Sunday, September 27, 2009

A mother’s harvest

Saturday September 19, 2009:

“Above the rustling russet trees,
Starlings ride the autumn breeze.
Curve-winged against the pale fall sky,
They turn, circle and southward fly.
At summer’s end, the nights draw in.
Our harvest’s safely gathered in.”


The gentle warmth of the golden sun slants low between the trees, nuzzling my cheek as I walk with others down the steep incline to our ritual place.

“I love this time of year”, we say to each other.

My companions feast their eyes upon the turning leaves, the soft yellows, russets and reds against the still dark green of the holly and the softening browns of tree trunks. I breathe in deeply through my nose; savor the smoky, damp, mushroom richness of nature full and sweet with summer sun. In the deep shadows, in the cool hollows I can smell her as she allows herself to begin to break down and fold silently into the waiting welcoming earth, ready to sleep till the sun is born again at Yule.

And as I walk, I think about what Starhawk writes of this time of year and how it relates to my own life. She says:
“This is the time of harvest, of thanksgiving and joy, of leave-taking and sorrow. Now day and night are equal, in perfect balance, and we give thought to the balance and flow within our own lives. The Sun King has become the Lord of Shadows, sailing west: we follow Him into the dark. Life declines; the season of barrenness is on us, yet we give thanks for that which we have reaped and gathered. We meet to turn the Wheel and weave the cord of life that will sustain us through the dark."

We gather amongst the trees and lay out our alter. In circle, we give up what no longer serves us, weave our web of community, and walk the spiral to bring balance in to our lives. That done, we dance and sing our thanksgiving.

AS we work, I listen to the woods. They rustle and crackle around us, like a lazy autumn fire. Beyond the shrieks of children playing nearby and the joyful barking dogs pounding through the undergrowth, I listen for the birds.

Gone are the hurtling ones, those who dodge through the undergrowth, across the gorse covered heath, who perch high up in the leafy trees calling to the sun as the red legged partridge calls across the flatlands of East Anglia. Sacrificed to an incomprehensible blood lust, they have been hunted down across the heath lands and woodlands of these isles. My heart heavy, I know that this festival is their wake and wish I’d incorporated this into what we are doing.

I think about my summer’s harvest and am sad. Somehow, amongst the green hils of Wales and the sunny glades of Spain, I lost something. Summer slipped between my fingers, like a moving sunbeam and before I knew it, my dreams of relishing the long warm days had gone. I never went to meet the game birds and now it is too late.

“Hold this moment of sorrow”, I tell myself. It is time to take leave of summer and all her trappings, of the sunshine, the warm breeze and of those shrieking, dancing ungainly game birds. They are a symbol of the earth folding in upon herself and allowing the decay, for from death comes life and the circle turns.

And as I think this, a picture of my old Mum comes into my head.

“I’m going to outlive the lot of you!” she declares stoutly as she battles with infirmity after infirmity. Grinning widely, like a frog, her eyes magnified behind her glasses, she does her exercises with diligence, takes her medication and makes plans for the future. In the autumn of her years, she shines like the sun on a late September day, surprisingly warm, heart-warming and uplifting.

“Let go of regrets”, I say to myself, “the past is gone. Live for today, for now, for this moment.” I breathe and smell again the sweetness of autumn and am comforted for I am here now and it is beautiful.

I take a feather; it is black, white and grey, surely a magpie’s, I think. I wave it gently to and thro and hear the quiet swishing, the gentlest of wing beats. In my mind, I see a blue autumnal sky filled with turning circling forked tailed starlings, heading south, riding the brisk breezes of September, and searching for the constant sun.

I think about my mother’s life. Since my earliest days I’ve wanted her to have a better deal. Wanted her to have a husband that appreciated and respected her, a careering which she felt truly fulfilled, for her immense talents to be recognized and for her children to be a credit to her.

The clearing looks as it did before we came. Only a brightly colored woolen spider’s web swings from the branches of a tree, flapping gently in the early evening breeze.

The circle opened, we move in different directions through the woods. I take a handful of smooth acorns. They are warm against my palm. I imagine them filled with the sun. Now they are still, resting, waiting for its return, waiting to burst forth, a new life, a new tree.

And I think as I walk through the trees, surely too I am part of my mother’s harvest? I know she is proud of me. I am who I am partly because of her example of strength and independence. Her life goes on through me. Though she falters, may I walk with her along this next part of her life’s journey. May I lighten her load by lifting her spirits so that we may dance in cheerful optimism, no matter what comes next. For all we have is this day, this hour, this moment.

Blessings to the mothers.

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