Extraordinary Time

I always feel the need to announce it is fall, as though perhaps everyone else has been too busy to notice and the moment might pass them by, and this is too tragic to be borne. It starts in August, as I see the swampland trees — first to turn hazy green in the Spring — turn a premature scarlet. Then the trees further out begin to turn, in ones and twos and small patches. The world is still predominantly the deep strong green of summer, but like gray hairs in the dark head of the aging year, a few strands show that time is indeed moving along.

Something happens to the air. It becomes sharp and crisp and delightful. Even the old metaphors seem new and important — walking through September sunshine with a cool wind on your face and a few early leaves falling about you is like biting into a crisp September apple. There is nothing fuzzy, hazy or indistinct about September air. It is precise and glorious.

My mind turns to poetry in September. This would work better if I knew more autumn poetry, but September seems like a time when words themselves carry more meaning. September is when you set your hand to a big task, unafraid of the toil in front of you. September is for realizing that the world is a strange and marvelous place. In autumn, the boundaries between what was, what is and what shall be blur, and you realize you are not so far removed from either your ancestors or descendants.

In the church liturgical calendar, the year is broken up into seasons. You may be familiar with Advent — the four weeks of waiting before Christmas (purple), with Christmas itself (12 days – white), with the long preparation of Lent (purple again), the joyfulness of Easter (white again), and the flash of color for one magic-filled day on Pentecost (red). The rest of the time is called Ordinary Time. The color for Ordinary Time is green. I love the idea of Ordinary time, because it so perfectly expresses for me what much of the year is like.

For me, January through September is Ordinary Time, where the days are those days and nothing more. The weather is good or bad. The world is lovely or not. I always feel as though spring SHOULD feel more potent. Instead, it’s a relief like taking off your high heels after walking all evening. It’s a wonderful feeling, but there is nothing of magic to it.

September through December, though, is Extraordinary time. The time in those months feels special and set apart, even more of a precious commodity than time usually is. Where the time the rest of the year is water running through our fingers, this time is quicksilver — even lovelier in its passing. I am deeply enamored of the beauty of the beginning of the turn, in September. I love October for the fullness of autumn that is in it. I love November for the contrast between the warmth of what is inside and the coolness of what is out, and for the grace with which it accepts the passing of what is living. And December for me is overlain with the brocade of music, joy, love, friendship, color and contrast that is truly Christmas.

Before I moved to New England, I already loved fall and Christmas best. But I didn’t understand the bitterness and fear that could accompany winter. I was like a child, enjoying life but knowing nothing of mortality. In New England, winter strips the joy from life. It steals your breath with icy winds. The world stays dark and cold and barren far too long and you wonder how you can endure it. Sometimes despair arrives and it feels as though you will never be warm or joyful again. Against that fear, this season apart becomes even deeper in its meaning. You must find a way to rejoice in the falling of the leaves without letting your cup be embittered by the gall of the winter to come. You must watch that first snowfall hopefully around Christmas without thinking how you may not see that patch of ground again until May. You must take the joy of the dying of the year without accepting before-time the sting of the long dead period.

I understand now how it is possible to truly dread winter. I understand how you might dread fall as the precursor to winter. But I choose, instead, to revel and rejoice in this time apart. I will bring new life into the world just as the door shuts on the year. I will not let the fear of future cold diminish the joy of the present.

And next year, around this time, I will probably say nearly the same thing again.

And so it begins

It’s August. August should be hot and humid. August rises in waves from blacktop pavement, and smells of tar. August fans itself laconically in the shade, hardly fathoming the concept of being comfortable, never mind cool. August sears to the bone with its heat, melting the ice still lingering on in the marrow of a New Englander. July rises us, like bread dough put near a hot stove, and August bakes us into tall loaves, ready to be taken from the oven.

Well, a normal August does. This year, I’m afraid. For the second year in a row we have a temperate August. We had a few hot, humid, properly miserable August days. But now there’s an autumnal tint to the air. The skies are clear and blue. The breezes are cool and crisp. The grasses are still green. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is my favorite weather. But for August, it is simply wrong. We have slipped straight from June to September once again, my friends. The icicles in my veins still cool my heart with every drop of blood.

Watching the colors turn in autumn is like watching a child grow old. You love each stage, and yearn for more — the first word… the first sentence… learning to read… learning to write… But you know that eventually your baby will be a man full grown and leave you. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. So does summer go. It goes beautifully, here in the Northeast. The breath catches in the chest as the leaves turn yellow and gold in the slanting October sun — just as your child riding a bike by himself for the first time. And as beautiful as that moment is, it also foretells the future of absence.

Today, I saw a flash of scarlet on the side of the road. A shrub, in a wetland (always the first to go), has signalled defeat and raises a vermillion flag of surrender. It is early. Possibly the shrub is diseased, or otherwise in difficulty. But it is the first. In time, even the mightiest and healthiest of maples shall bow to the inevitable and strip themselves of their summer garmets.

And I am not ready. Another summer like last — short and cool. Another winter like last — harsh and frigid. I am becoming like the Arctic permafrost. I feel the beginnings of a glacier forming in my inmost center. The summer was not hot enough or long enough to melt off last winter’s snow, nor the winter before. It grows and accumulates, and becomes a powerful river of ice, scouring the landscape.

And there is nothing I can do but brace myself, and look longingly at the velvet night sky — too clear for August — and hope.

The inevitability of autumn

As I drove in today, I saw probably twice as many colored leaves as I saw on Monday. At one point, the wind was blowing and stripping yellow leaves off a tree one by one, and making them dance across traffic. It was quite cool this morning — in the mid 50s. The air is crisp — it’s humidity banished with the heat. I have the itching of autumn — to be creative and adventurous and travel. To be domestic, and quiet, and make pies on the counter while listening to fiddles.

Autumn is among us, a scent on the wind. It sweeps — as it does every year — some of the cobwebs from our routine-numbed brains. It asks questions that make us look at horizons and wonder what is past them. It trickles long-known and forgotten scents towards us, and makes us search for their pattern in our minds.

The falling leaves make me love them. The colors and pageantry and crisp air. For the first time, having lived through a brutal New England winter last year, I also understand the poignancy and threat behind the scarlet and gold. Autumn, in it’s kindness and grace, foretells winter in all its hard, uncaring violence and seeping drafts.

I wish I could return to the innocence of loving autumn with my whole heart, not knowing how painful and difficult the winds of February are.

September the 5th

This time of year is making me think of poetry. As I drive into work there’s a tree that is apparently calendar conscious. When we left before Labor Day it was green, and now it is tinged with fiery red around the edges. The change this morning is that a few leaves have fallen from it. There can be no denying that autumn is upon us.

Today’s poem is Shakespeare — but I don’t remember it all.

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs rough-shaken by the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where once the sweet bird sang…

I have done a bad thing this summer. By my standards, I have read almost nothing in several months. And what I have read has been entirely fluff. I think that part of my exhaustion comes from the fact I have not escaped into the fantasy world that is available to me through books. I need that, I think. As much as I need exercise, or good food, or vegetation, I need fantasy.

There are three worlds we humans inhabit: the world of the flesh, the world of the mind, and the world of the soul. I am living far too much in the world of the flesh — the impermanent one where satisfaction is fleeting. The other two worlds are what inform, strengthen and bring meaning to the factual, physical world. And I have neglected them. When I move, perhaps, I can reclaim my citizenship to them — or at very least, pay an extended visit.