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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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 “September Pitch”
Summer begins to have the look Peruser of enchanting Book Reluctantly but sure perceives– A gain upon the backward leaves
Autumn begins to be inferred By millinery of the cloud Or deeper color in the shawl That wraps the everlasting hill.
The eye begins its avarice A meditation chastens speech Some Dyer of a distant tree Resumes his gaudy industry.
Conclusion is the course of All Almost to be perennial And then elude stability Recalls to immortality. ~Emily Dickinson, Poem 65
This hot summer now wanes, wistful; it has the look of packing up, and moving on without bidding adieu or looking back over its shoulder.
I wave goodbye without regret; it leaves behind a hot mess of burned landscape and drought.
Blustery winds have carried in darkening clouds spread green leaves, chestnuts and walnuts everywhere, loosened before their time. Long overdue rain gave us a good drenching worth celebrating.
Overhead skies are heavily burdened with clues of what more is coming: earlier dusk, the cool feel of moisture, the deepening graying purplish hues, the briskness of breezes.
There is no negotiation possible. I steel myself and get ready, wrapping myself in my perennial soft shawl of inevitability.
So autumn advances forth with its clouds, taking up residence as summer moves out, bringing its own unique plans for redecorating using an array of hues and textures.
The truth is we’ve seen nothing yet.
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In the high woods that crest our hills, Upon a steep, rough slope of forest ground, Where few flowers grow, sweet blooms today I found Of the Autumn Crocus, blowing pale and fair. Dim falls the sunlight there; And a mild fragrance the lone thicket fills.
Languidly curved, the long white stems Their purple flowers’ gold treasure scarce display: Lost were their leaves since in the distant spring,
Their February sisters showed so gay. Roses of June, ye too have followed fleet! Forsaken now, and shaded as by thought, As by the human shade of thought and dreams, They bloom ‘mid the dark wood, whose air has wrought With what soft nights and mornings of still dew! Into their slender petals that clear hue, Like paleness in fresh cheeks; a thing On earth, I vowed, ne’er grew More delicately pure, more shyly sweet.
Child of the pensive autumn woods! So lovely, though thou dwell obscure and lone, And though thy flush and gaiety be gone; Say, among flowers of the sad, human mind, Where shall I ever find So rare a grace? in what shy solitudes? ~Robert Laurence Binyon “Autumn Crocus”
The early September emergence of autumn crocus is always unexpected, surprising even when I know where they hide in the shade of spent peony bushes.
They are bound in waning summer dreams beneath the surface, their incubation triggered by retreating light from above, unlike their springtime cousins who emerge to the sun through snow.
The autumn crocus waits with thoughtful temerity, summoned forth from earthly grime to remind us the end of summer is not the end of them or us.
A luminous gift of hope and beauty borne from a humble bulb; plain and only soil-adorned.
Slowly unfurling on a pale leggy stem, the tender lavender petals peel back to reveal golden crowns of saffron, brazenly blooming when all else is dying back.
In the end, they too painfully wilt, deeply bruised and purple – under the Sun’s reflection made manifest; returning defeated, inglorious, fallen, to dust.
Yet we know – they remind us – they (and we) will rise again.
…we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. . . It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer. C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock
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When you are already here you appear to be only a name that tells of you whether you are present or not
and for now it seems as though you are still summer still the high familiar endless summer yet with a glint of bronze in the chill mornings and the late yellow petals of the mullein fluttering on the stalks that lean over their broken shadows across the cracked ground
but they all know that you have come the seed heads of the sage the whispering birds with nowhere to hide you to keep you for later
you who fly with them
you who are neither before nor after you who arrive with blue plums that have fallen through the night
The light of September is a filtered, more gentle illumination than we have experienced for the past several months of high summer glare.
Now the light is lambent: a soft radiance that simply glows at certain times of the day when the angle of the sun is just right, and the clouds are in position to soften and cushion the luminence.
It is also liminal: it is neither before or after, on the threshold between seasons when there is both promise and caution in the air.
Sometimes I think I can breathe in light like this, if not through my lungs, then through my eyes. It is a temptation to bottle it up with a stopper somehow, stow it away hidden in a back cupboard. Then I can bring it out, pour a bit into a glass on the darkest days and imbibe.
But for now, I fill myself full to the brim. And my only means of preservation is with a camera and a few words.
So I share it now with all of you to tuck away for a future day when you too are hungry for lambent light. Just check out “September.”
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A second crop of hay lies cut and turned. Five gleaming crows search and peck between the rows. They make a low, companionable squawk, and like midwives and undertakers possess a weird authority.
Crickets leap from the stubble, parting before me like the Red Sea. The garden sprawls and spoils.
Cloud shadows rush over drying hay, fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine. The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod brighten the margins of the woods.
Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts; water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.
The cicada’s dry monotony breaks over me. The days are bright and free, bright and free.
Then why did I cry today for an hour, with my whole body, the way babies cry?
A white, indifferent morning sky, and a crow, hectoring from its nest high in the hemlock, a nest as big as a laundry basket … In my childhood I stood under a dripping oak, while autumnal fog eddied around my feet, waiting for the school bus with a dread that took my breath away.
The damp dirt road gave off this same complex organic scent.
I had the new books—words, numbers, and operations with numbers I did not comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled by use, in a blue canvas satchel with red leather straps.
Spruce, inadequate, and alien I stood at the side of the road. It was the only life I had. ~Jane Kenyon, “Three Songs at the End of Summer” from Collected Poems.
The first day back to school isn’t always the day after Labor Day as it was when I was growing up. Some students have been in classes for a couple weeks now, others started a few days ago to ease into the transition more gently, especially adjusting to classrooms and masking after a year of remote learning for so many. Some will be return to the routine tomorrow: school buses will roar past our farm brimming with young faces under fresh masks, new clothes and shoes, stuffed back packs amid a fair amount of dread and anxiety.
I remember well that foreboding that accompanied a return to school — the strict schedule, the inflexible rules and the painful reconfiguration of social hierarchies and friend groups. Even as a good learner and obedient student, I was a square peg being pushed into a round hole when I returned to the classroom; the students who struggled academically and who pushed against the boundaries of rules must have felt even more so. We all felt alien and inadequate to the immense task before us to fit in with one another, allow teachers to open our minds to new thoughts, and to become something and someone more than who we were before.
Growth is so very hard, our stretching so painful, the tug and pull of potential friendships stressful. Two of my own children now make this annual transition to a new school year as veteran teachers.
For the first time in over thirty years, I won’t have yet another “first day” or new students under my care — it all feels new and unfamiliar yet again.
So I take a deep breath on this foggy Labor Day morning and am immediately taken back to the anxieties and fears of a skinny little girl in a new home-made corduroy jumper and saddle shoes, waiting for the schoolbus on a drippy wooded country road.
She is still me — just buried deeply in the fog of who I became after all those years of schooling, hidden somewhere under all the piled-on layers of learning and growing and hurting and stretching — but I do remember her well.
Like every student starting a new adventure tomorrow, she could use a hug.
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Let me enjoy this late-summer day of my heart while the leaves are still green and I won’t look so close as to see that first tint of pale yellow slowly creep in. I will cease endless running and then look to the sky ask the sun to embrace me and then hope she won’t tell of tomorrows less long than today. Let me spend just this time in the slow-cooling glow of warm afternoon light and I’d think I will still have the strength for just one more last fling of my heart. – Jonathan Bohrn, Late August
August rushes by like desert rainfall, A flood of frenzied upheaval, Expected, But still catching me unprepared. Like a match flame Bursting on the scene, Heat and haze of crimson sunsets. Like a dream Of moon and dark barely recalled, A moment, Shadows caught in a blink. Like a quick kiss; One wishes for more But it suddenly turns to leave, Dragging summer away. – Elizabeth Maua Taylor, August
I’m in the time of life when what is to come is ever so much shorter than what has been. I muse now at my sudden revelation as a five year old that a time would come when I would cease to be on this earth. I had no idea how soon that would come or whether I would have many years to think about how I might come to an end. That knowledge has colored all my days, knowing they are numbered and finite.
Now, like the drying leaves, I watch my edges curling and changing color in preparation – a kind of beauty preceding an eventual letting go.
I remember thinking, in my kindergarten-size brain, that I could not waste a minute of this life and needed to pay attention to everything. That has been much harder than I imagined: there is pain in attending to wars and famine, illness and injury, tragedy and tribulation. I was given my ears to hear, my eyes to see, my mouth to speak – for good reason. Though my heart hurts to read headlines, I must fling it into the messiness around me.
Even the leaves bleed red as tomorrow is less long.
It is the waning light and shortening days that colors my view like smoky haze in the sky painting a sunset deep orange. The coming darkness is temporary and, like me, is inevitably finite; it will never conquer the light that is everlasting.
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My mother, who hates thunder storms, Holds up each summer day and shakes It out suspiciously, lest swarms Of grape-dark clouds are lurking there; But when the August weather breaks And rains begin, and brittle frost Sharpens the bird-abandoned air, Her worried summer look is lost,
And I her son, though summer-born And summer-loving, none the less Am easier when the leaves are gone Too often summer days appear Emblems of perfect happiness I can’t confront: I must await A time less bold, less rich, less clear: An autumn more appropriate. ~Philip Larkin “Mother, Summer, I”
August weather has broken to clouds, sprinkles, nights with chill breezes, and leaves landing on brown ground.
This summer ended up being simply too much – an excess of everything meant to make us happy yet overwhelming and exhausting.
From endless hours of daylight, to high rising temperatures, to palettes of exuberant clouds to fruitfulness and abundant blooms.
While summer always fills a void left empty after enduring the many cold bare dark days of the rest of the year, I depend on winter days returning all too soon.
I will welcome them back, realizing how much I miss that longing for the fullness of summer.
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Fair Summer droops, droop men and beasts therefore: So fair a summer look for never more. All good things vanish less than in a day, Peace, plenty, pleasure, suddenly decay. Go not yet away, bright soul of the sad year; The earth is hell when thou leavest to appear….
What, shall those flowers that decked thy garland erst, Upon thy grave be wastefully dispersed? O trees, consume your sap in sorrow’s course, Streams, turn to tears your tributary course. Go not yet hence, bright soul of the sad year; The earth is hell when thou leav’st to appear.
Ah, who shall hide us from the winter’s face? Cold doth increase, the sickness will not cease, And here we lie, God knows, with little ease. From winter, plague, & pestilence, good Lord, deliver us. ~Thomas Nashe from “Summer’s Last Will and Testament”(from a stage play performed in 1592)
Summer 2021 so far has been hell for much of the world and we still have nearly a month left of more Summer to endure: the fall of Afghanistan, another earthquake in Haiti, floods in Europe and central U.S., storms in the east with drought and fires in the west, and last but certainly not least, the explosion of the Delta COVID variant everywhere.
COVID has demonstrated that plague and pestilence clearly isn’t limited to cold weather and winter. This virus enjoys easy transmission among those who continue to live without any defenses – the unmasked and those who remain unvaccinated either by choice or lack of access to vaccine. We, through our behavior, have invited an opportunistic virus to spread among us through this “bright soul” of the year which ordinarily should be “plague-free.”
Will we continue to roll out the red carpet for COVID, welcoming it into ours and other’s homes, noses and lungs, even as summer itself dies away along with thousands of more pandemic victims?
Deliver us, O Lord, from our own reluctance to accept that viruses care not whom they infect, particularly those with little defense.
Deliver us, O Lord, from our preference for our own self-determination over a concern for the needs and vulnerability of others.
Deliver us, O Lord, from our continued blindness – doing what is right in our own eyes without seeing what is best for all.
Go not yet away, fair Summer, as here we lie, God knows, with little ease.
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