Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing can be pleasing, how little in this hard world it takes to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest.
Within the ongoing havoc the woods this morning is almost unnaturally still. Through stalled air, unshadowed light, a few leaves fall of their own weight.
The sky is gray. It begins in mist almost at the ground and rises forever. The trees rise in silence almost natural, but not quite, almost eternal, but not quite.
What more did I think I wanted? Here is what has always been. Here is what will always be. Even in me, the Maker of all this returns in rest, even to the slightest of His works, a yellow leaf slowly falling, and is pleased. ~Wendell Berry “VII”
What more did I think I wanted?
To know that as long as I’m able to hold on, I can be a spot of light in a dark and bleak world. Once I let go, it is finished and worthwhile, seeing His knowing smile.
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All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke. Down the block we bend with the season: shoes to polish for a big game, storm windows to batten or patch. And how like a field is the whole sky now that the maples have shed their leaves, too. It makes us believers—stationed in groups, leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone, bagging gold for the cold days to come. ~David Baker “Neighbors in October”
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, under frost, 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.
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The leaves are always near to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking heaven’s paths no longer feel the weight of years upon them. Safe in heaven’s calm, they take each other’s arm, the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone. But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept as Eden would be with the walls knocked down, the paths littered with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome. The last roses of the year nod their frail heads, like listeners listening to all that’s said, to ask, What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light? What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom? What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare? Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might, if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves, tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere. It is the last of many last days. Is it enough? To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun? To watch the lineaments of a world passing? To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal, press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow? And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun shining brightly as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth. My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been. To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening. The light is gold. And while we’re here, I think it must be heaven. ~Elizabeth Spires “In Heaven It Is Always Autumn” from Now the Green Blade Rises
I wander the autumn garden mystified at the passing of the weeks since the seed was first sown, weeds pulled, peapods picked. It could not possibly be done so soon–this patch of productivity and beauty, now wilted and brown, vines crushed to the ground, no longer fruitful.
The root cellar is filling up, the freezer is packed. The work of putting away is almost done.
So why do I go back to the now barren soil we so carefully worked, numb in the knowledge I will pick no more this season, nor feel the burst of a cherry tomato exploding in my mouth or the green freshness of a bean or peapod straight off the vine?
Because for a few fertile weeks, only a few weeks, the garden was a bit of heaven on earth, impermanent but a real taste nonetheless. We may have once mistaken our Lord for the gardener when He appeared to us radiant, suddenly unfamiliar, but it was He who offered us the care of the garden, to bring in the sheaves, to share the forever mercies in the form of daily bread grown right here and now.
When He says my name, then I will know Him. He will lead me farther than I have ever been.
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And Is it not enough that every year A richly laden autumn should unfold And shimmer into being leaf by leaf, It’s scattered ochres mirrored everywhere In hints and glints of hidden red and gold Threaded like memory through loss and grief, When dusk descends, when branches are unveiled, When roots reach deeper than our minds can feel And ready us for winter with strange calm, That I should see the inner tree revealed And know its beauty as the bright leaves fall And feel its truth within me as I am?
It is not yet enough. So I must try, In my poor turn, to help you see it too, As though these leaves could be as rich as those, That red and gold might glimmer in your eye, That autumn might unfold again in you, Feeling with me what falling leaves disclose. ~Malcolm Guite from “And is it Not Enough?”
As the rains return, and the leaves turn and fall, we shelter together, blessed by years and miles, our unknown becoming known, our understanding of nakedness breathed in silence.
Though we be gray as the clouds above, our hearts beat in synchrony each pulsing moment more sacred than our last.
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I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen, of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been; Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were, with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair. I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green. I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago, and people who will see a world that I shall never know. But all the while I sit and think of times there were before, I listen for returning feet and voices at the door. ~J.R.R. Tolkien “Bilbo’s Song” from The Lord of the Rings
The shortening days make me greedy for what is left of daylight – watching the sky change by the hour, brown summer fields greening from rain, webs clinging when I pass.
More than anything, I hunker down, waiting for winter, knowing the quiet nights by the fire will restore me – hoping I’ll hear visitors at the door, those I love coming home to spend what time is left.
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After the keen still days of September, the October sun filled the world with mellow warmth… The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her… In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible. ~Elizabeth George Speare from The Witch of Blackbird Pond
On this early morning gray clouds lie heavy and unrelenting hovering low over the eastern hills, when a moment’s light snuck out from under the covers throwing back the blankets to glow golden over the mountain.
Only a minute of unexpected light underneath the gray gone in a heartbeat (as are we) yet O! the Glory when we too are luminous.
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I went out to cut a last batch of zinnias this morning from the back fencerow and got my shanks chilled for sure: furrowy dark gray clouds with separating fringes of blue sky-grass: and the dew
beaded up heavier than the left-overs of the rain: in the zinnias, in each of two, a bumblebee stirring in slow motion. Trying to unwind the webbed drug of cold, buzzing occasionally but
with a dry rattle: bees die with the burnt honey at their mouths, at least: the fact’s established: it is not summer now and the simmering buzz is out of heat: the zucchini blossoms falling show squash
overgreen with stunted growth: the snapdragons have suckered down into a blossom or so: we passed into dark last week the even mark of day and night and what we hoped would stay we yield to change. ~A.R. Ammons “Equinox”
We yield now to the heaviness of the change; a slowing of our walk and the darkening of our days.
It is time: day and night compete, and neither wins.
Horseback on Sunday morning, harvest over, we taste persimmon and wild grape, sharp sweet of summer’s end. In time’s maze over fall fields, we name names that went west from here, names that rest on graves. We open a persimmon seed to find the tree that stands in promise, pale, in the seed’s marrow. Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear, in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here. ~Wendell Berry “Wild Geese”from Collected Poems 1957-1982
I hear them coming before I see them: the wild geese flying overhead, noisily honking their way across an autumn sky, drawn to the harvested cornfields to glean after the machinery has left.
Soon they will leave altogether, pulled to be content somewhere else.
I remain as witness rather than move on, reminding myself, my heart quiet, my eye clear, what I need is here until it is my turn to leave.
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The summer ends, and it is time To face another way. Our theme Reversed, we harvest the last row To store against the cold, undo The garden that will be undone. We grieve under the weakened sun To see all earth’s green fountains dried, And fallen all the works of light. You do not speak, and I regret This downfall of the good we sought As though the fault were mine. I bring The plow to turn the shattering Leaves and bent stems into the dark, From which they may return. At work, I see you leaving our bright land, The last cut flowers in your hand. ~Wendell Berry “The Summer Ends” from A Timbered Choir.
I want to memorize it all before it changes as the light weakens from the sun shifting from north to south, balancing on the fulcrum of our country road at equinox.
The dying back of the garden leaves and vines reveals what lies unharvested beneath, so I gather in urgency, not wanting it to go to waste.
We part again from you, Summer – your gifts seemed endless until you ended – a reminder that someday, so must I.
I sit silenced and brooding, waiting for what comes next.
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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” from Carnival Evening
The dogs eat hoof slivers and lie under the porch. A strand of human hair hangs strangely from a fruit tree like a cry in the throat. The sky is clay for the child who is past being tired, who wanders in waist-deep grasses. Gnats rise in a vapor, in a long mounting whine around her forehead and ears.
The sun is an indistinct moon. Frail sticks of grass poke her ankles, and a wet froth of spiders touches her legs like wet fingers. The musk and smell of air are as hot as the savory terrible exhales from a tired horse.
At evening a breeze dries and crumbles the sky and the clouds float like undershirts and cotton dresses on a clothesline. Horses rock to their feet and race or graze. Parents open their shutters and call the lonely, happy child home. The child who hates silences talks and talks of cicadas and the manes of horses. ~Carol Frost – lines from “All Summer Long” from Love and Scorn: New and Collected Poems.
I was one of those lonely but happy youngsters who dreamt of horses all summer long, immersed in my own made-up stories of forest rides on hidden trails, of spending hours decorating long manes and tails of golden horses, of performing daring rescues and races, of battles and bravery I didn’t experience in real life. The imaginings took me beyond the mundane into the fanciful where I could be completely lost until I was called to come in for dinner or return to the confines of a school classroom.
Some dreams do come true when you want them badly enough: I’ve now had decades gazing out at fields of grass with those thundering hooves, back-dropped by endless skies of ever-changing clouds. I’ve also found that fairy tales can have broken fences and growing manure piles.
It has been worth it for a kid whose own story bloomed when I became a wife, a mother, a physician and a horse farmer. As this summer yet again has transitioned to autumn, so does my story: it is full of aging horses and tired fields, yet still I find myself dreaming like a kid as I comb out those long flowing manes.
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