa. Oakley, sleepy from an afternoon at day care, snuggled his tush against my hip. I rubbed his ears. We don’t need words to talk. I read some poems. I watched some mindless filler on TV, too, until bed time.
Hubby arrived about three a.m. I heard his footsteps and the soft scrape of the chair across the kitchen tiles, and went back to sleep.
Many hours later, we talked of his travel experiences, seeing his family, and the service. We talked, too, about the need to get our estate planned and our advance directives down in ink. Neither of us want heroic measures. Personally, I want to include a clause that will warn anyone thinking of putting me on life support that if they do, I will haunt them to the end of days.
And while I don’t know how my funeral will go beyond hoping that people will say kind things about me, I do know that I want the memorial to conclude with a reading of Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon, followed by a pause, and then for the very last thing, Spring by John Denver. (A live performance would be cool, but it’s up on YouTube if that doesn’t work out.)
I hope that’s many years off, though. Our immediate tasks are to tend to his brother in law, support his sister when that time comes, and go about the present and all there is there, letting the seasons cycle as they will.
In the meantime, I’ll let the rains of autumn wash me clean.
Today’s title from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day.” Today’s image courtesy Old Design Shop.
The last week or so here in the soybean field unfolded fairly uneventfully. November arrived yesterday clad in grey with touches of orange and yellow. The contrast of the leaves and the sky made me gasp a couple of times for the sheer beauty of it as I drove home from the suburb within shouting distance of the big city.
Let me back up. I went to a funeral yesterday. The stepmother and -in-law of two of my close friends took advantage of the veil between the worlds thinning to slip into her next life over the weekend. No preventable disease; no tragic end. Just the sadness that comes when it’s time to let go of a loved one. She was a well-lived 94, and until she became unsteady on her feet a few years ago, she volunteered at the People’s Resource Center in Wheaton, IL (providing food, clothes, and job skills training to residents of the county since sometime in the ’60’s).
As funerals go, it wasn’t bad at all. The pastor had spoken extensively with the family members who arranged it. He used the stories they told to paint a portrait of a woman who lived well, loved her family, and served others. At the points where prayers and blessings were inserted, he acknowledged that not everyone walked his path, and it was OK if you didn’t say the words with the rest of the gathered. The service lasted a scant half an hour. At its conclusion, we made one last walk past the urn containing her ashes. I placed my hand on it, wished her a safe journey.
Afterwards, another of our mutual friends whom I hadn’t seen in a while invited me out for coffee. We invested in an hour of laughs and news, then parted with hugs and a promise of lunch soon.
I picked my way through midday traffic. The quote from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” began running through my mind. So did the question of where have I been relative to my own life the last five years or so.
I know the answer, but out of respect for the privacy of others, I can’t go into it, but I will tell you that it has drained my psyche rather than filling my soul. I thank you for your understanding.
Even in the fading light of the year, it’s time to get back to my own life, to the things that keep my heart beating: writing, activism when I can, the environment as best I can, and history. And my friends. It’s tough when they live an hour and upwards away. I will just have to make more of an effort, though, for my own good.
So, as the leaves fall in the swirling wind, I begin again.
A supermoon and an eclipse accompanied the equinox this year, heightening the sense that the veils between the worlds grow thinner by the moment. It is the the quarter of the year’s wheel when the harvest comes in; the time when the leaves turn colors and the grasses grow golden in the low-angled light western light at dusk. Let go, let go, it’s all done, completed, whispers the wind.
It seems as if the last couple of weeks since then have ushered in a lot of letting go. First, the passage of a very old friend’s mother–as in since kindergarten old friend’s mother. Mrs. R. had stepped up as a second mom after my mother’s unexpected death. She was 90, and the matriarch of a large blended clan. Until the last few months, she had been more clear-headed and coherent than many half her age, and burned up Facebook with the best of them. (“Having laser surgery on my eyes today. Asked the doctor if the beams will come out of my butt.”) Mrs. R, if you see this, thanks. I’m sure that she and my mom have the coffee going and are getting caught up.
Then came the call from a shell-shocked close friend whose late 80-something year old parents are engaging in synchronized self destruction. Her mom is in supported living; her dad in hospice. My face froze in the deer-in-headlights position for her.
Yesterday was acupuncture day. There had been a group of elders who had pretty much grown up here in the little town, and treated their weekly treatments as they might going out for coffee or another social event. None of them were there. One had lost his license due to age related problems, another had fallen and broken her arm, the third had another health crisis that prevented him from coming. The community treatment room was entirely too quiet.
And yesterday came news that the husband of another friend is facing a cardiac bypass in the next few days. He has a complicated medical history to begin with, but is going ahead with the surgery despite the risks. He’s tried everything else, and would not be going ahead with it if he didn’t feel that it was warranted.
We wait. We ask the Great Mystery for the best possible outcome. We burn so much incense that the sheriff’s deputies might catch a whiff and show up with a probable cause warrant.
Pause, inhale. Be aware of the cool damp earth supporting my feet, the scent of the incense and the smoke from the piles of pruned branches, fallen leaves, and other plant matter burning to expedite its return to the earth.
Pause, aware that some day, hopefully not for a long time, I will finish the westward walk and step through the veil, reunited with the ones who have gone on before.
No, Gentle Reader, it’s not you. We have a full moon coming in this weekend. Good to set aside a few hours to do some decluttering. I’m intending to clean out a couple of cabinets and make a run to Goodwill. Good to recharge your crystals, too. Also optimal to do releasing ceremonies–my personal favorite is to write letters to release toxic feelings, then burn them with sage. Or write them on toilet paper and flush away.
It will also be good to start getting the garden going. At least getting things staked out, or containers lined up to welcome their occupants. Mothers’ Day, the second Sunday in May in the US, is generally considered the safe date to start planting. Any earlier and frost may prove an unwanted visitor.
At the very least, I’ll get some planters for the back step and front porch. I love gardens. I’ve had some luck with indestructible vegetables like zucchini, but with flowers, not so much.
Walks and time at the park with Oakley take the top spot on the list. It has a special urgency this spring. He’s fine. However, Precious, the neighbor dog, is not. When I stopped over earlier this week, she looked as if she didn’t know which side of the veil she was on, and instead of her usual exuberant barking and tail waving, she sat motionless. She’s either developed diabetes or kidney failure in these her later years. She’s lost her vision and most of her hearing. In the last few weeks, her decline has sped up exponentially. Precious was three when they moved in ten years ago. Her humans will be walking her to the Bridge this weekend.
I issued the standard “I’ll be thinking of you” sentiment. If I offered to do what I really want to do (be present, crystal grid, sage, Reiki), there would likely be much consternation. She has her spiritual path, I have mine, and we value the common spaces too much to impose our beliefs on one another.
So I will quietly send Reiki, light some sage, and lay out a grid in my own home. And make a cake.
It’s Monday, the first day of autumn, a/k/a Mabon in the earth-based religions, and new moon day.
This weekend featured marches against climate change. Can the effort to heal the planet continue? I hope so.
Oakley and I walked at a forest preserve populated by oaks yesterday. Over the next few weeks, their leaves turn gold or scarlet depending on their species. The vibrant if too-short show really pops against the grey skies. I thanked and blessed the trees for their efforts to clean the air and cool the earth. We arrived pretty early, and no one else was there, so why not? Trees are some of the best huggers I know.
Local critters are starting to move. Deer appear by the side of the road, ready to play the ancient versions of “Dating Game” that perpetuate the species, namely crossing from point A to point B without getting nailed by a car. This morning, Oakley protected me from a flock of wild turkeys blocking the path in front of us. No harm done, but the power of a dirty look is not to be underestimated.
Hubby returned from the latest wrestling match with his mom’s house. A few days of my cooking and some decent nights’ sleep will go a long way towards repairing him. I made him pasta and broccoli with a reduction of chicken broth to cut back on the oil. He liked it and fell asleep on the sofa.
I bought another bag of gala apples from the orchard yesterday afternoon. Perfect. Sweet and crisp, just as the season they represent.