Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Greetings and Good Tidings to the Autumnal Equinox

[NB: All the pics in this post have disappeared. Figuring out which ones they were and getting them back in may take awhile. Their absence significantly detracts from the post.]

Yesterday was one of those unbelievably perfect fall days--skies so blue they make you feel like an M80 went off in your chest, sun shining, warm, but not too hot.  With a day like that, I couldn't go to my windowless gym and spend time 'walking' on a machine.  I went home, grabbed my camera and my bike and headed into the park.  It amazes me sometimes how much time can pass between my visits.  I live a block away, yet sometimes weeks can pass without me finding myself in the forest or down in the holler.

Summer has been winding down in valley for some time now, even if it seems less obvious in the concrete jungle above where the pavement still cooks in the sun and it feels every bit like summer is still doing keg stands at 3 AM, oblivious that last call was hours ago.  (For tomorrow, the first official day of fall, the weather forecast is calling for a high of 88F.)  I headed out through the playground and began my descent along the hillside.  I came around a bend to find this beauty shining in the canopy--hello Fall!

I got down to the valley floor, and rode straight into the unrelenting sun for a bit before looping around to have it at my back as I poked up the single-track next to the stream. I love this light and the glass-like surface of the slow moving water.  After uploading these photos to my computer, I flipped through my folder of pictures from the park and noted at how the deep, lush green of June and July had faded to these muted yellows and light greens.  It happens every year, yet never fails to captivate me and fill me with wonder.  These small, gradual changes occur before our eyes every day, yet only when flipping through a collection of these moments captured in time does the profound contrast really strike me.

I like fall. I like to watch the world gradually wind down, pulling its energy inward, slowly closing up shop in preparation for the approaching long days of winter. I like to see the cycle of life in action at each of its stages, savoring the flavors, colors, and textures of each one.  I don't want to live in a perpetual summer (or spring or winter or fall) because it is only in the movement between the seasons that each fully comes into its own, and we are able to fully appreciate its gifts.

This way.
Tonight at 11:09, we mark one of the two days of the year when the day of light and the darkness of night will be perfectly balanced.  Perhaps we can use this moment to reflect on achieving balance in our own lives, or as a point at which to rest and look back across our busy, active summer lives and forward to cooling temperatures, shorter days, sweaters, and returning to life on the inside of our homes. Taking time to appreciate the days of hot skin, bright light, kinetic energy, and time spent with puffy white clouds as our ceiling and towering tree trunks for walls, and anticipating the spicy, earthy flavors of fall--the smell of cinnamon, apples, pumpkin pie, and warm, dry leaves; the soft texture of wool and well-worn denim; and the way the world becomes smaller, gathered around points of light and warmth as we work our way into the heavy hibernation of winter.

Ragged butterfly rests at the end of a long, hot summer.
Of course, modern life works against us, but tens of thousands of years of evolution don't give up without a fight.  The tides of our bodies still move with the ebb and flow of the earth around us--its light, its warmth, its abundance, its dearth.

So no matter what the electric lights, alarm clocks, central heating systems, and work schedules tell you, remember that. Remember that you are a native child of the universe, and its intimate movements move within you.
There is beauty in every stage of life.
Despair not as summer's bounty fades and dies--for it is nourishing its resurrection.  In one half turn of the earth, we'll be back at this point of balance, gathering our energy once again to spring forth again--flinging open the doors and windows, welcoming the return of the life-giving sun, ready to uncurl dormant seeds from the earth once more.

1 comment:

  1. I love Frick Park and can't wait for the leaves to change. Pittsburgh is beautiful in the fall.

    Thanks for sharing on the Plumb Media Facebook page!


Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.