Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thursday Poem - Mabon, the Autumn Equinox

Ephemeral truce.
The dark begins
its long winning streak.
But for now
in this disheveled garden
a riot of blowsy flowers
hangs on like a chorus
of aging show girls
still with a few good kicks.
The air is ripe
with seedy perfume
and pleasant lies,
the pomegranate shared
between two mouths.
This is our second harvest,
the corn, the squash,
the reconstructed
memories of summer.
Ceres, comfort us with apples,
with grapes and the wine of grapes.
Wheaten breads are baked
in the shape of the sun.
We savor them
with honey.
It will be a long time
before this golden
moment comes again.

Dolores Stewart Riccio

Happy Mabon, Autumn Equinox and Harvest Home to you and your tribe.
May all good things come to you!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

For Mabon (Harvest Home)

Here we are again on the morning preceding the autumn equinox, and here I am again, waxing wordy and thoughtful about a seasonal turning that celebrates natural equilibrium, harvest and community.

The autumn equinox is a pivotal cosmic hinge wearing many names: Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of Ingathering, Equinozio di Autunno and Alban Elfed, to name a few.  Mabon is probably the most common of the bunch on this side of the Atlantic, but the connection between the Welsh hunter god and tomorrow is flimsy to say the least—Mabon's only likely link with the occasion is that it may have been his birth date, but we have no way of knowing. I can't help thinking that Ceres, Demeter, John Barleycorn, Lugh or Persephone would have been better candidates for a tutelary deity presiding over autumn harvest rites. Having said that, I remain fond of the "Great Son" of the Mabinogion, also a knight of the Round Table.

In the old Teutonic calendar, the autumn equinox marked the beginning of the Winter Finding, a ceremonial interval lasting until Winter Night on October 15, also the date of the old Norse New Year. For moderns, the autumn equinox marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.  In Christian tradition, tomorrow's festival is closely associated with St. Michael the Archangel—his feast takes place a few days from now on September 25 and is known for obvious reasons as Michaelmas. The purple Michaelmas Daisy with its golden heart (pictured above) is one of my favorite wildflowers. Seasonal patterns are reversed south of the equator, and this is the day before the vernal equinox (Ostara) down below.

The autumn equinox is about abundance and harvest, but most of all, it is about balance and equilibrium—it is one of two astronomical coordinates in the whole year when day and night are (or rather seem to be) perfectly balanced in length. Like all the old festivals dedicated to Mother Earth, it is a liminal or threshold time, for we are poised between two seasons, summer and autumn.

One holds out hopeful thoughts for the autumn equinox, that skies overhead will be brilliantly blue and full of singing geese by day, that trees and vines and creepers will be arrayed in crimson and gold, and a splendid yellow moon visible against a blanket of stars by night.  This time around, the moon is a day past new, and there will be no moonlit nights for a few days. 

There is an autumn wreath on our door, and a yellow chrysanthemum on our threshold.  Sometimes the flowers are accompanied by leaves fallen from the old oak nearby. The oak is our guardian tree; the wreath and the "mum" are our nod to the season, a homage of sorts. Together, oak trees, fallen leaves , wreaths and blooms convey a silent benediction on anyone who knocks at our door, treads the cobblestones or just passes by in the street.

Whatever you call it and however you choose to celebrate it (or not celebrate it), a very happy Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Gathered, Wrapped and Taken Home

This is how a favorite stopping place along the Rosetta road in the Lanark highlands looked a week or two ago, round bales of hay and rippling stubble, trees along the perimeter of the field still wearing their green leaves, pellucid blue skies and wispy clouds overhead.

Now the hay has been carted home to the barn, the stubble has faded, and the trees are turning. Goldenrod and Michaelmas daisies bloom along the verges, and they host blissful colonies of bumbles and wasps, but companion weeds and grasses are going brown and scattering their seed to the wind.

There is fog here on September mornings, and the views down and across are magical. Skies are sometimes clear and blue later, but a northern autumn is about clouds and rain as much as it is about anything else, and there are murky and overcast days too. No matter what the weather though, sunrises and sunsets here are spectacular.  Beyond the trees is a valley that seems to go on and on forever, and its cedars, pines and spruces seem float in twilight.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.
Mary Oliver

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Ramble - Bees and Asters

Autumn days here are warm and sunny for the most part, but nights are chilly.  The sun doesn't rise until 6:30 so it is still dark beyond the windows as I write this.  We have already retrieved flannel sheets and patchwork quilts from the cedar chest, and there is no doubt about it - daylight hours and warmth are waning, and the northern world is slowly turning its attention toward the long white season.

One craves color in September, not just any old color but shades dazzling, intoxicating and downright riotous. Velvety taupe and cream milkweed pods disclosing fluttering silks in late September are all very well, but give me colors before the snow flies, and hallelujah, here they are.

Think bronze chrysanthemums, burgundy sedums and fall blooming asters, scarlet maple leaves, russet oak and golden birch. Think autumn nights when the sun goes down in flames over our favorite lakes and rivers in the Lanark highlands.  Think cold clear mornings when one's breath sparkles in the air and early light turns the awakening world to gold, erasing for a few moments the shifting ephemeral boundaries between land and water and sky.

In the garden behind the little blue house, my heritage rose offers several hopeful buds, and Michaelmas daisies are coming into flower. When the day warms up, each and every swaying bloom wears a jeweled bumble, a honey bee or a wasp, sometimes a tiny goldenrod spider lying in wait for its next meal too. If only I could capture everything with my lens or find the right words to describe it.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Thursday Poem - September Mosaic

Before we come with rakes and crackling
energy to clean it up,
the backyard is precisely
as the dog prefers it -- left alone,
a natural selection
of leaf, stick, bone, pod, seed, and stone.

But we are cosmic instruments
of music and disturbance, only
animals by half,
and will not let the season bleed
its shifting earth designs
of stone, bone, leaf, stick, pod, and seed.

Some earthscapes rearranged
are gardens, or hillsides
shorn to make a path for wired poles
or graveyards stiff with grief
or clearcut forests. Let me take care
of seed, stone, pod, bone, stick, and leaf.

Let me recall the universe
is breathing in my breath, it plays
its tune in me, it dreams my being --
an unnamed, unrecorded  god
becoming conscious as I am
of leaf, seed, stick, stone, bone, and pod.

I am a painting made of sand and pollen.
Structure and spirit
are my codes. Nothing of life
is random or a trick
I draw myself a part of all
with pod, leaf, bone, seed, stone, and stick

The circle of the seasons turns
and never comes back quite the same.
Fertile impulses in time
will overgrow the patterns I have sown,
return to animal wilderness
of stick, pod, stone, leaf, seed and bone.

Let me be glad
new seasons bud from stick and leaf,
new forces split a pod and spill the seed,
new rhythms rise from stone and bone.

Dolores Stewart,
(from Doors to the Universe)
Bellowing Ark Press, 2008

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Autumn at the Gate

A single burnished leaf from the burr oak in the front yard floats down and comes to rest in the pot of bronze “mums” on the threshold of the little blue house in the village. Nights are cooling down, and it will not be long until we have to carry the pot indoors every evening as darkness falls and the wind rises.

As the oak leaf makes itself comfortable among our potted blooms, a long v-shaped skein of geese passes overhead. Above the wedge of high-flying geese and slightly to their right, the waning moon is translucent in the morning sky.

The swallows of summer are packing their bags and making ready to leave, their places on telephone wires to be taken by flutters of sparrows and constellations of starlings who are putting on winter stars and flashy yellow beaks.

Early Macintosh apples are starting to appear at farm markets, and several “Macs” rest flushed and rosy in a bowl on the kitchen counter.  We carried a lovely big brown paper bag of apples home from a local orchard a few days ago, and most are destined for eating, but later there will be applesauce and pies. Perhaps there will be a few jars of cinnamon scented apple butter too.

No doubt about it—Lady Autumn is standing outside our gate, and she is rattling the rusty latch vigorously.  The lady knows the magic words that will grant her entrance, and she knows the tune that goes with them.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sunday - Saying yes to the World

 A runner's every step is a leap, so that for a moment he or she is entirely off the ground. For those brief instants, shadows no longer spill out from their feet, like leaks, but hover below them like doubles, as they do with birds, whose shadows crawl below them, caressing the surface of the earth, growing and shrinking as their makers move nearer or farther from that surface. For my friends who run long distances, these tiny fragments of levitation add up to something considerable; by their own power they hover above the earth for many minutes, perhaps some significant portion of an hour or perhaps far more for the hundred-mile races. We fly; we dream in darkness; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured. 
Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Garden of Scarlet Lanterns

Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi)

Friday, September 08, 2017

Friday Ramble - Embracing the Season

It's small things that engage our attention at this time of year: fallen leaves like confetti on the old wooden dock at the lake, woodland maples arrayed in red and gold, tall sunflowers inclining their heads and dropping thousands of seed children, damp furrows where a garden once bloomed and fruited, bronzey oak leaves on the trail touched by cold and crackling wonderfully underfoot in their earthy sepias and rosy creams, flickering sunlight bending and flowing across our path on walks in the woods. September's little ordinaries conjure a litany that is poignant, spicy on the tongue and touched with dusty fragrance.

Lines of swallows congregate and chatter on telephone lines before flying south.  Skeins of geese move to and fro between rivers and farm fields, and there are the steady wing beats and plaintive calls of loons saying goodbye as they head for warmer moorings. Great herons still haunt local waters here and there, but they will not be far behind the loons in departing.  The magnificent beech trees in our woods are turning, and their coppery leaves fall in burnished, windblown showers.  Is it just me, or is there a restless melancholy spirit loose in the village and haunting the countryside in September?

Far from last month's thoughts of salads and cold drinks, I find myself pondering soups and stews, corn fritters and gingerbread, the first McIntosh apples lovingly folded into a baked crumble with oatmeal, maple syrup and cinnamon.  Thoughts of comfort food are a sure indication of autumn, all by themselves.

Life becomes quieter as daylight hours wane in the last quarter of the calendar year. Temperatures tumble, migratory kin leave, and we drink every blessed thing in like wine.  Gloves on our gnarly paws, and collars turned up against the wind, we ramble and ponder and feast our senses on the colors, sounds and spicy fragrances of autumn.  Then we come home to tea and toast and molasses cookies at nightfall.  It's all good.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Harvest Moon of Seprember

September's moon is my favorite in the whole turning year.  It is also (above all others), the one I can't describe or take a good photo of, no matter how extensive my preparations and meticulous my labors.  Every year, I potter off to a good vantage point, set up camera, telescope and tripod, check my settings and wait patiently for night to fall. The moon rises, and I stand breathless in the darkness, trying to capture her magnificence with my lens, grasping a scant handful of inadequate words to describe the most beautiful moon of the year.  Bearing witness to this month's full moon is a personal seasonal rite, and if I had to brew up a name of my own for it, that name would be "Hallelujah Moon".

It is something of a cosmic joke, this business of standing outside after dark and taking photo after photo of every full moon but never a good one. Well, here we are again, another glorious Harvest Moon has just gone by, and another folder of mediocre images has been captured.  It brings to mind the Zen teaching tale in which a monk on his deathbed was asked to describe his life, and he replied blithely, "just one mistake after another..."

In the greater scheme of things, it doesn't matter how my efforts turned out - it was being there that mattered.  I was happy to be around for another harvest moon, and I hope to be around for many more. Lady Moon rose t the appointed hour, and we (Himself, Beau and I) were out in the darkness watching her do her thing.  As we packed up our stuff, we couldn't help thinking that such magnificence deserved a gesture of some kind, a chorus, a chant or a benediction - something grander and more luminous than rickety bows and contented sighs.

We also know this moon as the:  Acorn Bread Moon, Acorns Gathered Moon, All Ripe Moon, Aster Moon, Autumn Moon, Barley Moon, Between Harvest Moon, Blood Berry Moon, Eating Indian Corn Moon, Black Calf Moon, Calf Grows Hair Moon, Chrysanthemum Moon, Corn Moon, Corn Maker Moon, Dancing Moon, Deer Paw the Earth Moon, Dog Salmon Return to Earth Moon, Elderberry Moon, Drying Grass Moon, Fruit Moon, Hay Cutting Moon, Her Acorns Moon, Holy Moon, Hulling Corn Moon, Index-finger Moon, Leaf Fall Moon, Leaf Yellow Moon, Leaves Changing Color Moon, Little Chestnut Moon, Maize Moon, Mallow Blossom Moon, Moon of Falling Leaves, Moon of First Frost, Moon of Full Harvest, Moon of Much Freshness, Moon When the Leaves Fall, Moon of Plenty, Moon When the Corn Is Taken in, Moon When the Plums Are Scarlet, Moon When Deer Paw the Earth, Moon When Calves Grow Hair, Moon When Everything Ripens and Corn Is Harvested, Moose Moon, Morning Glory Moon, Mulberry Moon, Nut Moon, Papaw Moon, Rice Moon, Rudbeckia Moon, Seed Moon, Shining Leaf Moon, Silky Oak Moon, Singing Moon, Soaproot Dug For Fish Poison Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Wavy or Snow Goose Moon, Wine Moon, Wood Moon, Yellow Leaf Moon.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Taking wing

It's the first Tuesday in September, and village children are off to their first day at school, walked all the way there (or just to the bus stop) by proud parents, big sisters and brothers and family pets. I have known many of the kids since they traveled about in prams, and here they are going off to school.  Dear me...

The youngsters wear jackets in confetti colors, carry backpacks and lunch boxes in pink, turquoise and lime green, tote pint-sized umbrellas patterned in flowers or bunnies or polka dots. They bloom like peonies in the street, and watching from the windows, I feel like doing a little blooming too.

Only a short distance away, other brightly arrayed offspring have hatched out in village hedgerows, and they are strengthening their wings for the long journey south to begin in a week or so—every single Monarch butterfly is a stained glass jewel, a wild, vivid and breathtaking wonder.

There are vibrant hues everywhere I look in early September, and they are a treat for these old eyes. It doesn't matter whether the colors are on Virginia creepers, coneflowers or tiny raincoats - they invite me to kick up my heels and dance.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

As the pen rises from the page between words, so the walker's feet rise and fall between paces, and as the deer continues to run as it bounds from the earth and the dolphin continues to swim even as it leaps again and again from the sea, so writing and wayfaring are continuous activities, a running stitch, a persistence of the same seam or stream.
Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Winging It in September

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)
(Samaras or maple keys)

Friday, September 01, 2017

Friday Ramble - Autumn

This week's word comes to us through the Middle English autumpne and the Old French autompne, thence the Latin autumnus, and the Latin likely derives from even older Etruscan forms.  The first part of autumnus (autu) probably comes from the Etruscan autu, related to avil, or year, and may be connected to the the old Venetic autu or autah, meaning the same thing. The second part of autumnus (mnus) comes from menos meaning loss, minus, or passing. At the end of our etymological adventures is the burnished but wistful thought that another year is ebbing, another circuit in what I like to call simply, "the Great Round," the natural cycle of our existence.

September is about harvest and abundance, but it is about balance too. The Autumn Equinox on September 21 is one of the two times in the  year when day and night are balanced in length, the other being the Vernal Equinox on March 21. On that day, (also called known as Mabon or "Harvest Home"), the sun seems to pass over the equator on a journey southward, moving steadily away from us.  Things are actually the other way around though, and it is the earth and her unruly children who are in motion. Between the Midsummer Solstice (Litha) in late June and the Winter Solstice (Yule) on or about December 21, the planet's northern hemisphere tilts away from the radiant star at the center of its galaxy.

This week, early evening skies are lit by a waxing moon, and the hours before sunrise are without moonlight.  The magnificent constellations of winter are starting to appear, and the dome of night is a veritable treasure trove of deep sky wonders and breathtaking beauty, a gift for ardent stargazey types like me. Beau and I stood in our chilly garden this morning before sunrise and watched Orion climbing high into the southeastern sky, Sirius, Procyon and Venus to the east and just above the horizon. A tapestry of stars covered the sky from here to there, and when the sun appeared, the stars vanished and every roof in the village was dappled with dew. With mornings like these, how can one feel anything except rich as Croesus and jubilant in spirit?

On early walks, falling leaves drift around our ankles and make a fine rustling music.  Earthbound foliage on the trail is going transparent and turning into stained glass in splendid buttery colors.  We pause to look at all the wonders around our feet, and it's a wonder we ever get anywhere at all.

Happy September, everyone!