…the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells, the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time. No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky. ~Barbara Crooker “And Now it’s October” from Small Rain.
…but I do try to stopper time. I try every day not to suspend it or render it frozen, but like summer flower and fruit that withers, to preserve any sweet moment for sampling through stored words or pictures in the midst of my days of winter. I roll it around on my tongue, its heady fragrance becoming today’s lyrical shared moment, unstoppered, perpetual and always intoxicating.
This far north, the harvest happens late. Rooks go clattering over the sycamores whose shadows yawn after them, down to the river. Uncut wheat staggers under its own weight.
Summer is leaving too, exchanging its gold for brass and copper. It is not so strange to feel nostalgia for the present; already this September evening is as old
as a photograph of itself. The light, the shadows on the field, are sepia, as if this were some other evening in September, some other harvest that went ungathered years ago. ~Dorothy Lawrenson “September” from Painted, spoken, 22
September/remember naturally go together in every rhyming autumnal poem and song.
For me, the nostalgia of this season is for the look and feel of the landscape as it browns out with aging – gilded, burnt and rusted, almost glistening in its dying.
I gather up and store these images, like sheaves of wheat stacked in the field. I’ll need them again someday, when I’m hungry, starving for the memory of what once was, and, when the light is just right, how it could be again someday.
Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes, Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour; And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!— These things, these things were here and but the beholder Wanting; which two when they once meet, The heart rears wings bold and bolder And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Hurrahing for Harvest”
I love to go out in late September among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries to eat blackberries for breakfast, the stalks very prickly, a penalty they earn for knowing the black art of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries fall almost unbidden to my tongue, as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words like strengths or squinched, many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps, which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well in the silent, startled, icy, black language of blackberry-eating in late September. ~Galway Kinnell“Blackberry Eating”
“In that year, 1914, we lived on the farm And the relatives lived with us. A banner year for wild blackberries Dad was crazy about wild blackberries No berries like that now. You know Kitsap County was logged before The turn of the century—it was easiest of all, Close to water, virgin timber, When I was a kid walking about in the Stumpland, wherever you’d go a skidroad Puncheon, all overgrown. We went up one like that, fighting our way through To its end near the top of a hill: For some reason wild blackberries Grew best there. We took off one morning Right after milking: rode the horses To a valley we’d been to once before Hunting berries, and hitched the horses. About a quarter mile up the old road We found the full ripe of berrytime— And with only two pails—so we Went back home, got Mother and Ruth, And filled lots of pails. Mother sent letters To all the relatives in Seattle: Effie, Aunt Lucy, Bill Moore, Forrest, Edna, six or eight, they all came Out to the farm, and we didn’t take pails Then: we took copper clothes-boilers, Wash-tubs, buckets, and all went picking. We were canning for three days.” ~ Gary Snyder “6” from Myths and Texts.
Earth’s crammed with heaven And every common bush afire with God But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries~ –Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Aurora Leigh”
All I wanted was a few blackberries.
I admit my objective was just to pick enough for cobbler for today’s noon dinner after church, oblivious to God burning in the bushes towering over me, around me, snagging me at every opportunity. If I had given it more thought, I would have realized the reaching vines hooking my arms and legs were hardly subtle. The thorns ripped at my skin, leaving me bloody and smarting. The fruit itself stained my hands purple, making them look freshly bruised. I crushed fat vines underfoot, trampling and stomping with my muck boots in order to dive deeper into the bushes. Webs were everywhere, with spiders crawling up my arms and dropping down into my hair. I managed to kick up one hornet’s nest so I called it quits.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, so blinded to all the clues crammed in every nook and cranny of every bush.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, trampling on holy ground with well-protected feet, unwilling to be barefoot and tenderly vulnerable.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, the lure of black gold plucked at the cost of rips and scratches and tears.
What I got was burned by a bush…
and a few blackberries for today’s crammed-with-heaven cobbler.
My summer of “no doctoring” finishes today. I return to part-time clinical work tomorrow; a new beginning is on the way.
I am readying myself.
I consider how it will feel to put the stethoscope back on and return to spending most of my daylight hours in window-less rooms. Several months of freedom to wander and wonder will be tough to give up.
However, when I meet my first patient of the day, I’m “all in.” Someone is needing my help more than I need time off. The wind has shifted, it is time to migrate back to the work I was called to do over forty years ago.
Still I will look for beautiful things where I can find them, knowing that even though they don’t last, they will always be well worth the weeping.
What I remember is the ebb and flow of sound That summer morning as the mower came and went And came again, crescendo and diminuendo, And always when the sound was loudest how it ceased A moment while he backed the horses for the turn, The rapid clatter giving place to the slow click And the mower’s voice. That was the sound I listened for, The voice did what the horses did. It shared the action As sympathetic magic does or incantation. The voice hauled and the horses hauled. The strength of one Was in the other and in the strength was impatience. Over and over as the mower made his rounds I heard his voice and only once or twice he backed And turned and went ahead and spoke no word at all. ~Robert Francis “The Sound I Listened For” from Collected Poems
In the rural countryside where we live, we’ve been fortunate enough to know people who still dabble in horse farming, whose draft teams are hitched to plows and mowers and manure spreaders as they head out to the fields to recapture the past and experience working the land in a way that honors the traditions of our forebears.
A good teamster primarily works with his horses using his voice. No diesel engine means hearing bird calls from the surrounding fields and woods, along with the steady footfall of the horses, the harness chains jingling, the leather straps creaking, the machinery shushing quietly as gears turn and grass lays over in submission. No ear protection is needed. There is no clock needed to pace the day.
There is a rhythm of nurture when animals instead of motors are part of the work day. The gauge for taking a break is the amount of foamy sweat on the horses and how fast they are breathing — time to stop and take a breather, time to start back up and do a few more rows, time to water, time for a meal, time for a nap, time for a rest in a shady spot.
This is gentle use of the land with four footed stewards who deposit right back to the soil the digested forage they have eaten only hours before. This is gentle to our ears and our souls, measuring the ebb and flow of sound and silence.
The horse-drawn field mower is a sound I listen for, if not next door then in my dreams.
Families will be singing in the fields. In their voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground. They will take nothing from the ground they will not return, whatever the grief at parting. Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove, and memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament. The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light. ~Wendell Berry from “A Vision”
Into the rooms flow meadow airs, The warm farm baking smell’s blown round. Inside and out, and sky and ground Are much the same;
Now straightening from the flowery hay, Down the still light the mowers look, Or turn, because their dreaming shook, And they waked half to other days, When left alone in the yellow stubble The rusty-coated mare would graze. ~Léonie Adams from “Country Summer”
Most of the work on our farm involves the ground – whether plowing, seeding, fertilizing, mowing, harvesting – this soil lives and breathes as much as we creatures who walk over it and the plants which arise rooted to it.
Yes, there must be light. Yes, there must be moisture. Yes, there must be teeming worms and microbes deep within the dirt, digesting and aerating and thriving, leaving behind needed nutrients as they live and die.
And yes, we all become dust again, hopefully returning to the ground more than we have taken.
As I watch our rusty-coated horses graze on the stubble of these slopes and valleys, I’m reminded it is a sacrament to live in such abundance. We all started in a Garden until we desired something more, and knowing our mistake, we keep striving to return.
So this land teems with memories: of the rhythms and cycles of the seasons, of the songs and stories of peoples who have lived here for generation after generation.
Eventually we will find our way back to the abundant soil.
In Summer, in a burst of summertime Following falls and falls of rain, When the air was sweet-and-sour of the flown fineflower of Those goldnails and their gaylinks that hang along a lime; ~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Cheery Beggar”
Open the window, and let the air Freshly blow upon face and hair, And fill the room, as it fills the night, With the breath of the rain’s sweet might.
Nought will I have, not a window-pane, ‘Twixt me and the air and the great good rain, Which ever shall sing me sharp lullabies; And God’s own darkness shall close mine eyes; And I will sleep, with all things blest, In the pure earth-shadow of natural rest. ~James Henry Leigh Hunt from “A Night-Rain in Summer”
Sweet and sour extends far beyond a Chinese menu; it is the daily air I breathe.
I am but a cheery beggar in this summer world, hanging tight to the sweetness of each glorious moment yet knowing it cannot last:
the startling twilight gold of a July rain, the intense green of thirsty fields, a rainbow suspended in misty haze, the clouds racing to win the day’s finish line.
But as beggars aren’t choosers, sweet rain ruins hay harvest and berries turn to mold on the vine.
The sky stooping to kiss the earth may bring mud and flood.
I breathe deeply now of petrichor: the scent of raindrops falling on dry land as if I could wear it like perfume on those sour days of drought.