Archive for the ‘autumn’ Category

autumn song

September 26, 2019

Out of a kind of desperation to avoid rifling through the list of my personal woes, I’ve started reading a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being I purchased from the friends of Richmond County Library a month ago.  I was drawn to it since it was the first collection of Virginia Woolf’s writing I acquired some few years earlier than my senior year at UC Berkeley where/when I would write my honors thesis on The Waves.  I think it was the title which, combined with the patina of Woolf’s high-brow literary rep, drew the “young” me to purchasing it those many decades past, although I can’t recall feeling much affinity with her writing at the time.

What is ringing through me now is a section from her “A Sketch of the Past.”

From this I reach what I call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.  Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world.  But there is no Shakespeare, there  is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

Awake this morning sometime around 5:30, I went out to greet the Moon & Regulus rising over the river.  As I sat with my 2 black cats in the dark, I was entranced by the songs of the night insects.  I thought of how few the days and hours that they have left before winter arrives.  That they know or don’t doesn’t signify:  they sing because they are here.  They are the music, while they’re on Earth, just as we are.  When one – or all – are finished, the next generation will take up the singing.  A listener such as myself may not notice the relay, but that act too is part of the symphony.

Over three decades ago to this very day, I began a friendship that most likely will not last another year’s journey around our modest sun.  What the insects’s song reminds me, however, is that my friend’s magic existed in the world before he arrived.  It awaited him to take up his role in weaving the song, to make his contribution, and it will be carried on by another after he is gone.  What is most precious about him – what compelled me to treasure him from the moment we met and to continue despite the ups-and-downs of our complicated relations – cannot disappear because it is inseparable from the essence of beauty and truth in this world and cannot be lost.

Of course, my sadness is ultimately, and embarrassingly, for myself.  My inability to grasp what chords I am going to contribute becomes more apparent when I view my life through the lens of my friend’s imminent passing.  Such questions as what will my song be and how much time will I have once I have found my voice tug me into wakefulness and push me out-of-doors at strange hours into the only world we have ever – and will ever – know.

At the river’s edge

October 15, 2017

After becoming acquainted with the ravens out west, I find the eastern crows as tiny as grackles.  Still they’re courageously obstreperous.  Outsized by the bald eagle perched on the branches of the hickory outside my window, they still insist on its immediately withdrawal.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love the bald eagles.  I can’t believe that I can sit here at the dining room table and watch them wheel through the sky or hop across the lawn that stretches down to the bluff over the Potomac.  Wherever I am in the house, I can hear their cascading cries.  This domain of water and raptors is a kingdom I’ve never known.

The crows, on the other hand, have always been with us, like the poor as the adage goes.  Like their cousins the ravens, they are among the smartest animals.  But its their bravery that’s catching my attention these days.  Sure, they know there’s strength in numbers, so they noisily call in their confederates as they make their cries for eviction, but even before the first reinforcement arrives, I see one tiny crow hopping across the branches toward that massive raptor and wonder what he thinks the odds are.

Power comes in all shapes and sizes.  Most often the destructive power we perceive, the power that threatens to crush us, isn’t emanating from one person, place, or thing.  It could be the institution that person represents or a bogey man we’ve built up in our own mental or bodily memory banks.  Someone, or a host of somebodies, who treated us as insignificant in just the same way and once again we are as powerless as we felt during that first, formative encounter.  The story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby is one that reminds me of how I need to be careful about wrestling with demons I perceive when all they are are sticky messes dressed up in tattered clothes.

Not all power is bad.  The eagles need every ounce of their power to survive.  So do people.  It’s when power is wielded without compassion or for the charge of watching someone vulnerable squirm that it’s reprehensible.  My former landlady wrote out an imagined dialogue as a cue card to help choreograph the event when she decided to end our rental arrangement.  It was like a bad scene spoken by a James Bond villain.  She imagined me whimpering at the news that in 2 weeks time I and my cat would have no where to live:  “Where will I go?” I was supposed to say.  Her response to my caterwauling confusion:  “It would have been wise to have had a plan B before you chose to defy the landlady.”

I’ll never be exactly sure what kind of deranged thinking was involved in her scenario, but it’s become clear over the past 3 weeks that it partakes in a degree of paranoia & bullying that’s rampant in the National Park Service.  I realize that in some ways I’ve participated in dressing up the bogeyman.  My parents’ early dismissal of my capabilities left me searching for validation through my job performance, awaiting recognition through the authority invested in a supervisor who may have received his or her position not through merit but through simple elimination of more worthy candidates.  Once I take away the hat and coat and refuse to wrestle with a ball of tar, however, I can only get so dirty.  I will preserve my power, persevere, and one day achieve my own victories.

At this moment in my life, I guess the crow-bald eagle tussle seems refreshingly free of the destructive properties of human fear.  I can wonder at a spectacle that has played out along these shores long before the first humans arrived and will continue long after I am gone.  Like so much in the natural world, it gives me hope that I will find what’s true and essential in myself and find others who have done the same work and have their own gifts to offer.  On a grey Sunday morning in mid-October, looking north across one of the world’s great rivers, it’s what comforts.



November 3, 2016

On my morning walk, a wild aster caught my eye. Its insouciant yellow eye, its unapologetic purple reminded me of the year I first fell deeply in love with gardening. I was supposed to be writing my dissertation but instead grabbed a shovel and broke earth.

It was a dangerous time: I was physically restless, gardening catalogues were crowding my mailbox, and flowers were much more beautiful, and quicker to bloom, than a dissertation on Henry James. I had just enough money to keep persistently purchasing plants, and after each nursery trip, when I realized I had too many for my initial plot, I simply worked on expanding it.

That’s what stuck in mind this morning: the memory of the years when I’d gone over the top with my plant purchases, how I’d scramble to find or create new spots for the newest additions. Because I was renting, I knew one day my personal Eden would end, but until then, I told myself, I needed the therapy of digging in the earth and communing with the plants, the “other kingdom.” Ever since, the memory of that frenzied time, and of our sad parting, has kept my gardening lust within healthy bounds.  I’m more likely now to replant a flower that has sowed itself somewhere without the proper design sense than to purchase a new one, more willing to appreciate flowering weeds than to act on the impulse to tend my own plot. The world holds enough blooms without my assistance.

When I lived in Ivy, Virginia, I enjoyed 18 acres that had been lovingly landscaped by a gentleman who’d died long before I arrived. The grounds were so extensive, the plants’ needs so demanding, that much of it was no longer tended. However, its continuing beauty spoke to me of the man who’d loved it.  I could sense how he too had combed through gardening magazines in late summer and how he had haunted nurseries. I could feel the burst of his enthusiasm for spring-blooming crab apples, ornamental cherries, magnolias, and dogwoods, and experience his thrill at discovering the wide variety of fall- blooming camellias and osmanthus.

Until I moved to this property in October 2013, I’d never smelled a fragrance so heavenly as that released by an osmanthus.  In central Virginia, too often the flowers’ bloom is destroyed by autumn rain. This is what happened the second year I was there, and I  walked around the rain-dampened tree sadly, wondering if I’d have another year to enjoy its scent.

A few weeks later, I smelled another, similarly-entrancing fragrance, so distinctive when leaves are falling and days are shortening.  For a few days the scent kept teasing me and doggedly I searched, hacking through the areas where the original plantings were now tangled with obstinate bittersweet, wild grape, honeysuckle, and wisteria. When I found the scent’s source, I laughed out loud. “Oh Alexander,” I said to this long-deceased gardener. “What gifts you’ve left!”  This osmanthus was a different species than the one I’d adored, but apparently hardier, having reseeded itself.  Now growing in patches closer to the road, the bushes liberally shared their sweetness with anyone who took the time to stop and sniff the fall air.

Upon my recommendation, a friend is reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire.  This morning as I walked away from that self-planted aster, I recalled what was to me Pollan’s most persuasive argument:  that plants use people as much as we use plants.  Through their usefulness or their beauty, they have succeeded in convincing us to domesticate them, into transporting them from continent to continent.  I thought of what we sow  whenever we decide to plant, whether we nurture the soil, lend a book, behave with kindness, or share a smile.  If we do it right, what blooms outlasts our first efforts and blesses those we will never meet.


Summer’s end

September 27, 2016

I think this is my favorite moon phase:  past last quarter, earthshine illuminating the new moon cradled in the old moon’s arms.  Before dawn I can bundle up and push out the door to see the stars of Taurus, Orion, Gemini, and now Leo rising, while the cat, whom wiser, more careful owners wouldn’t dream of letting loose in Yellowstone, joins me excitedly, muttering goblin-like joyful meows.

Pretty much all I know of where I’ll be in a week is that I will no longer be here.  I have received many gifts this summer, all of which will take up no extra room packed away in my car.  Even if it’s years until I return to Yellowstone, I know that the next time I do I will be comparing the woman I was before I arrived to the woman I was when I left.  Since kindness, patience, love, and wisdom are the only qualities I’ve ever valued deeply, having added to my capacity for each this magical summer, I leave much richer than when I arrived.

aspens at Lehardy Rapids

aspens at Lehardy Rapids