Bringing Autumn Home

If I had a blog, today I would write about the way fall arrives in our home on The Greenwood.

Yesterday fall arrived at The Greenwood. Following a forty-seven year tradition, Mom and I put up our autumn decorations. This may seem like a fairly bland occurrence, but for me, it is wrapped in a thousand memories of happy autumn days.

Kids_0013Our tradition started when my siblings and I were toddlers. In those days, we lived in a little ranch style house just outside Rolla and Mom wanted to fancy up (or cover up) our classic 1970’s brown refrigerator and equally attractive cabinet doors with something that honored her love of the natural world. To that end, she started saving calendar pictures and carefully cutting photos from magazines like Farm and Ranch, National Wildlife, and Missouri Conservationist. Mom changed the pictures every month and we anticipated the changing of the photos with great excitement.

As we grew, so did the tradition. When David and I were in school, our artwork was added to the mix as were more substantial items like silk flowers, seasonal figurines, and fragrant candles in vessels painted with seasonal decor. By the time we were in grammar school, coming home to find that Mom had put up the next season’s decorations was as exciting in September as putting up Christmas in December.

090116_2152Over the years, I’ve picked up on Mom’s idea and now my part of the house changes with the seasons as well. I honor each part of the year, but I have to say, putting up my fall adornments is my favorite ritual. Whatever the weather outside, once my home is wreathed in leaves and silk mums, fall has arrived.

We need traditions to mark the transitions in our lives. In today’s largely virtual world, it is easy to get disconnected from the cycles of nature, even from the flow of the day. We no longer break our fast together, pause at noon to gather and say grace, or sit undistracted at the dinner table, sharing the news of the day. Our lives are lived together, but apart. The technology that, in one sense, unifies the world also tears at the fabric of family life. We scarcely notice the weather unless it inconveniences us and the change of seasons are marked solely by a change of wardrobe. It is no wonder that the world is in chaos.

090116_2154Will hanging pretty pictures on the refrigerator stop global war? Will putting out the Ghost Lamp (now almost 50 years old) at Halloween stop suffering and human greed? No. But imagine what would happen if we all slowed down long enough to care that we are moving from one season to the next. If we took time to look for the change in the autumn light, the coming of migrating birds, the silence that comes with the first flakes of snow. If we took time to cherish the world we live in, perhaps we would be less cavalier about its destruction. By the same token, if we took time to cherish our family, to look into one another’s eyes and share the joy and pain that resides within us, perhaps we would stop the senseless abuse, neglect, and violence that escalates with each passing day. I can’t make any promises, but I know the peace of heart and mind taking part in my family’s traditions gives to me and it is something rare and beautiful; something that makes a difference in my world at the very least.

Late this afternoon, after my little piece of the planet glowed with the fires of autumn, I settled into my reading chair, my Labrador Gus snoozing on the bed, and listened to the rain beating a gentle tattoo on the roof. Soft light glowed from every corner and shades of burgundy, gold, and ochre called me to settle in and enjoy this perfect start to my favorite season. I have peace. I have love. I feel part of something greater than myself and it is all because I know where I belong and I have a path to follow that will always lead me home.


Blue Jay Weather

If I had a blog, today I would write about one of my favorite birds, the blue jay.

web 10022009_042742It was chilly this morning. The Canadian cold front that came through over the weekend brought in brisk, autumnal air on the wings of the north wind. It was fifty-two degrees this morning and walking was, at last, a treat rather than hard labor. The drying leaves shimmered in the breeze and carried one of my favorite sounds: The call of blue jays as they went about their morning work.

Web 09132007_195921 (1)I have always loved blue jays. Their wings, with windows of blue and white outlined in deepest black remind me of stained glass windows and their antics at the bird feeders only hint at the deep intelligence that is part of the family corvidae. Most of all, I have warm feelings for blue jays because, here in the Ozarks, they are the voice of autumn. During the nesting season, they are largely silent, but once the kids are out on their own, the woodlands ring with their raucous calls and brings forth memories of crisp days, frosty nights, and the smell of woodsmoke on mellow, restful afternoons.

I am fond of all the species of birds that make up the corvid family. I love jays, crows, and ravens with equal passion for they are the true intellectuals of the avian world. Blue jays use their large vocabulary not only to communicate with one another, but also to deceive other birds. They are great mimics and often make the cry of a red-shouldered hawk to clear the birdfeeder of competition for the choicest morsels. In captivity, blue jays can also imitate human voices and the calls of domestic cats. Blue jays also have quiet, almost subliminal calls which they use among themselves in proximity. One of the most distinctive calls of this type sounds like the swinging of a rusty gate or a rusty pump handle going up and down. The blue jay (and other corvids) are distinct from other songbirds for using their call as a song.

Blue Jays are tremendously loyal to their family members. They mate for life and defend their nestlings with the ferocity of a mother lion. One of my clearest childhood memories is watching Mom trying to get a baby blue jay back in its nest. Mom bravely climbed a rickety ladder, propped against a tree, wearing a hard hat and gloves to protect her from the attacking parents. The mission was a success, but after that, blue jay nestlings were left well enough alone.

Web 03012015_093520But now nesting season is over and the blue jays and I move into the autumn season together. As I forge ever deeper into the middle years of my life, I appreciate the blue jays’ determination as they put away their stores for winter. They are caching acorns in hollow trees and I am caching memories. The summer season of my life was rich and I don’t want to mislay a single golden afternoon or moonlit night. I want to remember it all, journal it all, treasure it all before winter takes its inevitable toll. Blue Jay inspires me to keep storing my thoughts, come what may. Some will fall on fallow ground, some will feed my soul, and perhaps a few will grow into mighty oaks – a magnum opus, a legacy for all to share.



Lighting the Lamps of Autumn

If I had a blog, today I would write about the coming of Autumn Light.

09192011_041320 webI’ve been waiting for days now. Waiting for the moment when the sun would shift just enough to replace the brassy summer light with a mellow autumn glow. I keep track of this day in my journal and some years it has happened as early as August 8th. This year it arrived on August 17th. I was in my reading chair, finishing a chapter of Sigurd Olson’s Reflections From the North Country when I saw it: Streamers of gold filtering through the blinds on my French doors. I took up my journal and penned, in all capital letters, “THE LIGHT HAS COME!” And my heart rejoiced.

At first, the Lamps of Autumn are most noticeable in the late afternoon and it brings back memories of walking home from school. My brother and I walked almost two miles from the bus stop to our little farm. We complained about it, as kids are wont to do, but in truth, memories of ambling along the gravel road in the waning light on a chilly autumn afternoon ranks as one of the best remembrances of my childhood.

web 09292009_034631The coming of autumn light signals an end to the frenzy of summer. The harsh call of cicadas is replaced with the gentle chirp of crickets along the lane. Birds return to our feeders and fill our days with their winter-songs: A chorus performed simply for the love of singing, now that the rush of parenting is through.


This time of year slows me down too. My daily walks are easy rambles now that I am not in a race with the heat of the day or the biting bugs of summer. My dog and I stop often and drink in the rare beauty of the changing landscape as it changes from green, to gold, to grey. We take time to watch for the arrival of the first white-throated sparrow, the fall warblers, and the juncos. This is the season for reveling. The season of peace.



The Blue Dragonfly of Autumn

If I had a blog, today I would write about one of my totems: The Blue Dragonfly of Autumn.

06032014_182856 webIn the early 1990’s my spiritual path took an unexpected turn. While I had always loved nature and respected it as a seat of mystical power, it wasn’t until I was in college that I began to explore Native American spirituality as a way of worship that could be my own.

My first introduction into this reality was a book by Ed “Eagle Man” McGaa, simply titled, Mother Earth Spirituality. It related many traditional Lakota tales with which I was familiar, but it also encouraged me to find my own place in the Sacred Hoop, based on the animal totems that appeared in my dreams and in my waking life.

One of the first totems I identified was the dragonfly – particularly those that appeared in late summer. These, the Lakota called The Blue Dragonflies of Autumn. Of them, Eagle Man relates:

Dragonfly (Tusweca) is the Indian’s answer to Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which Plato taught us that the life we understand today is but a mere shadow on the wall compared to the complete reality that lies beyond.

Dragonflies have this great power because they are walkers-between-worlds. Born in the water, dragonfly nymphs split their skin and emerge from ponds and rivers on gossamer wings, on which they soar into a new reality. The Lakota believed this change was analogous to a human rising up and entering the spirit world: Seeking knowledge in a reality that was utterly inconceivable before the metamorphosis took place.

The Blue Dragonfly of Autumn reminds us autumn is near and the time for contemplation is at hand. Although the dragonfly moves through life quickly, he heralds the time of slowing down, when we transform from creatures of doing to creatures of being.

I am ready to draw inward and sit in the mellow sun, pondering the Great Mystery that is life. Like the dragonfly, I am ready to emerge from the world of my youth and embrace the coming of the autumn years of my life. Dragonfly encourages me that although my new reality may seem foreign at first, my life will open up and reveal the deepest magic yet. I eagerly await what lies ahead.

The Lesson of the Leaves

If I had a blog, today I would write about the dance of falling leaves.

The Dance of the Leaves

The Dance of the Leaves

As I walk in the forest on these brisk, November days, I am witness to the dance of oak, maple, walnut, and ash leaves as they tumble from sky to earth in a joyful ballet, a swan-song for golden days of autumn.  A few weeks ago, as I set out on my evening walk, a single oak leaf drifted across my path and landed silently on a dried weed stem.  The leaf was ragged and torn: unlovely in comparison with the still-perfect maple, dogwood, and walnut leaves that lay beneath it on the forest floor. How was it, I marveled, that this tattered leaf had the courage to dance from the heavens as if it were whole, unmarred, and beautiful? Wasn’t it aware how different it was from those that had fallen before?

A Single Leaf

A Single Leaf

As I pondered the courage of that solitary leaf, it occurred to me the leaves have learned a lesson that eludes most of humankind. For all our intelligence, we have yet to realize what the leaves have always known: Our value to the world lies not in our degree of perfection or similarity to others of our kind, but rather in the unique individual we are.

Humanity is obsessed with perfection.  Somewhere in our evolutionary journey, we have come to believe that there is an ideal we are all striving for—a sort of human template we must fit into to be considered whole, good, and acceptable. When we don’t fit that template, we chastise ourselves and struggle to be rid of the things that make us unique. We want to be “normal.” We want to fit in and see ourselves as part of a whole, but the irony is, that we, like the leaves, are each created with a beautiful individuality—a uniqueness that is our strength, our glory, our priceless gift to the world.

From the time they emerge from the bud in the growing light of spring, every leaf is a little different from its kindred. Some are short and some are long; some are perfectly symmetrical while others are misshapen; some are smooth and unblemished and some are brittle and full of holes and tears. Leaves, like humans, are all related, yet none of them are exactly the same. The difference is: The leaves don’t care. They don’t strive to be perfect or waste their lives trying to become something they are not. Instead, they take part in the dance of life—giving shade the forest floor, sheltering creatures great and small,  and cleansing the air that gives life to the earth. It is a lesson we would do well to learn.

What a difference it would make if, rather than striving to be “normal,” we spent our lives celebrating our wonderful diversity. Some of us are born to be solitary—a single leaf floating to the earth like a dancer alone on the stage, while others will fall to earth in a gleeful jumble— swift and free, like partners in a country dance. Some leaves will let go of their mother-tree early in the autumn, while others will hold on to the last moment, letting go on that perfect winter morning when its edges are silver with frost. There is no “right” or “wrong” in such decisions, only what comes naturally. That is the lesson of the leaves: be the individuals we were born to be, live every moment with joy and never question who we are. We were created in the image of something greater and more beautiful that the human mind can comprehend and we must embrace our authentic selves, revel in our eccentricities, and celebrate the glorious beings we are.

Ode to the Woolly Bear

If I had a blog, today I would write in praise of the Woolly Bear Caterpillar.

October 5 - Woolly Bear Caterpillar

October 5 – Woolly Bear Caterpillar

For as long as I can remember, the appearance of the woolly bear has been a cause for great excitement in our family. Not only are these dashing caterpillars pleasing to the eye in their black and russet coats, but they are one of the first creatures to hint at the severity of the coming winter. As a child, I appraised every woolly bear I encountered, examining the number of rusty bands in his coat with scientific accuracy. The more rusty bands (most have 5 or 6), the milder the winter (and the deeper my disappointment), but to find a woolly bear with 4 or fewer bands meant a chance at my dream come true: A winter of deep snow and biting cold.

My dreams of a hard winter stemmed from the thrill of being free from school on “snow days.” Living in central Missouri, where snow is more the exception than the rule, any chance at a good winter storm was cause for excitement. I remember well, listening to the radio on a snowy morning, my brother and I holding our breath until Rolla Public Schools were added to the school closings. Once reprieved, the first thing I did was call my Granny Ruby. She’d pick up the phone and I’d burst forth with my pronouncement, “No school today!” Those mornings were as wonderful as Christmas and the whole world was wrapped up as our present.

The woolly bear I found in the yard this morning had between 5 and 6 rusty bands, so he predicts as fairly “normal” winter and that’s ok with me. Although I still love a good snowstorm as much as ever, I am lucky enough not to need the weather to free me from the bondage of life indoors. I work primarily from home and, once chores are done, I can go a-wandering any day I please. These days, the changing of the seasons are reunions, a time to reconnect with old friends like the woolly bear and the snowbird, a time to reminisce about days gone by and to add new chapters to the book of my life. Whether the winter ahead is stormy or mild, I will have my stories to share and my memories to keep me warm as a woolly bear on a perfect autumn morn.

Sauntering Towards the Holy Land

If I had a blog, today I would write about my return to Nature.

Bankside in Autumn

My Bankside in Autumn

“And so we saunter towards the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever it has done, and shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.” – Henry David Thoreau

Growing up, I was truly a child of nature. My mother taught me to cherish The Wild; to find solace in shady glens and peace beside the river’s edge. We took long walks, identified birds and collected flowers to paste in our memory book and it seemed that nothing could be richer than a life lived close to the earth. But somewhere between youth and womanhood, I lost my way. The heady years of high school and college drew me into the world of clothes and cars, friends and finals, then threw me headlong into the search for a career, a life-mate, and an existence that would bring me security and the approval of the world. I was on a path, of that there was no doubt, but it took me almost a decade to realize it wasn’t the right path for me.

My Little Wilderness

My Little Wilderness

The change came on a rainy autumn afternoon. I’d been studying for hours, preparing for a test in abnormal psychology, and when the rain let up, I decided to walk to town. I picked up my camera and headed towards the paved walking trail that led to Main Street and the shops and cafes I frequented on Sunday afternoons. I’d only gone a short distance when I heard the wind rustling the leaves of  the sycamore trees behind my apartment. The dry leaves rattled in the chilly breeze and it beckoned me to come and walk among them. Despite the chill in the air, the creek that ran among the sycamores sang merrily as it skipped over rocks and spun crisp, curled leaves upon its waves. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d gone down the bank and was wading in the icy flow. There was a field on the other side of the creek and I could see flocks of birds gleaning fallen grain among the stubble. What were they? Sparrows? Juncos? I had to know!

The embankment on the far side of the creek was steep and twice I slid down the muddy slope before I made the summit. My hands, legs, and feet were caked with mud, but I didn’t care. I pressed my hands to my face, breathing in the sweet fragrance of damp earth bringing with it memories of making mud pies with Gran on summer afternoons. As I walked around the edge of the field, I filled my pockets with fallen acorns and hickory nuts and waved to the skeins of wild geese flying overhead. I hiked until twilight, then tramped merrily down the muddy bankside and back across the creek. My body tingled as if it was coming alive after years of  slumber. I laughed and cried and sang to the chickadees that followed me through the sycamore grove, back to my apartment. In the gathering dusk, I sat beneath my deck and watched a red-bellied woodpecker stash acorns in the wood of a long-dead tree. How long had it been since I shared my life with birds? Longer than I could remember, longer than it should have been.

Welcome Autumn

Welcome Autumn

That night I dug around in my closet until I found a cardboard box labeled, “Books.” I brought it into the light and sifted through the volumes until I found a copy of Walden. It was a book I’d had for years, but, despite my good intentions, had never read. I opened the text and in Thoreau’s journey, I found the call to my own. In the months that followed, I immersed myself in the work of Emerson, Thoreau, and Edward Abbey, reclaiming my birthright as a Lover of the Wild. I set aside some of my worldly ambitions and replaced them with long walks, good books, and, in time, my own journeys into the wilderness.

The Journey Begins

The Journey Begins

Another year, another rainy afternoon, and once again I start my journey home. The world has taken its toll, a yearly tribute of sorts, and it is time to remember who I am. My path into The Wild is well-worn now, for I don’t stray far, even when the duties of life pull me away and I have Henry David, Ralph Waldo, and Sig Olson to help me find my way back to the trail. I am ready to shoulder my pack and saunter through the golden days to come, drinking deep from the wellspring of The Divine and basking in the serenity of that golden bankside until it and I are one.