Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Passing Seasons, Passing Life

This morning the sun is streaming down on the horse chestnut, and the leaves glow butter yellow and spring green. The fact of the coming winter, or their dead companions below them do not seem to sully the brilliance as they create a sunlight bouquet. When the wind picks up, a snowfall of brown leaves culled from somewhere in the branches begins to shower down on the drifts piled on the lawn. It is early morning, November, and I have the gift of time to ponder these beautiful dying leaves, as I watch through the picture window. Across the lawn, I see Sara walking with her cup of tea, heading for her ceramics studio; starting the day with some creativity. It encourages me; a fellow artist -- she is putting the art first, instead of stacking it behind laundry and shopping, as many women do. Likewise, I’m working on the writing when the morning, and my energy, is young and fresh, before I’ve had the many tiny disappointments that do as much as “free radicals in the bloodstream” to wear on me and sap my strength.

I don’t understand why it takes as much courage to sit still here, to give myself over to recording my thoughts and the best description of the day that I can muster, as it does to face down an angry patient in the psyche unit where I used to work. Why does it take courage to reject the American values of shopping, racing around, going to every event one can cram in or sit glazed-eyed with tv or internet when you can’t? Especially since most of the time we are engaged in these standard practices, we are also simultaneously complaining about them? When I first anticipated giving up my office job and finding a very frugal living situation so that I have time to pursue my creativity (art and writing), I thought it would be pure pleasure. Now I find the pleasure is mixed with an amazing amount of anxiety and guilt -- could it be that in following the standard lifestyle, we avoid having to ask ourselves -- daily -- what our lives are about? Because that is what is coming up, over and over. Why does that horse chestnut hypnotize me with its calm beauty? Why am I so driven to chronicle the neighbor’s sheep over the seasons? Why do I spend hours on one 16-line poem about a lake I love? And what does it say about me as a friend or family member that I would prefer this to some social gathering or chance to chat on the phone? Perhaps these are women’s questions -- why do I prefer creative solitude to relationship? (Though of course I’d love both -- it’s just that they each take time, and often I have to choose). But the question of why am I different from the herd is a universal question, genderless, and asked throughout time.

I watch the shadows drawing in, shortening as the sun works its way up the sky. In November the shadows will be abundant through the day, at least at this latitude. I feel my usual pang of sadness at the lateness of the season; not surprisingly, middle-age has brought the deep connection to harvest, dying and the ending of so much that was vigorously flourishing all summer. Hopefully there are a few seasons left for me to anticipate, yet it still takes courage to sit here and feel the pull as the leaves break, drift and fall to the ground, to decompose into the soil. Often I shake off the melancholy and grab a rake -- anything to be busy, to make active use of the situation. Today I’m resisting; I’m trying to experience the November morning in all its glory and grief, to simply be with the melancholy beauty. (Okay, I am writing about it -- that is activity, and not simply being… but it’s as close as I can get.)

On reflection, I think part of the courage requirement comes from the fact that when I’m still enough to feel the many emotional currents that are not just in my life, but in my surroundings, ugly fears arise. When I chronicle the sheepcote, I also must, to be honest, describe the plowed up field that now has ribbons of white concrete curb, like a map drawn right in the ground -- a map of the 32 new houses that will be crammed into two acres. The stubble of wheat gives way to the stubble of wires sticking from the ground; the pipes and pink-ribboned stakes that dot the mud… and feel like a stake in my heart. Everywhere the cancerous growth of cookie-cutter suburbs spring up, almost overnight. The land stretches out, helpless, waiting to be sliced and diced and transformed into something unrecognizable. Even massive old trees like the horse chestnut have no protection from this impetuous devouring -- “it could happen to anyone, anytime” is the message, just like cancer. And being still, walking the lanes, brings up that unnatural death as well as the seasonal death that is often disguised rebirth. In making my choice to back off from the mainstream and find a more quiet sidestream life, I have also chosen a life that seems to be under assault from all sides -- how long before it’s not even feasible? I’m just about to move away from this quiet, wonderful place to a town much farther out in the country, in the hopes that I can defend my choice financially for at least several more years… but even there I ran across another McMansionville going up on the other end of town; cookie-cutter houses crammed so close you have no need of side window awnings -- nor room for them! -- and my fear of being overwhelmed by this culture’s suicidal rush to corporate dependence. Another community totally reliant on cars to rush the kids to soccer or drive to the Walmart in the next town -- and to start demanding the same cookie-cutter stores that they supposedly moved to the country to get away from? Or are they dong what I’m trying -- looking for a cheap version of what they have in town? But in their case, they want suburbia to come to them -- god forbid! I hate to say this is making me actually hope for a “crash” soon, but it is… somehow this spoilage of our natural beauty has to end, and if there is no other way to stop it, then a crash it has to be… It will affect me as much as anyone, but as someone who loves nature as much as I love family & friends, I will suffer willingly.

And this process feels surprisingly like middle age -- aware that an ending will come; that the life and energy we have now will wane, and yet trying to live in and love the moment -- now -- when it is still here. Not looking back at the abundance that is no more, not looking forward to the inevitable winter, the dark night -- sitting here with the glowing yellow and green leaves, breathing in and out the crisp Fall air; giving thanks for today’s beauty and life.

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