Out through the fields and the woods And over the walls I have wended; I have climbed the hills of view And looked at the world, and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground, Save those that the oak is keeping To ravel them one by one And let them go scraping and creeping Out over the crusted snow, When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still, No longer blown hither and thither; The last lone aster is gone; The flowers of the witch hazel wither; The heart is still aching to seek, But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with a grace to reason, And bow and accept the end Of a love or a season? ~Robert Frost “Reluctance”
As I kick through piles of fallen leaves in the barnyard, I realize how close I am to becoming one of them. Within my own seasons, I have flourished and bloomed and fruited, but, with aging, am now reminded of my fading, withering and eventual letting go. I find I’m not nearly so bold anymore, instead trembling nervously when harsh winds blow me about.
I have come to question the stability of the stems, branches, trunk and roots I’ve always depended upon. Will they continue to nourish and sustain me?
Everything feels transitory — especially me.
When these thoughts overwhelm, I tend to hang on tighter rather than simply giving up and letting go. My feet stumble when I try to do the same tasks I did so smoothly years ago. I am easily torn, broken and full of holes. No graceful bow from me; I’m stubbornly wanting things to stay the same, reluctant for a transition to something different.
My only solace is that the heart of man — indeed my own holey heart — is transient compared to the holy Heart of God. I am sustained by His steady Pulse, His ubiquitous Circulation, His impeccable Rhythm of Life and Death.
In that I trust. In that I come to abandon my stubborn reluctance.
He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light, and he can bring thee summer out of winter, though thou hast no spring. Though in the ways of fortune, understanding, or conscience thou hast been benighted till now, wintered and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied, now God comes to thee, not as the dawning of the day, not as the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon. ~John Donne from John Donne: The Major Works
I get caught by autumn advancing too fast to winter, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupified stuck in place, frozen to the spot. Only God can come, like a winter sun dim at noon, almost invisible, but there, reminding us of His promises, dressing us in His beauty, drying our wings, wringing the darkness to free the reluctant light.
Then summer fades and passes and October comes and goes. We’ll smell smoke then, and feel an unexpected sharpness, a thrill of nervousness, swift elation, a sense of sadness and departure. ~ Thomas Wolfe
November begins bittersweet, heralding the inevitable slow down to winter stillness.
The garden is put to bed, lawnmowers put away, pruning shears not yet readied for the work of refinement and shaping.
The air sparkles, sharp-edged in the lungs.
I am never ready for this crush of dark hours descending so quickly. Yet it comes with the promise of the light to come.
And so we wait on the known and patiently ponder the unknown.
On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress, grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car and headed north out of Seattle. I never looked back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months earlier to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health family practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle, now leaving the city for a new rural home and a very uncertain professional future.
Never before had I felt such exhilaration at breaking through one wall to discover the unknown that lay on the other side.
I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family had begun. We were going to actually live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with a few acres and a barn.
A real (sort of) starter farm.
Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two tortoise shell calico kitten sisters peering up at me, just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that admittedly impulsive commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed brand new.
I will never forget the feeling of freedom on that drive north out of the traffic congestion of the city. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential even though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting (the most diverse zip code in the United States): an ideal family practice with patients from all over the world: Muslims from the Middle East and Indonesia, Orthodox Jews, Italian Catholics, African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all into the Mazda and driven them north with me, I would have.
We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding an ethnic diversity of farm animals: Belgian Tervuren dog Tango, Haflinger horse Greta, Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Scottish Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. We soon added little brother Ben and seven years later, sister Lea. We settled happily into parenthood, our church community, serving on school and community boards, gardening, and enduring the loss of our parents one by one.
Thirty four years later our children have long ago grown and gone to new homes of their own, off to their own adventures beyond the farm. Our sons married wonderful women, moving far away from home, our daughter teaches a fourth grade classroom a few hours away and we have two grandchildren with the third expected any moment.
A few cats, two Cardigan Corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now both gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends. My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fit me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day for thirty years. With retirement looming, I’m trying out a three day a week schedule and the old sweater doesn’t fit quite so comfortably.
My happily retired husband finds he is busier than ever: volunteering, serving on boards and being a full time farmer on our larger 20 acre place of fields and woods.
That rainy Halloween day over three decades ago I was freed into a wider world. I would no longer sit captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams. Instead I celebrate my daily commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a broader community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano and teaching at church. Our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn, coyotes howling at night, Canadian and snow geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon becoming more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet us in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids us good night.
It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin sitting beside me in a little Mazda, my husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, thirty four years and three grown children and three (almost) grandchildren later, we celebrate this Halloween transition anniversary together. We’re still pregnant with the possibility that a wide world is waiting, just on the other side of the wall.
The trees are undressing, and fling in many places— On the gray road, the roof, the window-sill— Their radiant robes and ribbons and yellow laces; A leaf each second so is flung at will, Here, there, another and another, still and still.
A spider’s web has caught one while downcoming, That stays there dangling when the rest pass on; Like a suspended criminal hangs he, mumming In golden garb, while one yet green, high yon, Trembles, as fearing such a fate for himself anon. ~Thomas Hardy “Last Week in October”
So we too may be flung into the unknown, trembling in the chill wind, unready to let go of what sustains us, fated to land wherever the storm blows.
Yet caught up by a silken thread, left to dangle suspended by faith to await the hope of rescue, alone and together, another and another, still and still.
It’s half-past October, the woods are on fire, blue skies stretch all the way to heaven. Of course, we know that winter is coming, its thin winding sheets and its hard narrow bed. But right now, the season’s fermented to fullness… ~Barbara Crooker from “Reel” in The Book of Kells
I want to praise things that cannot last. The scarlet and orange leaves are already gone, blown down by a cold rain, crushed and trampled. They rise again in leaf meal and wood smoke. The Great Blue Heron’s returned to the pond, settles in the reeds like a steady flame. Geese cut a wedge out of the sky, drag the gray days behind them like a skein of old wool. I want to praise everything brief and finite. ~Barbara Crooker from her poem “Equinox” in Selected Poems.
This fading transitional October renders us transient ourselves- only visitors here, not laying down claims but passing through while enjoying the scenery, knowing that this too won’t last but it is sweet ~let me say it again~ oh so sweet while we’re here.
Autumn in my part of the world is a season of bounty and beauty. It’s also a season of steady decline—and, for some of us, a slow slide into melancholy. The days become shorter and colder, the trees shed their glory, and summer’s abundance starts to decay toward winter’s death.
I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about fall and its sensuous delights.
Then I began to understand a simple fact: All the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as Earth prepares for yet another uprising of green. ~ Parker J. Palmer from On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old
A fine rain was falling, and the landscape was that of autumn. The sky was hung with various shades of gray, and mists hovered about the distant mountains – a melancholy nature. Every landscape is, as it were, a state of the soul, and whoever penetrates into both is astonished to find how much likeness there is in each detail. ~Henri Frederic Amiel
A melancholic first glance~ rain droplets glisten bejeweled when studied up close.
It isn’t all sadness~ there is solace in knowing the landscape and I share an inner world of change: both promises and tears.
The ripe, the golden month has come again… Frost sharps the middle music of the seasons, and all things living on the earth turn home again… the fields are cut, the granaries are full, the bins are loaded to the brim with fatness, and from the cider-press the rich brown oozings of the York Imperials run. The bee bores to the belly of the grape, the fly gets old and fat and blue, he buzzes loud, crawls slow, creeps heavily to death on sill and ceiling, the sun goes down in blood and pollen across the bronzed and mown fields of the old October. ~Thomas Wolfe
Mid-October dreary cloud-covered rain and wind.
An instant at dusk, the sun broke through, peeling away the grey, infusing amber onto fields and foliage, ponies and puddles. The shower spun raindrops threading a gold tapestry through the evening air, casting sparkles,
casting sparkles, a sunray sweep of fairy godmother’s wand across the landscape.
One more blink, and the sun shrouded, the color drained away the glimmer mulled into mere weeping once more, streaming over our farm’s fallen face.
Now I know to gently wipe the teardrops away, having seen the hidden magic within, when the light is just so.
Savoring the tears of gold that glisten when the light is just right.
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 The Witch of Blackbird Pond
As we enter a week of storm fronts carrying wind and rain and gray, we know we may not really surface under the sun for another 5 months.
The unexpected may happen and we can expect that it will. I’ll be ready.
Night and day seize the day, also the night — a handful of water to grasp. The moon shines off the mountain snow where grizzlies look for a place for the winter’s sleep and birth. I just ate the year’s last tomato in the year’s fatal whirl. This is mid-October, apple time. I picked them for years. One Mcintosh yielded sixty bushels. It was the birth of love that year. Sometimes we live without noticing it. Overtrying makes it harder. I fell down through the tree grabbing branches to slow the fall, got the afternoon off. We drove her aqua Ford convertible into the country with a sack of red apples. It was a perfect day with her sun-brown legs and we threw ourselves into the future together seizing the day. Fifty years later we hold each other looking out the windows at birds, making dinner, a life to live day after day, a life of dogs and children and the far wide country out by rivers, rumpled by mountains. So far the days keep coming. Seize the day gently as if you loved her. ~Jim Harrison “Carpe Diem” from Dead Man’s Float
There is so much to cling to, as if this were the only day, the only night, knowing it can never come again.
There is so much that has passed, like a blink, and I wonder where time disappears to, where it hides after it disappears over the horizon.
There is so much to remember and never forget. There is so much yet to come that is unknowable.