As Summer Ends

We had a cool snap here in Central Kentucky this weekend. Combine that with the start of school coming up and we’re on notice that here in the fullness of summer, fall will be upon us soon. Not that it comes as a surprise, but every year it takes more than store mannequins dressed in wool for the reality to sink in.

 

 

Another summer is slipping away, but I’m holding onto the fragrance of rosemary under the afternoon sun for as long as I can. Time passes but when it’s infused in red wine vinegar, thyme can linger a while.

How was your summer? It’s a natural enough question to ask during a season of transition. But there’s another question behind that one. What was your summer? Did it bring what you hoped for? Did you plant a garden—literally or figuratively? Did it thrive? What did it yield? Did you learn something, do something, enjoy something? Did you fight weeds, endure drought, manage to keep something alive?

For those who preserve their garden’s abundance, rows of canning jars or packet-laden freezers mark the summer’s accomplishments in a tangible way. I’m making herb vinegars this year, but summer’s end is more a matter of stocking the psyche’s pantry for the months ahead. It’s been good to spend time with those I love, pursue creative work, and clear out some clutter. I hope to keep those fruits of the season with me, and I hope you have a harvest to enjoy as well.

Is there anything else to do before summer ends? What shall we take on this fall?

Something Old, Something New

Lately I’ve been perusing local antique markets, flea markets, estate sales, garage sales, and second hand shops, looking at vintage costume jewelry. I’ve been having a great time exploring local places that have been in business for years, but hidden in plain sight from me until the antique bug bit. It’s a whole new world of old things.

The variety of beads and stones, charms and chains, colors and designs, are endlessly compelling. Some connect me to the past, reminding me of a pin I remember my grandmother wearing or beads for playing dress-up from my mother’s jewelry box. A cluster of beads on a clip earring or an elaborate rhinestone brooch evoke another era, while a strand of glowing pearls holds timeless allure.

Many of these pieces, separated from the women who once owned and wore them, are too lovely to be abandoned. So I find myself looking for ways to recreate and place them into the stream of life once again. They usually need cleaning up, and sometimes more—beads restrung, stones replaced. Some of the pieces ask to be worn as is, but more often they need re-visioning. The link from a bracelet can become an interesting element on its own, a single earring can be incorporated into a unique necklace, a pin can become part of a pendant. The amazing designs in these old pieces can find new life when they’re separated and combined in new ways. A worthwhile element from the past retains a sense of that era, even as it is fitted to live on in a new context.

One of the things I love about costume jewelry is its accessibility. I would hesitate to alter a valuable piece of jewelry, even if it were something I wouldn’t want to wear in its original state. The sense that what is valuable is untouchable is strong, like the childhood admonition to look but don’t touch. But such items, when they are no longer relevant, tend to be set aside. When objects or designs fall out of favor or use, they’re put away and may or may not be found again. The pieces that remain relevant to the lives we lead are ultimately the ones we’re able to keep track of.

The best of our ideas are like this. Our values, our faith, our commitments are not rarified notions kept apart from everyday life, untouched by our experiences. They are rather the things we take up every day, acquiring the patina of time and use, occasionally refitted to remain relevant to the life we currently live.

Fine jewelry, like a fine idea, enhances life only if we wear it. Those things we actually wear are part of how we’re remembered, and become part of who we are.

What kind of jewelry do you like to wear?

 

The Upheaval of Early Spring

It’s been a volatile early Spring this year. Every time I relax into believing the growing warmth has arrived for good, chill winds argue otherwise. It’s a changeable, unsettling season. Daffodils wilt in the cold, pansies wither in the heat, followed by days of cold rain and dreariness. Meanwhile, storms are tearing across the country—150 tornadoes just in the past three days. The transition from Winter toward Summer is wrenching, unpredictable, as transitions can often be.

Spring brings more than a season’s worth of change, it seems. A couple of calendars I’ve come across lay out the year in six seasons, rather than four, which makes a lot of sense to me.

J.R.R. Tolkien gave the elves in his Lord of the Rings trilogy six seasons. He added a season called Ending of Summer, and one in early Spring called Stirring, which I think is a perfect name.

Naturalists studying the Melbourne, Australia area propose six or even seven seasons. They’re represented here on a beautifully drawn wheel. Some divide what we call Spring into Pre-spring or Early Spring and True Spring, and divide Summer into High Summer and Late Summer. Others retain Summer and divide winter into Early Winter and Deep Winter.

The Hindu calendar also includes six seasons—Monsoon comes after Summer, and Prewinter follows Autumn.

Dividing the year into sixths feels quite different from our usual division into quarters. Four is solid and stable—the four sides of a square, four points of a compass, four legs of a table. It feels complete and unmoving.

Representations of six have a different sense—a pie cut in six wedges, a six-pointed star, a wheel with six spokes. These are images that suggest motion. The eye continually travels around them, which is appropriate for representing the cyclical nature of the earth and the seasons.

The continuing cycle represents our own growth as we persevere through our lives, gathering energy for many buds and blooms, yielding multiple harvests, and accepting the end of countless growing seasons.

As regular as the seasons are, they are ever fluid, moving toward the next thing. They never rest in the sense of having arrived. What appears to us as the fullness of any season is simply the momentary place that the continual motion has brought about.

Early Spring is a reminder of this. There is always this much going on; upheaval is always happening. This time of year it’s just easier to see.

What kind of transition is Spring bringing for you this year?

Breakfast Stirrings

Most mornings this winter I’ve enjoyed oatmeal for breakfast. The kind that cooks on the stove is worth the effort for me, even though it means an extra pot to wash. Served warm with dried cranberries and a little brown sugar, a few chopped walnuts stirred in, it’s a healthy and comforting brace against a cold morning.

But with the welcome respite we’re having from winter in Central Kentucky right now, I can hardly bear the thought of another bowl of oatmeal. All winter I’ve loved it; now I’m sick of it. Maybe it’s really cold weather I’m weary of, but the guilt by association persists.

Poor oatmeal. A steady companion all these bleak months and now I don’t want it in my sight. Don’t need that remnant of the winter doldrums. It’s hardly fair. I just opened a tall new cylindrical box and it may be next winter before I finish it.

Fresh fruit! Whole wheat toast! Even cold cereal sounds better. Yogurt! Or smoothies! So many possibilities on a sunny spring-like morning. It’s spring fever at the breakfast table.

If the pangs over ignoring my faithful oats grow unbearable, I’ll make them into cookies.

What kind of change are you looking for?

How to Welcome the New Year

I love the fresh start of the New Year. It’s usually a time of introspection for me, a chance to look back at events and changes in the previous year, and to dream and plan for the new one.

Lots of people are doing a great job of sharing their approach to that work this year. Christine Kane lays out a promising technique for using a single word as a beacon for the year. You can find the link to her free download describing the process here. Bradley J. Moore at Shrinking the Camel has a great post on setting goals that spur growth here. If you’re interested in specific, entirely do-able actions to take now to help in reaching goals for the year, Marelisa Fabrega has a wealth of ideas here.

This year I find myself less able to dwell in the dreaming and visioning space that I associate with year’s end. I miss it, but what I’m drawn to instead is the physical task of clearing out all kinds of work spaces throughout the house.

I’ve filed months of papers and notes accumulated from the year’s various projects, tossed old files, taken bags of donations to Goodwill, and I’m about to get to the bottom of a very old pile of ironing. Yes, it’s tedious and exhausting. But it needs to be done and it’s satisfying enough that I keep going.

I do have in mind work I want to accomplish in the coming year. At the very least I’m clearing space to do that work. On another level, I’m purging the clutter that encroaches not only on my house but on my self. Clear space, perhaps, will help with clear thinking. Room to work, perhaps, will make room for action.

So this is another way—a workmanlike way—of preparing to welcome the New Year. Not with resolutions, but with a certain kind of resolve.

Happy New Year!

How is the spirit moving you to greet this New Year?

Winter Solstice and Rebirth

We’ve reached the Winter Solstice, shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere, bookended by the longest nights. Oh my. Last night brought a lunar eclipse as well, though the heavy cloud cover discouraged me from getting up in the middle of the night to watch.

I’ve observed other eclipses of the moon, fascinated to see the shining orb slowly overtaken by shadow. In spite of understanding the phenomenon, it’s an emotional experience to see it happen. There is a kind of visceral drama in its disappearance and the wait for that first sliver of its return.

The eclipse is similar to the drama of the winter solstice, but in condensed form. The light slowly disappears and we anxiously await its return. As with every kind of darkness, we need the gift of faith and the reassurance of ritual to make it through.

The sun at its farthest point from us, the winter just beginning, we have a long way to go. For the most part we accept the rhythm of the seasons, adjust to the routines shaped by shorter days and longer nights. And in celebrating the completion of these longest nights we know that this, too, shall pass.

The light returns incrementally, but the cumulative effect of those small changes transforms the seasons. Tomorrow the earth and sun begin their course toward summer—a marvelously hopeful thought, however long the journey may be.

It has me thinking of the power of committing to steady movement in a particular direction over time. Apparently it’s natural to remember that this time of year. The rebirth of the sun through the Winter Solstice, the rebirth of divinely inspired possibilities for human life through Christmas, the rebirth of the year and all that it contains through New Year’s—the idea of renewal is a thread weaving through all these holidays. Here in the dark of winter is energy toward rebirth. Hallelujah!

What kinds of new possibilities might be germinating in the dark?

Reflecting the Season’s Light

“Are you ready for Christmas?”

The most recent place I heard this question asked was in a department store, appropriately enough. It’s a conversation opener this time of year, a December version of “How are you doing?” Behind the question looms a checklist of things to accomplish for the celebration to be complete.

A friend with three children looked at her calendar a few days ago and realized that her family had so many scheduled activities there were only two nights free between now and Christmas. She wasn’t complaining, just gearing up for the pace set by the intersection of family and holidays.

Here in the Northern hemisphere the days have grown short, night falls early, and we try to keep too busy to notice. We lean into our Christmas celebrations like plants growing toward the sun. We’re drawn to outdoor displays of light, Christmas trees twinkling, and candles glowing. Ornaments and wrappings made to reflect the light shine out from every corner.

Of course we’re drawn toward warmth, light, and joy. We look forward to the gatherings, performances, and rituals of the season. They dispel the dark. We follow the star this time of year, keenly aware of our need for the Light of the World.

The liturgical year sets aside these weeks leading up to Christmas and gives the season its own name—Advent. It is a season of anticipation.

Advent is not about creating Christmas, it’s a time of preparing for something beyond our ability to bring about. In the darkest time of the year comes a new birth, the renewal of life and of light. We honor it with our celebrations, but that spirit of new beginnings is more powerful than anything we can make. It’s the gift of life and growth, which begins in the depths beneath the surface of the earth, or of our lives.

Our celebrations are like the ornaments reflecting light. We can make the world brighter, better, even more merry. But it’s not up to us to generate the light. It’s good to remember that we only have to reflect Christmas; it’s not our job to create it. Knowing that makes it easier to lighten up.

What brings the season’s light to you?

Return from a Dark Journey

I cannot imagine what the Chilean miners emerging from almost ten weeks trapped underground have been through, and it’s almost unbearable to try. But now they are returning to the world, one at a time, through a long narrow portal that they must travel alone. As some commentators have remarked, they are being reborn.

Alberto Segovia, brother of Dario Segovia, one of 33 miners trapped underground in a copper and gold mine, picks up a rosary as he prays outside the mine in Copiapo

The ingenuity and skill, the expertise and determination, the sheer will and powerful life force driving the rescue efforts are heroic. The images of that first rescue pod reaching the chamber deep underground where the miners waited are a visceral experience. The elemental symbolism in this amazing story holds the archetypal images of life itself, male and female, which have resonated throughout the ages.

Yet even with the images we see from underground, each miner emerges from a mystery. We see the opening of the rescue shaft leading from that dark chamber under the earth, and wonder at where he has been and what he has experienced. He steps out of the Fenix capsule to applause and warm embraces, returning to the life to which he belongs. But surely he is changed.

NASA’s experience in outer space has helped facilitate the care of the miners throughout their confinement, but theirs is an experience of inner space like nothing we’ve known before. The world watches anxiously as each returns, asking if it is possible for yet another man to have made the journey back from such an ordeal. We draw reassurance from every sign that they are intact—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And we want to share in some part of their journey, to learn from them.

What does it mean to be given life in this world, to be born or reborn? Saints and mystics have sought answers in different ways for centuries. Seekers on vision quests, walkabouts, or spiritual retreats continue to ask for understanding. These Chilean miners may not have sought to make a trek into the darkness within the earth and within themselves, but they have made the journey forced upon them. Reporters tell us that poetry and music, faith and love, have allowed them to endure and help them to sort out their experience.

One of the rescued miners, Mario Sepulveda, said of the experience that it wasn’t a matter of being tested by God, because that’s not how God works. But that life holds difficult experiences, of which this has been the most difficult for him. Yet he was glad it had happened to him, because of how he has been affected by it. “It was a time to make changes,” he said. “I was with God, and I was with the devil. And God won.” He said that it was God’s hand that he took, and that was how he made it through.

What are we learning from the journey we’re sharing with them?

Photo by Ivan Alvarado of Reuters http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38587487

The Wakefulness of Autumn

A couple of weeks ago Kentucky sweltered through a summer that had far overstayed its welcome, as a string of 90-plus degree days begun in August disregarded the beginning of fall entirely. Then last week everything changed: I put an extra blanket on the bed, huddled with a cup of tea against damp gray air and wondered how much longer we could get by without turning on the furnace. But now the warm, golden afternoons of the past few glorious days remind me of why October is my favorite month.

There is no lull of sameness to these days. When the world we move through shifts so dramatically, it claims our attention. A changing environment heightens awareness of what’s going on around us. Especially when the haze and humidity of late summer gives way to the bright blue skies of autumn, the shift in seasons is like waking up.

Fall is a gift—a powerful reminder to live wakefully. A lot is happening. I hear it from the raucous crows convening in the tops of the ash trees. I see it in the spiders looking for shelter indoors, the plants going to seed. I feel it in the new wind picking up.

The urgency of the transitions teaches us to notice. And to appreciate. The season’s end offers a sense of the great effort behind its growth. As the energy that infused blossom, fruit, and harvest withdraws, the withered vines mark with startling contrast a place where life has been. It also signals the necessary rest before a new cycle of growth will begin.

The force of life in a growing season is a marvel, and the efforts we make during our own periods of growth can be fairly miraculous, too. Often it is only at the completion of some phase of life that we can take a breath and see how much we’ve accomplished, even as we wonder how we managed to do it. In the thick of things we are rarely able to see how much is happening. Yet something within continues to strengthen us, helping us grow green and supple enough to rise and meet the next challenge, too.

I don’t know how much of the credit is ours for times of growth and moving forward. There are periods I can look back on with a sense of satisfaction at the hard work accomplished. But when I consider those times it’s also with a sense of awe at the life that has moved through me. I feel grateful to have served as a vessel for something good, and I hope it might happen again.

What are you noticing this fall?

In the Meantime…or Late Summer

August, for me, is the month before things really get started. Heavy with the accumulated heat of the season, it flattens all ambition. Even as the long days grow shorter, with summer slipping away, there is no energy to spare.

My daughter returns to college soon; life is about to change. Soon it will be time to take on new projects, but not quite yet. If there was ever a waiting time to fill, August is it.

What to do in the meantime? Tomatoes ripen faster than we can eat them, the urgent culmination of the season’s growth. The basil desperately tries to go to seed, anticipating the first frost that still seems far away to me. Summer wanes, yet for the moment I’m not ready to move forward.

I’ve been looking around at what needs to be done, giving the attention that’s harder to bring when I’m in the midst of things. I’ve culled cookbooks and recipe files; kept appointments with the vet, the dentist, the rug cleaners; read through magazines I’ve been saving; cleaned out the refrigerator.

In the meantime is valuable in its own way. A time of gathering energy, of clearing a path through the clutter of to-do lists. It’s a particular kind of waiting, like emptying the dishwasher while the tea steeps, or finding a good read while watching for a friend at a bookstore. It’s a way of attending, not “killing” time but filling it.

John Lennon reminded us that life is what happens while we’re making other plans. Our goals and hopes and plans are important, but so is the life we live on the way to attaining them, in the meantime. It’s good to remember that, because sometimes life surprises us with what is substantial and what isn’t. The things that look solid as a stone wall can crumble, and what may seem ephemeral as a delicate weed can endure among the rubble.

Soon and suddenly, we’re pulled into the forward momentum of September. It happens so fast I’m in it almost before I see it coming. This year August has cooled down early here, with the autumnal weather bringing a corresponding change of pace for me. Those languid days seem slow, but they pass quickly by. September will soon be upon us.

What do you do in the meantime?