Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun! One mellow smile through the soft vapory air, Ere, o’er the frozen earth, the loud winds run, Or snows are sifted o’er the meadows bare. One smile on the brown hills and naked trees, And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast, And the blue gentian flower, that, in the breeze, Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last. Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way, The cricket chirp upon the russet lea, And man delight to linger in thy ray. Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air. ~William Cullen Bryant “November”
The window of richness is brief these early November mornings, enough time to feed and water animals, watch the geese fly overhead, capture the light and fog in softvapory air before it dissipates back to just another ordinary day. This blessing of light is beyond my understanding, beyond my ability to preserve, beyond any gratitude I can offer. It is freely given with a smile and I delight to linger…
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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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We don’t need to understand why a rainbow or fogbow is formed in order to appreciate its beauty, of course, but understanding the physics of rainbows does give us a new set of eyes. I call this the beauty of knowledge. ~Walter Lewin from For the Love of Physics
Ghaist o a gaw that few hae seen paintit on fog lyk a fugue o thi scheme Noah supposit thi Lord tae mean when aa were drooned, ither hauf o yin o His een thon runic roond.
Rope o smoke lyk a loop on a cable, Grisaille Cain tae thi rainbow’s Abel, ultra-blank tae infra-sable, auld noose o tow; Yin that’s strang whaur Yang is faible: faur are ye now? ~WN Herbert“The Fogbow” from Omnesia
(this is my best guess of the meaning of Herbert’s inventive English/Gaelic/Scottish)
Ghost of a rainbow bruise that few have seen painted on fog like a fugue of this scheme Noah supposed the Lord to mean when all were drowned the other half of the dark cold earth is a mysterious rune ruined.
A rope of smoke like a loop on a cable a gray pallid Cain to the rainbow’s Abel, outer-white to inner-black old noose in tow; the cold and dark is strong where warmth and light is feeble: where are you now?
Look at a rainbow. While it lasts, it is or appears to be, a great arc of many colours occupying a position out there in space…. And now, before it fades, recollect all you have ever been told about the rainbow and its causes, and ask yourself the question, Is it really there? You know from memory that if you walked to the place where the rainbow ends, or seems to end, it would certainly not be ‘there’. In a word, reflection will assure you that the rainbow is the outcome of the sun, the raindrops and your own vision. ~Owen Barfield writing about “The Rainbow”
We saw our first “fogbow” or “ghost rainbow” early yesterday on our morning walk. It happened as we were heading east toward the sun, with the fog thickening, filling in behind us. We had just turned around to check the road to be sure no cars were coming before we crossed to the other side and there was this spectral image of foggy columns curving upward over the road to barely touch one another at the top. As we moved away from it, it vanished, as they say, “into thin air.”
This is an unusual phenomenon where the light and moisture in the air needs to be just right – reading about the physics of the fogbow helps to explain it and to render it even more beautiful. But the knowledge of how it happens isn’t nearly as impactful as the fact it was there at all for us to witness. Without our vision, it wasn’t really “there.”
The “bruised” rainbow color in the sky is God’s Old Testament promise to Noah to never destroy the world by flood again, establishing an everlasting covenant with His people while giving us the capacity to witness His promise. Perhaps the fogbow is ghostly reminder of those who have perished, whose blood, like Abel’s, cried out to God from the earth.
But where are we now? Do we seek to understand, believing the promises God made to us? Or do we walk right past God and His miraculous physics of creation, oblivious to what would not even exist without our ability to see it?
Somewhere, over the fogbow, way up high…
If you enjoy these posts, this book from Barnstorming may be of interest for yourself or as a gift to someone who loves beautiful photography and words of wisdom (from Lois Edstrom) – available to order here:
There is something mysterious about fog. It whispered to Sandburg as it crept into the harbor
on little cat feet. It settles over Admiralty Inlet, a down comforter of relief on a simmering summer day.
It moves in quickly, a cool mist that settles lightly on our faces and arms as we trudge up the hill
toward home. Then the stillness, how it tamps down sound, reminding us to honor silence and drift
through an inner landscape of ideas, enter into the ethereal magic of another world,
as if we were birds soaring in clouds that have come down to enfold us,
quieting the minor furies we create. ~Lois Parker Edstrom from Glint (MoonPath Press, 2019)
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the fear that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse.
I tend to forget: the moment just passed can never be retrieved and relived.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than the latest viral scourge. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish we could be vaccinated to protect us all from our unnamed fears.
I want to say to myself: Stop and acknowledge this moment in time. Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop fearing the next moment. Just stop. Instead, simply be, now and now and now.
I need to know: this moment, foggy or fine, is mine alone, a down comforter of relief~ this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. I shout for joy in it even when sound is muffled in morning fog. It is to be celebrated. I mustn’t hold back.
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The wild November come at last Beneath a veil of rain; The night wind blows its folds aside – Her face is full of pain.
The latest of her race, she takes The Autumn’s vacant throne: She has but one short moon to live, And she must live alone.
A barren realm of withered fields, Bleak woods, and falling leaves, The palest morns that ever dawned; The dreariest of eves.
It is no wonder that she comes, Poor month! With tears of pain; For what can one so hopeless do But weep, and weep again? ~Richard Henry Stoddard “November”
Leaves wait as the reversal of wind comes to a stop. The stopped woods are seized of quiet; waiting for rain bird & bug conversations stutter to a stop.
…the rain begins to fall. Rain-strands, thin slips of vertical rivers, roll the shredded waters out of the cloud and dump them puddling to the ground.
Whatever crosses over through the wall of rain changes; old leaves are now gold. The wall is continuous, doorless. True, to get past this wall there’s no need for a door since it closes around me as I go through. ~Marie Ponsot from “End of October”
I reluctantly bid October good-bye to face forward into a darkening November.
Summer is mere memory now; all color drained from leaves fallen, dissolving in frost and rain.
There’s no turning around now that the clock has fallen back. We commit our stumbling feet to the path that trudges toward winter, silenced and seized by the relentless momentum of doorless darkness. There appears no escape hatch.
Yet when the light rises on the hills, even briefly, I feel a veil lift enough that I am able to see far beyond my reach. The horizon extends on and on forever and I only then I know I will endure another winter.
In the season leaves should love, since it gives them leave to move through the wind, towards the ground they were watching while they hung, legend says there is a seam stitching darkness like a name.
Now when dying grasses veil earth from the sky in one last pale wave, as autumn dies to bring winter back, and then the spring, we who die ourselves can peel back another kind of veil
that hangs among us like thick smoke. Tonight at last I feel it shake. I feel the nights stretching away thousands long behind the days till they reach the darkness where all of me is ancestor. ~Annie Finch, from “Samhain” from Eve
There is no denying I am composed of all of the hundreds (thousands?) of my ancestors, carrying their DNA in every cell of my body. Their traits and characteristics pulse continuously in my blood even when at times I wish they didn’t.
On the eve of All Hallow’s, we remember those from whom we come — all those spirited ghosts within our cells who shake and rattle a bit louder this time of year in the foggy darkness.
I wave at them warily from my perch in the 21st century.
I come from somber folk. That explains a lot.
I don’t mind all the peasant farmers I descend from though I wish I could turn off the genes that lead me to eat too much, and worry too much and my tendency toward the melancholy rather than the jocular. Somehow I have suppressed the tendency to drink too much and curse too much. I do come from a long line of believers in ghosts, so these days of Samhain and All Hallows’ tend to open those creaky doors of shivers and chills, so I avoid anything even remotely scary. It only encourages those strands of my DNA.
I am indeed made up of all-ancestor bits and pieces, and can’t deny it. There is some comfort in realizing there is nothing really brand new about me, so I try not to make a fool of myself on behalf of the hundreds of others sitting tidily wrapped up in my nuclei. There is additional comfort knowing a small part of me will continue in my descendants, who will ponder their family tree wondering which great-great-great-great grandparent passed down which annoying characteristic. I wave hopefully from the 21st century to those generations to come, to remind them not to forget those of us who came before. If there are spirits that come to visit on Samhain, I promise to be a friendly ghost.
I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October. The sunshine is peculiarly genial; and in sheltered places, as on the side of a bank, or of a barn or house, one becomes acquainted and friendly with the sunshine. It seems to be of a kindly and homely nature. And the green grass strewn with a few withered leaves looks the more green and beautiful for them. ~Nathaniel Hawthornefrom The American Notebooks
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
If I were a month, I would choose to be October: bathed by a genial and friendly sun, within a kindly and homely nature, slowly withering, yet still crisp, with mild temperature and modest temperament despite a rain and wind storm or two, only once in a while foggy.
Most of all, I would cherish my flashes of burnt umber as I reluctantly relinquish the light.
I know where this road ends to the east: at the very edge of the Cascade foothills, right in the middle of a small tribal nation trying to survive challenging economic times on their reservation land.
Heading west from here, there is another tribal nation trying to survive. In between are farmers who are having to sell their dairy herds because milk prices aren’t keeping up with the cost of maintaining their business. There are families now without sustainable wage employment because large industries have pulled up stakes and closed their doors. There is land that is overpriced as people flee the cities to come to rural surroundings because of ongoing pandemic shutdowns and worries.
There is much sadness all along this country road during times like these, but that’s not new. In another 100 years it will still not be new. There will always be foggy and stormy days interspersed among times of hope and light.
We remain a diverse people of tears and struggle, but we take turns carrying one another when one has what another does not. We still have the sun and the rain and the soil, the turning of the seasons and the rhythm of sun up and sun down.