Spirit and Place

It’s peak foliage season here in Western Mass.  The weather has been spectacular, with striking blue skies and streams of sunlight pouring through the fiery foliage.  Leaves appear to glow,  They rattle and rustle as if in a shamanic trance.  And then they rain down, like gold coins, spreading a wealth of riches on the forest floor.

I’ve always thought that fall foliage is nature’s fireworks display.  It starts slowly – a burst of orange and red here and there, until it rises into a crescendo of color – a stunning grand finale to celebrate the end of the growing season.

The leaf peepers are out en masse.  But not me.  I’m not going anywhere.  I don’t need to.  There is more beauty surrounding my house than I could possibly absorb, and to be honest, it feels good to appreciate what is right in front of me.

I’ve particularly been admiring the way the afternoon sun falls on the rock ledge behind my house.  The stand of white birches in front of the ledge has such poise and grace.  And all along the edges of the yard, sassafras saplings are turning a brilliant shade of yellowy orangish red – three types of leaves aflame on a long, slender wick.  That’s right: sassafras trees have three distinct leaf shapes – one that looks like a classic leaf shape, one that looks like a mitten, and one that looks like a ghost.  The all have the same lemony-citrus scent.

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I harvested dried beans from my garden today, shucking them from their shells and running my hands through the cool, smooth pile of small stones as they accumulated in my basket.  I looked at my hands as the beans sifted through them, thinking about the work they have done, the food they’ve sown and reaped, and their connection to this land.

I’ve come to realize that a relationship with the land is a lot like a romantic relationship.  When you first see a place of beauty, you are in awe.  You get excited, you want to take a picture, and to preserve it in your memory forever.  But eventually you move on to the next scenic vista.

However, the longer you sit with a place, the deeper your connection becomes.  And when you work with the land – tend it, care for it, honor it – that connection becomes deeper still.

Like any relationship, it’s not always easy.  I think about the countless hours I’ve spent toiling and tending to my little corner of the world, but no place fills me with such a sense of fulfillment and gratitude.

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Autumn is such an ephemeral time, and it seems to be a reminder of the Impermanence of Everything.  While spring brings the promise of life, autumn brings the reminder that all things are fleeting, and must, someday, die.

Today, I found out that an important person in my life passed away.  Although we hadn’t been in close contact for many years, Skip was one of those rare people whose impact lasts a lifetime.  He was a mentor who guided me as I began my journey as a seeker of truth, love, and the great Mysteries of Life.  I am not filled with sadness at the news of his death, but a sense of poignancy and gratitude at the light he shone on the world, and the fact that I was lucky enough to have it shine on me.

Perhaps it is the fleeting nature of autumn that makes it such a natural time for reflection and appreciation.  We see life around us slowing down and letting go – a tender release, like a pensive sigh.  There is a sadness there, but also relief.  Just as the trees shed their leaves, perhaps we have a chance to let go of some of our own burden.  And in letting go, we too, may receive the gift of rest.

In loving memory
Skip Weatherford, 1933-2017

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The Sacredness of Life

It’s been a challenging week.  I’ve been struggling to go at a pace that my body doesn’t like.

Meanwhile, life around me is slowing down.  The leaves are starting to fall, the garden is winding down, and even the weeds seem to have stopped growing.  The days are getting shorter, animals are preparing for winter, and there is less energy all around.   Mother Nature is getting ready for the long winter’s rest ahead.  So why shouldn’t I?

Autumn is perhaps the most poignant season, in my opinion.  These crisp, sweet days remind us of less complicated times, as we try to savor the fleeting burst of color across the landscape.  Things around us are going dormant or dying, leaving behind a quiet and familiar melancholy.

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It’s hard to accept things dying, even when it’s part of nature’s flow.  It’s even harder to accept when it seems that there is no reason for it.

This past week, a deer was brought to the wildlife rehabilitation facility I volunteer at.  It had been hit by a car; its back was broken and one of its legs was broken and bent in an unnatural direction.  It had only been there a short while before I arrived, but already an animal control officer was arriving to take it away and alleviate it’s suffering.

The deer cried piteously as it was carried away in a blanket.   It was loaded into the back of a truck, and there it lay – helpless as it suffered through its last moments of life on earth.

Why should any creature suffer so needlessly?  That is, without a doubt, one of the great mysteries of life.

After the injured deer was carried away, I went to feed the two remaining fawns.  I was so struck by their beauty and fragility as they sucked at the bottles of milk with the golden autumn sunlight flashing in their eyes, on their long, lovely lashes, and on their coarse, tawny hair.

Coming face to face with suffering is very difficult, but it makes the Sacredness of Life all the more evident.  It gives me the urge to  care for my earth-home and cherish my fellow living beings.  The grass, the ferns, the squirrels, the oaks, the rivers, the turkeys, the beetles, the moths, the coyotes, the rabbits, the pines, the soil, the blue jays, the bumblebees, and everything else that is a part of this living, breathing world – I offer my tender gratitude to you.

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