The coming of Autumn feels the most dramatic of all the seasonal shifts. At least to me. I wonder if it’s because it is a time of loss. We feel loss so much more acutely than other things. It is the fading of Summer, the dimming of light, the shortening of days. Abundance is preserved for storage. Leaves change colour and begin to fall.
I wonder, too, if I particularly notice today because I am in the Autumn of my own life. The abandon of youth long past but the (hopefully) stillness and wiser time of being an elder yet ahead.
I’ve long appreciated Macrina Wiederkhr’s poem “The Sacrament of Letting Go.” In it she celebrates this season of shift.
She celebrated the sacrament of
First she surrendered her Green
Then the Orange, Yellow, and Red…
Finally she let go of her Brown…
Shedding her last leaf
This is less about the loss of light, which is what I’m currently feeling most acutely. But it is the shorter daylight that triggers the leaves to begin to change. It is the time of harvest for the tree as it is for us, putting away food, energy, to get us through the darker days of Winter when the Sun is far away. And then letting go of what is no longer needed.
I appreciate how Wiederkhr couches the Letting Go as sacrament. It’s a kairos moment, an outward sign of an inward grace. There’s a communion feel to it. A time of tender sharing that portends an even greater loss. But a loss that, ultimately, becomes the most beautiful thing.
Trust. Hope. Patience.
She stood empty and silent, stripped bare
Leaning against the sky she began her vigil of trust…
Shedding her last leaf
She watched its journey to the ground…
She stood in silence,
Wearing the color of emptiness
Her branches wondering:
How do you give shade, with so much gone?
And then, the sacrament of waiting began
This is the stuff of daily work, to be honest. I don’t know how it is for you. For me it requires constant drawing back to practices that ground and centre – times of stillness, breath, writing, gratitude, beauty.
The loss brought by Summer’s end is a rich time of contemplation. Seasons remind us that endings are beginnings. This is a time of multiple sacraments. There is the letting go. And then there is the waiting.
The sunrise and sunset watched with
Tenderness, clothing her with silhouettes
They kept her hope alive.
They helped her understand that
her dependence and need
her readiness to receive
were giving her a new kind of beauty.
Every morning and every evening she stood in silence and celebrated
the sacrament of waiting.
The waiting is the hard part. But Wiederkhr also reminds me that while the light may have shifted and continue to shift, the Sun still rises and sets, daily modelling the rhythm of seasons and lifetimes. Vulnerability and emptiness. How we abhor them. But there is beauty in the readiness to receive what will be. How many times in my life have I learned that beauty always emerges, re-emerges. Resurrections. Sometimes those moments don’t seem nearly big enough to fill holes left by loss. But one blossom becomes two, one new leaf becomes many. It doesn’t replace the thing lost, but provides new moments to draw to life.
There are only a few leaves on the ground at this moment and just a hint of red on the edges of trees in the park. Evening are cool and the sunset earlier. But it is still twilight as I eat my evening meal and the days are Spring-warm. I revel in this and squeeze in one more picnic into the fading Summer.
Looking back on 2020, from the midst of it. Recently I found this reflection that I had written five months into the pandemic and never published. Prescient for me now.
If you want to get to know a place, you might as well go there in a time of global pandemic. And if you have one, take your camera as a companion as you walk the neighbourhood for exercise. Much like a dog draws you into conversation with dog owners, the camera encourages you into dialogue with the empty lot, with the Beach and particularly the fence that spans the length between the freeway and the golf course where you walk when they cut off access to the Beach.
If you're typically an urbanite like I am, your camera will help you see that the notion of four seasons is simplification. We think of the movement of the year as Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Yet this Spring I became aware of the micro-seasons in that rhythm. Ornamental Cherry blossoms in March and April make way for Azalea and Rhododendron in May which wither as the Wild Roses bloom in June. Blueberries, Blackberries, and the one random Cherry Tree that inexplicably grows on the Beach begin to drop their Spring blossoms in favour of fruit as we move toward the time called Summer.
I suspect that looking back on this time of pandemic will be the same. It will become known as the 2020 Pandemic and remembered in a singular way, but in fact we live it in micro moments of blessings and witherings. Much like with flora, what grows depends on where you are located and the soil you're rooted in. Unlike with flowers, the things that burst forth and the things that wither may not be as directly connected as blossoms and fruit. As one recent meme noted, our social feeds first bloomed with sour dough tips and successes and shifted to highlighting the need to dismantle white supremacy. Growing a new sense of sufficiency evolved to disintegrating those things in myself that have kept unjust structures in place.
Throughout this, seasons can also be marked by the colour of the lawn in the park across the street changing along with our level of fatigue and determination to use this time wisely. Simple green grass turns yellow with dandelions then fluffy white within weeks, only to become a different shade of yellow as buttercups take their turn. Small purple clover ornament the grass after that while larger varieties turn the empty lot into a wildflower garden along with thistles, tall grasses and seeding kale which you harvested before it seeded.
The Beach brings its own rolling seasons, each moment new. Changing tides, weather, and wildlife add layers to seasonal shift tracked through things that grow above the tide line. Horsetails alone mark microseasons with its evolving look. One evening the Beach is a wide expanse of pebbles. The next time a layer of drying seaweed covers the breadth. Yet another time dead crab carcasses scatter across the shore. Tide in, tide out. And then the geese come to mark the summer.
In the past five months my camera and I have walked this neighbourhood a myriad of times capturing glimpses. I feel like we’re getting to know it in a more intimate way because we stop and listen. We hear perseverance here which we could retell as hope or understand as persistence. Humans may have felt stopped by the pandemic, but the seasons, the land, carry on.
If I were paying attention, I'd have noticed sooner the commonality of books that have reached out to me in my exile — Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, Martin Shaw with Scatterlings. Each of these laid a finger on my wrist and whispered "here." This was a poetic here: Here, read me; Here, this place; Here, this moment. It was as if something had conspired to draw me toward the stories I had forgotten to attend to, the living ones that carried on despite the constraints of human attempts to subdue. These reflections all centre on being gently shaken awake by the land outside your door.
Story, myth, even parable live here. The principle moral, if you want to call it that, is that humans are not the centre, not even kinda. And we catch this by witnessing ourselves on the landscape. We are the barbed wire fence, the garbage on the Beach, the freeway and boarded houses. Not hero, not protagonist. Nature neither adores us nor abhors us. She will cover our barbed wire with petals, fill in our lots, and keep rising, setting, tide in, tide out, blooming and seeding. She will model what it means to admire the Sun setting on the Beach, without leaving beer cans. Come if you like. Or don’t.
Now while walking the neighbourhood I feel a shift. The Wild Land on the corner (notice not empty lot) no longer tracks me with suspicion but beckons me over to hear what's going on. Even after someone has clearly mowed down its peak summer glory the stories are here if I care to listen. And if not, they’re here anyway.
It transforms my understanding of God. While I continue to understand that Divine Love is unconditional I realize it’s also not personal. The Sun does not shine for my sake and yet my entire life is contingent on it. And my gratitude is even greater.
I pick apples and bags of garbage off the Beach. Then I sit in comfortable silence watching geese land for the night as the Sun moves over the horizon.
I catch myself looking for you
under the tree
where you never promised to be
except in the story I’m writing
on this postcard
to send to you on the wind
for the seed I hope we planted
that one time we spoke
~ Kimiko 2023
A story I heard today about saying grace before a meal, had me reflecting on how the single word grace has different meanings in English. Which had me thinking about grace and then this:
We must live into the discomfort
that we have been touched
if you feel no discomfort
because somehow you feel
worthy, then you do not
really understand grace
what you have
if you’re willing
is a glorious invitation
to let go of yourself
to look at your nakedness in the mirror
to see every flaw and scar
to be devastated by what is actually true
And then to lean
your bared and shivering self
back into grace
and give thanks
Read ~ 4 minutes. Listen ~ 9 minutes
It seems like ages since I've been outside walking. Between smoke-hazed days and torrential downpours I just often have sat and looked out the window and not felt like venturing out. But today as the sun broke through the clouds, the rain stopped. I came out to our newly opened park. It's been closed for over 2 years, since we were in peak Covid.
It's strange. As always, you can never come back, as they say that everything changes and it's true. Even being here, everything has changed. There's more fences. There's more signs warning about the boundaries and the limits of where we are and are not allowed to go and how we are allowed to get there ....
I'm holding that gently, knowing that there are reasons, good reasons in some cases, for why that is so. Reasons that have roots in, to be honest, the deeply colonial history in which so much of what we live in is based. It's the kind of history that we often ignore. And I'm trying to do better at remembering the roots of who we are and how that impacts everything that happens now
I live on a boundary. It is the boundary of 2 countries and 3 nations. And we have not always lived in easy partnerships or easily neighbourliness to be honest. Not-with-standing the words that are printed on this border crossing about being children of a common mother and how these gates are never closed. But in truth these gates are gates.
There are reasons for gates ....
Mostly I am simply pondering everything. Everything I'm encountering. The leaves that are autumn and yet not autumn. It has been so warm that the colours that we expect to see at this time of year are very faint. Just now some of the trees that would long be resplendent in orange and red and yellow are just barely tinged with that, mostly still showing green or having simply dried up and dropped.
Those smoky skies came with drought. It’s been so dry here. The leaves on the trees are green but the grass has been brown. This is not how it normally is here at this time of year.
But this started really as a reflection today about simply being out. The air today feels so clean. There’s a particular smell that is such a west coast smell. The ocean meeting the trees and this time of year there’s a autumn smell. It is the leaves that have dropped, decomposing. It’s all here.
(Sound of a single engine airplane flying overhead.)
This border crossing also sits below a route for airplanes to the local airport. And the traffic now has increased again. During so much of Covid, when the borders were essentially closed, it was quiet. And now there’s many, many cars.
I feel like there was so much that we have learned, or we learned for a moment. And I’m trying to hang on to that. Kind of like when you go to an inspiring talk or workshop and come away thinking “Yes, yes! I’m going to do that. I’m going to take that away with me.” And then find that life just flows back in and we forget the new things, we forget the ways that we made a commitment to living better, to living more alive, more intentional with our lives.
I’m trying not to let it all go, all the lessons from this pandemic. All of the moments of wonder and challenge. Things that challenged me, things that made me think about who I am in the context of who we all are. And how we live together and how I want to live in community, live in common purpose with other people, with creation. How I want to use my time and my gifts. And it's attention. It’s a struggle. And I often feel isolated even now.
And yet in this moment of pause, of sitting in the beauty of this day, in this late afternoon as the sun is starting to slide down towards the western horizon .... I’m just noting the beauty and hanging on to my gratitude. For all of it .... For this moment. These thoughts. That’s all.
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