looking at the mountain
looking at the sea…
Could there be a simpler or more sublime invocation of the delights of Autumnal contemplation and reflection than this? Issa was a master!
In part one we visited with the dragonflies around our place in the Sierra Foothills between lovely Lake Tahoe and Sacramento. Now I’d like to talk a little about some of the other delights and insights of Autumn’s gradual emergence, as it progresses from Lughnasadh (first harvest) in early August, to Mabon (second harvest) in late September. I use these terms not because I identify with neopaganism (I don’t have anything against it either), but because these concepts encompass many of the traditional ideas that reflect one’s experiences of these times of year. These ideas help establish a medium for interacting with each other on a deeper level than do the day-to-day mechanical processes of our abstract and unrooted civilization. They provide an opportunity to recognize the roots, the nourishment, and to regain appreciation for the miracles of nature.
This past weekend there was a cool breeze that held the promise of yet cooler weather and imminent changes. The trees seemed a little greener. The moon hid behind the large tulip tree in our front yard while at the top it’s verdant leaves still bathed in the pink glow of sunset. The breeze stopped in the late evening and stillness set in. Only a lone cricket could be heard. The cats were curled up and sleeping on the porch, on a rug, or on a chair. I sat for a time and listened and tried to find the deepest center I could find.
One of the challenges that often comes with these pre-Autumn days is that we generally have a bear in the orchard. Normally, s/he breaks a small branch or two, occasionally a big one. This year, the Bear has been positively destructive. He literally ripped apart a delightful little plum tree from our orchard. This was my wife’s favorite tree. It produced small, sweet Italian Plums. The Bear (I’ve decided to capitalize “Bear” because this Bear is Big and Relentless) also tore a large (6″ dia.) branch from another plum tree in the orchard (he goes for sweets, obviously), a smaller branch from a pear tree, roughed up an apple tree, and broke some smaller branches on another pear, as well as breaking a large branch from a neighbor’s apple tree. We don’t want to interfere with his life, but his destruction of ours has prompted us to seek help from the Fish & Game Service. We’ll see how that goes.
One night while I was walking down to turn on the irrigation water for the orchard, I saw a pair of eyes glimmering green on the other side of the small wood between the front lawn and the orchard. I aimed my LED head-light more carefully and could see that these were large eyes, low to the ground. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the Bear. Katie, our small calico cat, sat staring at me, wondering why we weren’t making our usual evening trip into the orchard. She didn’t seem at all concerned that the giant beast was lurking. The Bear and I gazed at each other for some time. Finally, the water pressure built enough and the sprinklers in the orchard began to hiss and sputter. The Bear turned lazily to the side and loped off through some scotch broom and acacia brush.
As if we hadn’t already had sufficient destruction from our animal neighbors, this morning I discovered that some buck has apparently decided that our little magnolia is a great scratching post, do doubt for his budding antlers! This was heartbreaking indeed! He had ripped several branches off the small tree on one side and they lay pitifully on the ground. But it was off to work and no time to dwell on it. We didn’t expect that one, at all. Time to build another fence!
That there is occasional destruction from our animal neighbors isn’t unexpected. Generally, it’s tolerable. This year, for some reason, it is much more extreme than it has been the 12 years we’ve been living where we live. In fact, I’ve observed a variety of marked differences between this year and others. The ground is so littered with acorns that in many places they crunch under foot as you walk. Not surprisingly then, squirrels seem more numerous and more active. But we don’t have as many mosquitoes this year. We don’t have as many bats. We don’t have our usual lughnasadh dragon-fly visitors (as mentioned in Part 1). The weather has been both very hot and much cooler than usual. We actually had rain in early August, a first since we’ve been living here. Fires in California, and near us, have been fewer but fiercer. Many pines and cedars seem browner this year than before. And yet the water in our spring has been more abundant. It’s been an atypical and rather ambivalent season, to say the least!
This is mirrored, of course, in our social and political spheres, as well, which have been atypical in many ways; many things are coming forward that never have before, many old assumptions are tested (many broken), the very foundations of our government and political society seem in the midst of profound change.
Moreover, the weather all over the world seems different (although, as far as the Pacific Coast is concerned, it is an El Nino year). And we hear of asteroids or comets “grazing” the earth, of extreme solar activity threatening climate, communications and electricity, of the possibility of the earth’s magnetic field flipping polarities (which would expose us to greater radiation from space for a time and of course disrupt navigation). Global warming, energy, water and food scarcity, and poverty resound in our awareness as pressing concerns. There is so much now that seems to disturb the settled order of things.
This can be a source of fear and depression. But it can also be a prompting to seek deeper sources of fulfillment and understanding, perhaps within one’s own consciousness. I think that’s something Autumn helps us with. As well as being a time for understanding the temporary nature of life’s conditions and enjoying the fruits of previous labors, it’s also time for returning to the sources of things. We recognize the earth as the source of our nourishment. For some, there is a recognition of community as a vital source of emotional fulfillment, support, and growth. And, ultimately, we have to seek an abstract, but tangible, spiritual source to find true happiness.
Autumn’s fleeting colors, the almost perceptible flickering of ghosts along the forest’s edge, the rolling of leaves in the street, the migrating of birds — all of these things whisper of greater, less tangible forces orchestrating the course of things. It’s these forces we are prompted to understand and draw near to, because they are, as Heraclitus pointed out so long ago in his concept of the Logos, the cause of things, the purpose of things, and the real source of one’s own existence. Growing conversant on that topic, becoming allied with that force and friendly with it, seems to be one of Autumn’s sacred counsels.
In the circle of Autumn’s large and glowing sun we listen to that music and those teachings. As the dark gathers ’round, we turn inward where that sun directs us, where that sun never sets.