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Category: autumn

rapt

rapt

you could bury your nose in it. the honeybees do.

rapt-beewe’re easing into the deep of it. or perhaps it’s that the deep is deepening and we’re being immersed. being wrapped in it. rapt.

rapt would be my posture of late.

rapt /rapt/ adj. 1. completely fascinated and absorbed. 2. literary filled with intense and pleasant emotion.

oh, i am rapt.

i seem to glisten through the days. and the nights. oh, the nights. it’s alive and it’s soft all over. it’s september, once summer surrenders. once the hot air balloon, and the sauna, finally exhale. and the next inhale is crisp, is cooler, and the light now has shifted. the edges, to my eyes anyway, are sharp, exquisitely so. the colors are deeper, more amber, molasses. the bright white of summer has faded. i can make out the fine grain again.

by night, the windows are open, and the hum doesn’t come from air conditioners down the block anymore. they’ve gone quiet — at last. now, the night belongs to the low-simmering song of the cricket, and the rising chorus of dawn. and the breeze. curtains quiver. bedsheets do too. rather than flinging them off, i’m just as apt to pull them taut around my shoulders, up to my chin. and the moon. did you happen to drink that one in? the harvest moon on the rise last night, the one that ignited the blue-black, silver-stitched dome, the one that cast moon shadow every which way. the one that promises even more when it rises tonight, in its fullest wholeness.

and by day, by day i’ve had hummingbirds dancing all week. a trinity of humming hummers, of hovering wings, darting and dodging, and dashing in for a drink, a deep-throated drink. whole chunks of minutes have passed, as i stop and i stare. enraptured. they seem not to mind when i tiptoe quite close. when i stand just under the branch or the wire where they’ve plunked their wee bums, and take my turn at drinking them in.

out my kitchen window, the hydrangea blooms droop. not that they’re withering, or giving up for the season. they’re simply so zaftig they can’t seem to bear their own weight, their heft, their marvelousness. so they sag, this way and that. and all i can see through the panes of the window are the voluptuous blooms that invite in the honeybees and the rare fluttering monarch.

these are the days when to be alive is to be rapt in prayer. i know i am. all day, hour upon hour, i feel the brushstroke of the Divine gentle against the nape of my neck, the small of my back, the bare flesh of my arms. and, surely, it’s prayer that keeps my heart pulsing.

every blessed act of each day — whole strings of the tiniest, mostly unnoticed (tucking a fresh vase of blooms by the side of my little one’s bed, sliding an after-school snack onto the counter, knowing he’ll see it, hoping he’ll know it’s a whispered “i love you” set out in apples and crackers and cheese) — each one is a prayer without words. each one is my heart and my soul offering up the closest i know how to come to turning my hours over to God. to saying thank you for the breath and the heartbeat. thank you for the chance to brush up against the holiness that is this amber-drenched september day, this one latest chance to absorb, yes, to inhale, yes. but even more to put my enrapture to work, to say thank you in my own small acts of paying attention, in my own small acts of love and tender kindness.

because all around me is God’s immeasurable magnificence, a tapestry of jeweled stitches in which i am rapt. so deeply vigorously rapt.

rapt-endnote

 are you rapt? and what is stirring your holy rapture? 

p.s. and in case you wondered about those pins and needles of last week: no word yet. 

the cry of the october garden

october garden

the garden’s been hushed for months now. or maybe i’ve been too distracted to notice.

this week though, with honey-dappled light oozing across its fading, bent, and desiccating boughs and stems, with fronds of fern collapsed, splayed every which way, and nodding heads of hydrangea weighing down the branch, with my own soul ragged, in need of long slow immersion, i heard october’s garden call my name.

i’d been typing — or trying to anyway — when suddenly some drop of golden light, nectar from the heavens, caught my eye. i looked up, pushed out my chair, threw on my muck-about boots and grabbed the clippers on the way.

for a good long soak of an afternoon, i snipped and yanked and piled high the proof. my growing things, most of them at least, were forgiving; i apologized anyway. i’d left them all abandoned through summer’s height and frenzied weeks. they’d waited, as all good gardens do. they knew that, someday, i’d return. i always do.

and, apothecary on slender sturdy stem, the whole plot applied its balm. gentian blue dots, a sure cure for any faded heart, still winked at me. mopheads of hydrangea kept on their color show, turning lime to rose to tinged in plum, all but begging me to snip them at the neck and bring them in for winter. the black-eyed susan, once a perky swath of whimsy, now lay dark, nothing but the black-eyed button, landing pad for hungry songbirds, who peck and fill their bellies.

to be amid a garden in october is to catch up to the end of the story, to pay notice to what happens when the glory fades away, and yet another topography of beautiful is bared.

this is, after all, the wabi-sabi season, so defined by a farmer friend of mine as the season that pulses with the beauty of sadness and the sadness of beauty, the season that pulses with the poetry of imperfection and impermanence. nothing beautiful lasts forever, my garden whispers, so savor all of it, every drop of it, while you have the chance to reach out and rub your nose, your hands, your heart, in the whole of it.

essential wisdom, far beyond the garden.

i’m fairly certain it was the earthy, tactile element, the dirt under my nails, the pin scratches up and down my arms (october’s thorny roses are no less forgiving than the sturdy stems of june), that soothed me. the being out in golden afternoon, feeling the faintest ray of sun bathe across my sweatered back. there was healing in the garden stain splotting my knees, and surely in the armloads of autumnal offerings i hauled in the house, tucked in old vases.

once my shoulders ached, and my clipper hand throbbed, i kicked off my garden boots, and clambered back inside, content to watch the sunlight fade as i assumed my steady post just beside my chopping board and cookstove. in yet another iteration of surrendering to hands in lieu of cerebration, i turned this week to slicing, stirring, cracking eggs, and cranking up the oven. there was, there is, in the alchemy of the kitchen a sure cure for ails of the deepest-down ilk. stew and soup and pumpkin bars, i made them all this week.

i was drawn by battered heart, and sodden soul, to find my solace where the growing things live and breathe and surrender to the season’s close, and when the air grew chill, i warmed the rest of me — and those i love — by tending to the cookstove.

not a bad prescription, after all. welcome mat

where and how do you practice healing acts or arts?

and now we pause for awe…

DSCF1354

the lamb has been ordered. the prayer books, slipped from the shelf. soon, i will slice the pomegranate and begin to count the seeds. are there really precisely 613, the same as the number of mitzvot, or commandments, as the sages taught, as i was told in whispers in a kosher kitchen once upon a time?

i have been curious, asking questions, burrowing into the holiness of the new year, the jewish new year, rosh hashanah, ever since i stumbled on that fine bespectacled fellow in the newsroom so long ago, decades ago now. and because i come to this beginning — this pause to behold the wonder of creation, original creation — with inquisitive heart, because question upon question tumbles before me, because one leads to another and another, i can’t help but be drawn deep into what these days offer: these days offer awe.

they are called, quite precisely, the Days of Awe.

awe, my dictionary tells me, is “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.”

awe, my etymologists* tell me, has deep roots in fear, and traces back to circa 1300, aue, “fear, terror, great reverence,” earlier aghe, circa 1200, from a Scandinavian source, such as Old Norse agi “fright;” from Proto-Germanic *agiz- (cognates: Old English ege “fear,” Old High German agiso “fright, terror,” Gothic agis “fear, anguish”), from PIE *agh-es- (cognates: Greek akhos “pain, grief”), from root *agh- “to be depressed, be afraid” (see ail). the current sense of “dread mixed with admiration or veneration” is due to biblical use with reference to the Supreme Being. To stand in awe (early 15c.) originally was simply to stand awe. Awe-inspiring is recorded from 1814.

in my own dwelling inside these days of awe, i don’t think too much about fear. i tend toward wonder. the God i know and sidle next to is not one who makes me tremble. truth is, i’m most myself when i draw deep into the hollows of God. when i feel myself wrapped in the arms of the one who gave me breath, and question, and proclivities for awe.

because this pause for holiness is at once still new to me, and now familiar, because in many ways it’s always felt as if i’d been waiting for reason to hold up these days, to hold up these autumn’s-coming hours, i walk through them with all pores open. i love the pungent notes that will rise up from the pot on the stove, the one where lamb simmers alongside onion and celery and garlic, before the apples and raisins and cinnamon settle in. i love the way the molasses morning light pours across the page. i love each sentence i find on the page, especially the ones that startle me, give me pause, give me much to think about during the long hours in synagogue, during the long walks that will punctuate the pause, the anointing that makes the days of awe unlike ordinary time.

because i am always, always drawn to the sage of all sages, abraham joshua heschel, i pulled him, too, from the shelf this morning. i’ve been filling the shelves with heschel for a long long time. even before i knew i’d be the one to share my husband’s bookshelves.

this morning i found this from heschel, along with the pages of prayer that we will tuck under our arms and carry to the pews where the prayers will come. because it speaks to all of us who are inclined to turn in, to refuel in the depths of quietude, i share these fine heschel thoughts as something of a blessing for these days when we pause for awe.

here’s heschel, from “On Prayer,” found in the collection, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, edited by Susannah Heschel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996):

Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for the innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home. Weary, sobbing, the soul, after wandering through a world festered with aimlessness, falsehoods, and absurdities, seeks a moment in which to gather up its scattered life, in which to divest itself of enforced pretensions and camouflage, in which to simplify complexities, in which to call for help without being a coward. Such a home is prayer. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where prayer is.

may you find your way home in this sacred span of time, the one that unfolds across the coming hours, the ones i’ve come to know and love as the holy Days of Awe, when i bow my head, my heart, my soul, and pulse with the wonder of creation, and my one small moment to revel in all its glories.

how do you pause for awe? who is your trail guide across the landscape of prayer?

*my etymologists: online etymology dictionary

sacramental supper

sacrament supper

it came over me as if i’d been out on a splintering raft in the middle of the swallowing seas, as if for days and days i’d not seen dry shore. nor steady mooring to cling to. but there, not too far out of my reach, was the sea-battered timber planted in the sandy bottom. the end post of a barnacle-crusted dock i couldn’t quite make out, and it came out of nowhere.

looked like hope to me.

so i reached for it. reached into the meat bin at the bottom of the fridge. hauled out the pack of cubes of cow (so sorry, cow). then i hauled out the cook pot, the one so hefty it could break a toe. a pack of toes. i glopped in a spill of oil, olive oil slick across the now-sizzling surface. and in plopped the cubes of beef. i browned and hummed. that’s what cooking on a thursday morning does.

i was burrowing into the holiness, the sacrament of middle-of-the-week, because-they-need-it, because-we-all-need-it supper. it would be ladled at long day’s end, when, for a moment, hands would be clasped, prayers raised, then forks. and a certain emptiness, filled.

that’s the mystery and alchemy of all-day puttering at the cookstove. it’s the only thing some days, some weeks, that beelines to the crannies in our heart where words can’t go. that seeps into hollows hungry for so very much.

since this was sacramental, after all, i set the altar while beef cubes sizzled: old chipped blue willow plates, ratty napkins that could use a spin through the sewing machine. cobalt glasses, ones that all day long catch the light, spill streams of blue across the old maple planks of the handed-down kitchen table, the one that still wears the imprint of third-grade homework from back in 1965 (or so i calculate, judging by the particular child’s scrawl and the certain words pressed into the wood).

sacramentum, the latin dictionary tells us, means “sign of the sacred.” is it sacrilegious, then, to call a plain old supper, one that simmered on the back burner all day long, one thought through, from splattered sheaf of follow-along instructions, clear through to pop-from-a-tube biscuits, is it sacrilegious to call a lump of root vegetables and beef, ones swimming all day long in thyme and bay leaf, crushed tomatoes with a splash of red wine vinegar, is it sacrilegious to call it sacramental?

i think not.

to serve up what amounts to depths of heart, to say in mashed potatoes and irish butter, “i love you dearly, and i’m so sorry i’ve been distracted. so sorry i’ve been heating up old soup, chicken pot pie from a box.” to say, with store-bought pumpkin pie, under a swirl of canned whipped cream (i splurged on the one that shouted, “extra creamy!”), “forgive me for making it seem like something else might have been more top-of-the-to-do-list than carving out the holy half hour (let’s not be greedy here) when we all sit down and savor pay-attention cooking. and each other.”

because, really, i think we can taste the difference. oh, umami is umami. and sweet is sweet. but don’t the hours of stirring, of simmering, of thinking something through — not whipping it off in the last 10 minutes before the hunger sirens screech — doesn’t it all find its way deep down into the deliciousness that doesn’t come through short cut piled atop short cut?

yesterday, the day was afghan autumnal, all gray and woolly, the sort of day when you hunker inside, when the cookstove yodels to you. when the burners itch to be cranked. and the bins of rutabaga and turnip and parsnip — all those underground offerings that soak up what the earth’s deep dark soil has to share — they beg for vegetable peeler, and chopping block, and long hours surrendering to flame.

it was the sort of day-after-hubbub when quiet invited me in for a long slow visit. nothing rushed about the day. a day to breathe deep, breathe slow. to fill my lungs with quiet prayers, the prayers of lavishing love on the ones so dear to me, the ones who deserve nothing less than the very best dinner i could chop and stir and taste-test along the way. and while i’m at it, why not take it up a zany notch? just because there’s never enough oomph in an ordinary day. and what day, really, deserves to be plain old ordinary?

by supper time, when the tableau beyond the panes of glass went inky black, when the glow of the kitchen lamp spilled gold across the table, the vapors that rose from the big red smash-your-toes cook pot, the hot breaths that trespassed out of the oven, they crept up the stairs to where homework was being done.

before i’d said a word, the stovetop’s incense was deep at work. the house was filled with something surely holy, for what else can you call it when you claim a whole long day to aim for higher?

to say in smell and taste and temperature and touch what words alone just might not say: “you are worth it to me to spend a whole day cooking, just for you. i’ve not lost sight of my holiest calling, to carve out a hallowed space here in this place of walls and windows and creaky floors and solid roof, to be the one reliable source of all that’s good, that’s edifying. to fill you with warm spoonfuls — as much as you want, there’s plenty here. and i’ve made it beautiful because you are, because beauty speaks to the deep-down whole of us. and you so richly deserve each and every morsel i can muster.”

the day was chilly brisk. i did what i could to make the kitchen glow, the holy light of heaven here on earth. and to fill those who came to the chairs at long day’s end.

far as i can tell, that’s a sacrament, a sign of the sacred. with a fat splat of butter drooling off the plate.

beef stew

like all the best recipes, i start with something on paper, and then i riff. i zig when instructions say zag. add a dollop instead of a dab. the beef stew recipe i’ve decided is the one worthy of a long day’s cooking is one from that gloriously down-to-earth pioneer woman, ree drummond, and it’s one she calls “sunday night stew.” even on a thursday.

your thoughts on the sacrament called slow-cooked supper? or how do you best dollop extra helpings of plain pure love? 

burrowing begins…

burrowing begins fruit

winds are howling. the chimney is hiccuping (rather rudely), with every passing blast of gale-force updraft. cigar pods from boughs on high are poinking needle-like into the heads of anyone fool enough to tiptoe outside. the last few berries from the american cranberry, the scant few that haven’t been gobbled by blue jays and high-wire squirrels, they’ve been slammed to the ground in a bloody blob this morning.

a few minutes ago, i glanced out the window and thought it was raining itty-bitty locust leaves. then i rubbed my eyes and realized it was a hallowed eve’s snowfall. snow blustering, maybe.

the sky is pewter. the air so cold even the cat is howling in protest.

all in all, it seems surround-sound signal from the seasonal trumpeter: time for burrowing to begin.

autumn as october teeters towards its close, as november waits in the wings, when golden glow gives way to stovepipe gray, when stripped-bare branches scratch at endless sky, autumn is the season to hunker down, to draw in, to turn our attentions toward the essence deep within.

all this dialing down, buttoning up our nubbiest sweaters, slithering on socks for the first time in months, it’s all a call to haul out the soup pots from the back of the cupboard, to reach in the fruit bin for the season’s offerings — the ones that, in keeping with autumn’s ethos, reveal their succulence only after peeling away, digging in, extracting.

if it’s true — as a wise man taught me last week — that God wrote two books, one of which is the Book of Nature, then we’d be fools not to read along, not to inhale the verse of the shifting light, the shadowing that autumn’s depth brings.

if it’s true — and why wouldn’t it be? — that God in God’s Infinite Genius imbued every corpuscle of creation with a map pointing to the interiority of the ones charged with making sense of all this, the ones for whom understanding leads to illumination, which leads to enlightenment, then wouldn’t it follow that one of our holy callings is to heed the wisdom of the bough and the sky and the crunch underfoot?

and so, to steep myself in autumn’s teaching, i step outside into the whirl of this hallowed day’s preamble to winter: i feel the bumper crop of goosebumps on shoulder and thigh and nook of my neck; i inhale the faint whiff of logs burning from somewhere not far away; and, without much dawdling, i scurry back inside and do as instructed.

i pull on another sweater, i plonk on the couch, and survey the stack of pages waiting nearby. i begin to consider pumpkin — and not for carving, for roasting. i press my nose to the glass, set my gaze skyward, watch gray clouds scuttle by.

contemplate the coming depths.

i might be calling it quits on puttering about the garden. might tuck away the hose, the trowel, the watering can. might gather up the bird houses, replenish the bird-seed bins. the deepening is upon us. time to consider those who depend on us to make it through bitter days ahead.

the wisest thing to do, i reckon, is begin the prayerful coiling, the tending to what’s inside and too long left cobwebbed. it’s the season of introspection, and i’m settling in to do as so divinely ordered.

because tomorrow is all saints day, a feast day best honored by honoring the saints who populate our living breathing days, i’m beginning the nominations here with a beloved neighbor named sarah, who moved home a few years ago to care for and feed sumptuous nightly feasts to her aging mama and papa. just yesterday, sarah’s mama could not be awakened. she was breathing, but un-rousable, so an ambulance came and carried her away. she’s now deeply sedated in the ICU, where sarah and her papa kept vigil all day. late last night, sarah finally ferried her papa home, sat him down to feed him, then, in an act of compassion that purely took my breath away, she “rigged up his bed with pillows, so he can feel like he’s bumping into her” all through the night. sarah is saint number one in my book this year. please whisper a prayer for sarah’s mama and papa, and, deeply, for sarah.

who’s on your list of everyday saints? no need to name names. just a story will do…..and question number two: how do you begin your burrowing? what’s on your winter’s reading list? 

october’s prayer

october sky

because i’m climbing on a train and then a jet plane at dawn tomorrow, winging my way to my firstborn’s last “parents’ weekend” at his leafy little new england college, i’m posting this a day or two early. here’s a bit of prayerfulness i wrote when my publisher asked for an october meditation. the sky above, rising across an autumnal prairie, is a bit of heaven on earth. 

If you believe, as I do, that Earth’s turning, the shifting of the kaleidoscope from one hour to the next, across the arc of sunlight and night shadow, across the seasons of the year, is God tapping us on the heart, whispering, “Behold the Beautiful, I’ve made this just for you, this dappled sunbeam, this birdsong of the dawn, this crack of lightning in the offing,” then it’s whole-body meditation to immerse yourself in the blessing of autumn, Season of Awe.

Be it slicing zaftig pear, or plopping on a mossy log deep in golden woods, be it gathering apron load of acorns or plucking pumpkin from the farmer’s field, October’s days invite us to harvest the bountiful. To begin the deepening toward winter. To stock the larder with all we’ll need to make it through till springtime comes, and with it the rebirth of that holy season.

I’ve made a quiet practice of nodding to the wonders of each interlude of time. I resist the urge to hunker down inside. I nudge myself out the door, into the shriveled diminishment that is the autumn garden, into the boggy woods where trees undress, where naked boughs finger toward the heavens. Where the stripping down reminds me to drop my own unnecessary armature, invite in the Sacred.

I find autumn to be the season when faith is sown all around. On bent knee, we tuck bulbs deep into the earth — that’s faith galore, surrendering to winter’s slumber, believing that come the vernal sun, the shoots will poke through loam, will bloom and nod, will glory us in hallelujah hours.

Some say this is the wabi-sabi season, so defined as that stretch of time that pulses with “the beauty of sadness, and the sadness of beauty.” I find breathtaking poetry in the imperfection and impermanence of the dwindling all around — the light, the leaves, the southbound flocks who carry song to where we cannot hear it any longer. Is this not spine-tingling reminder to embrace our own imperfections and impermanence, to cherish all the more the hours that are ours?

Revel in the jewel-toned tapestry of autumn, in all its luminescence and its shadow.

Breathe deeply October’s prayer: Come star-stitched night, tiptoe beneath the heavens’ dome, wrap yourself in the cloak of Glorious Creation and Creator. Behold the Beautiful. God’s made this just for you.

what’s your october prayer?

savoring…

savoring fall hydrangea tree

there’s a rare air in my lungs these days. an invigorating air. an air that seems to hold double the oxygen, really. it has me bouncing as if on lunar dust, in those lopey springy boing-boing steps i once watched in black-and-white when mr. armstrong landed on the moon.

if there were a wee spy-cam nailed to the corner of the kitchen ceiling, it would catch me pausing mid-lope and deep deep breathing, filling my itty-bitty air sacs with the holy sparks that charge unseen through the air.

i am savoring.

savoring being home in the finest month — oh, september, i seem to have a crush on you. savoring settling in, deeply in, for the first time in what feels like a very, very long time. savoring the late summer unfolding of my messy old garden as it exudes its last trumpet blast of breathtaking come-rub-against-me seduction (what blooms at summer’s end seems robed in velvet, all the petals putting forth a softness not seen in exuberant spring, or headstrong summer).

i am savoring the days of awe, those prayerful hours of whispering back and forth to God, as the jewish holy days of rosh hashanah unfurl, and i, like the petals in my garden, feel wrapped in velvet prayer shawl.

deepest of all, i am savoring the great relief that comes with having climbed a mountain long in my distance. while i await word from my editor (bless her for telling me to take a couple weeks to rest up, restore, before the editing rounds and rounds begin), i am wearing the weightlessness that comes in having clicked the SEND button, knowing all my heart and soul was stitched into a work of love that now sails of its own velocities. i’d be lying if i didn’t admit to waking up in the occasional cold sweat when i’ve concocted one of my nightmare scenarios. and i’d be a fool if i didn’t keep up the prayer chain that has me turning this one over to the Holiness beyond me.

all the savoring adds up to ears-pitched paying attention. to shards of autumn light. to chill in the morning air. to hummingbird darting here and there, from long-nosed drink to long-nosed drink.

the house is filled with jars and jars of black-eyed Susans, drooping hydrangeas, golden rod and the cobalt blue of some little fellow whose name i can’t for the life of me recall. i can’t bear to keep the garden outside, the permeability of summer’s end begs for windows to be shoved ajar, for doors to let in the cricket chorus, and for the garden’s offerings to be clutched and tucked in tall drinks of water. everywhere i can fit one in.

maybe it’s my so-called irish, or maybe i’ve just been around the calendar enough times to know that this is extra sweet because it won’t last. these weightless days of september will not go on forever. life is at its sweetest because we know the taste of heart ache, of worry without bottom.

there will come the moment when i hear the shattering of glass, when my heart is tugged, torn, leaden.

but right now all i hear is the tick-tock of a grandfather’s clock, the buzz of late-season cicada, and the trill of papa cardinal lording over the feeder.

and right now, that’s all the prayer i need to know. the short sweet trumpet blast of life when you’re savoring.

what are the morsels of your life that you are savoring in these holy days of so much awe?

savoring window

last gasp

for days, all of us who tiptoe in my chunk of the american puzzle piece were wrapped in the molasses-tinged, Egyptian-cotton bath towel that is a 10-day string of cloud-free, sun-drenched october weather.

and did i mention it was regularly hovering in the gets-no-better 70s?

it seemed, if you were practiced in the high art of denial, as if it might go on forever.

but then the weatherpeople cleared their throats, uttered their pronouncements, and we all saw up around the bend: cold and rain and gray upon gray.

the days were numbered. the sun’s last bone-warming sunbeams, they were numbered too. 3-2-….

and when it got to one, the last few hours between indian summer and lots of socks and sweaters, i made sure i licked up every last drop.

i hauled my barefoot self right out the screen door, one last time. i carried my humble plate of clementines and toast out to where my garden path gives way to meditation.

i sat upon the bench. i watched the sun spots dance along my knees. i listened to the rustle of the nodding heads all around me, the alliums and ferns. i startled when a squirrel with crabapple bulging from his cheek scampered just above my shoulder, along the fence-top highway that carried him from limb to larder.

i sat there as long as conscience would allow. it was a workday, after all, and there were calls to make, sentences to cobble.

it is a not-so-common thing, a lung-filling exception to the rules of life, to know, in the moment, that you are savoring the last droplets of one delicious drink, whatever drink might have been poured into your goblet.

we spend much of our lives looking back, wishing we had known that something sweet would be no more.

that we wouldn’t always have a papa there to call. that that one last saturday, when we sat beside his bed in the hospital, that that would have been the last. that no more words would have come between our lips.

that our babies wouldn’t always be. that one day they’d up and run, and that old papoose would get dusty in the corner. that the storybooks on the shelf wouldn’t flop open to the most-loved page, the double spread of mike mulligan’s steam shovel, the one we once memorized, every line and scratch of pencil.

more often than not, we have no warning from the weatherman — nor, from the voice that narrates our life story: soak it up, it’s ending at the sunset.

but this week i had that peek around the bend. and with my coffee and my clementine, i soaked up every drop. to get me through till march or april, when the sunshine calls me back. and lets me out without my shoes.

what was your last gasp this week? are you, like the chipmunks and the squirrels, storing up for winter?

tucking away the season past

i didn’t stir at 4:04 this morning, when summer tiptoed through the dark, took to the wings, as her sister autumn crept in, spread herself about the stage. rearranged the scene, scattered burnt-edge colors–amber, molasses, persimmon, pomegranate. the words themselves make me swoon, make my knees near buckle. i am a child of the autumn. always have been. always will be.

the itch of woolen sweaters up against my dry irish skin. the crunch of leaves beneath my soles, should i be so blessed to be in the woods. the delight of pumpkins tucked in coves around the house, and in the garden, too, as it begins to nod off, as its long winter’s nap is not too far away.

but this year, as i bid goodbye to the summer that’s just left, i need to bend my knee, to open wide my heart once more, to whisper deepest thank you.

they write songs about summer. but i have never lived one of those before. while the rest of the world rode in topless cars, along sandy beaches, strung together in bikinis, i was likely home. working at a hospital. swimming laps in a sensible black stretchy suit. thinking hard about things.

carefree never came my way. the stanzas of the songs did not belong to me.

until this summer past.

oh, fear not. there were no bikinis at my house. no topless cars.

only an old clunky station wagon, one with a passenger side door that barely closes. and a hatch in back that will not budge. and odd parts under the dash that seem to keep raining down on my driving feet.

but the summer just past was the most delicious i have ever known. if it was a tub of 200-percent butterfat gelato, i would have tucked it in the deep freeze, so i could take it out and lick it now and then. i’d make it last nearly as long as i’ve saved the slice of frozen wedding cake, now 20 years and counting.

yes, this summer past was rare, was choice, was morsel. and i knew it from the start. i knew it through and through.

it was the summer of no demands. no schedules. no camp tuition fees (save for three days here and there for a boy who lives to dribble).

i didn’t pack a lunch. didn’t drive in carpools.

i just perched, like mama hen, upon my roost, and watched my chicks nibble the day away. i swear i heard the sound of clucking, that contented purr that comes from feathered places.

indeed, and surely, it was the last summer my firstborn called this old house home. and my little one, who’s going nowhere soon, flowed right along, savoring the days that started when they chose to, ended just the same.

we did well, the boys and i, with no real decisions for the day. we partook of summer’s lazy streak. we ate late, by candlelight, in the old screen porch. we set out for strolls as lights in houses down the block turned off one by one.
we were on summer time. we were on high-volume savor.

i knew, deep inside and forever, that something rare was in my hand. something i would never have again.

i had my boys nearby. and along the way, somewhere in the thick of mothering, i had discovered my deepest purest bliss in the heart of that equation.

when you are holding something that you’ve wished for forever, when you are cupping it, sacred, in your palms, you know it through and through.

it’s no accident. and it won’t last forever.

so you hold it, and you marvel. you memorize the way the light slants through. you commit the taste to braincells deep inside.

you are, if you’re paying attention, watching the cement dry, all around the joyful string of days, the blessing of this time entwined.

i have learned, through years, to live on two tracks. i know the trick of slipping over my own shoulder, keeping watch on scenes, as they play out in real time.

it is, perhaps, the odd gift my papa once noticed, once spoke of, oddly. “you have a real sense of history,” he told me long ago. and i have come to know that my papa knew the essence.

i do live with one eye on the action, another on the meaning of it all.

and this summer past, i knew that all that mattered had been bundled into one glorious string of days and joys and conversations that did not end till eyes began to flutter.

i lived for the sound of the front door creaking open, knowing that in rushed another round of late-night stories. i brimmed when i heard the morning’s first footsteps over head, realizing i was about to be greeted by a curly-headed, sleepy-eyed boy, begging for another round of flapjacks off the griddle.

it was a holy blast of summer. it offered up all that the season of sun and sweetness has to give.

we licked our plates, and drained the glass.

it’s slipped away now. but not before i’ve bent my knee, and whispered thank you to the heavens.

i now know the taste of summer at its dreamy best. and i’ll not forget the glory.

what summer would you pick as the one you’ll not forget? and are you ready for the glories of the autumn?

tucking in promise

it’s borrowed time, i sense. the bitter chilly autumn is borrowing from end-of-summer. the air, uplifted by warm currents passing by. not yet finger-numbing cold. though it should be.

and so, i got reprieve. free pass to tuck in bulbs just two weeks before thanksgiving.

any day now, snows could hurl. winds, whistle. i’ve no business waiting till this morning to amble out to where my shovel lies, settling into winter’s slumber, the nap that’s undisturbed till the earth begins to stir.

but i pulled that sharp-edged blade from the hook where it hangs, i put it back in service, just one more time so i could tuck in promise for the months beyond the darkness.

it’s bulb day at my house, and not a minute too soon.

as is always, always the case when it comes to garden tasks, they serve my soul as much as they serve my soils.

there is resurrection at the heart of slicing into earth, wrenching back the sable-colored loam, wincing at the bits that i’ve disturbed, impaled, with my digging.

there is faith galore in tucking in a bulb, concentrated life. in setting it just so, so the roots are poking down and the shoot is facing skyward, where the vernal sun will come, will tickle it awake, will coax it from the frozen earth, will break through, will startle me with tender slips of green.

and as i made my way through sack after sack of bulbs–daffodil and scilla, snowdrops and itty-bitty hyacinth–i couldn’t help but think of march and april hence, when our world here will be clearer, when the equation will be known. when i will be able to whisper the name of the college where my firstborn’s headed. when i will know what’s around the bend.

we are living this year in the ebb and flow of time, in looking back and peeking forward. in recounting and projecting. in swirling, swirling all around.

and this year the bulbs i plant, they are the bulbs of the tomorrow that we’ve aimed for for a very long time.

i will watch those blooms unfold, i will pluck them, pull them in the house, as i gather up bouquets for his graduation day, as i soothe my wincing heart, as i watch my boy unfold toward college.

and next year’s bulbs, they will be the bulbs i plant while awaiting word from far away–the first semester under foot. how go the classes? how goes the rowing on a river i don’t know? how goes your heart so far away from mine?

each year, those of us who tend our gardens as if our souls, we wait till cool winds come, and the sun slips lower in the sky, and then we head out with bulb and shovel, to tuck in promise for the warmth to come.

bless the bulbs. and bless the blooming on the morrow.

now sleep, for winter’s just around the corner.

there is more to be done, as i dress the beds for winter, race to beat the bitter cold: chunky cotton-burr mulch to work in, to feed and aerate all at once. top coat of chopped-up leaves, mounded round the trunks and roots, nature’s scarf to stop the winds. then i’ll slip in the house, crank the kettle, start my winter’s vigil, the season of introspection that is at the heart of me and my garden.
question: how do you plant yourself a bumper crop of hope? or at least a slip of it? believing that light will follow darkness?