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.

 

 

I Got A Dog

Gus' first day home2If I had a blog, today I would write about my extended hiatus from the blogging world. The cause for my absence can be summed up in a single phrase: I got a dog.

In March 2015, I bought a baby yellow Labrador I named Gus and since that time, every moment of every day has been about me and Gus. It seems as though I should have known getting a puppy would upend my world. My family has always had dogs: Labs, border collies, Great Pyrenees, a beagle, but what I didn’t realize is the difference between a family pet and a dog of my own.

Having a puppy was, for me, akin to having a baby. I am single and work from home, so Gus and I have had the opportunity to be together 24/7 since he came into my life and his joie de vie has turned my world inside out.

Gus on his first day home.

Gus on his first day home.

I knew about the basic things like: Puppies don’t sleep at night, they make messes, they need constant supervision, and they need daily walks and training. No problem. But none of the books, nor my previous experience, prepared me for a Lab who lived full-throttle from dawn to dusk. Michael, our first Lab, was laid back from the start. He played with my brother and me, laid on the couch to watch TV, and just kind of melded in with family life. Not Gus. He was like a hyena on speed. He leaped, he bounded, he ran at the speed of sound through every event of my day. He ate reams of paper, shoes, shirts, socks, and dryer sheets. I spent most of my time removing some potential danger from his mouth: Rocks, wire, even a piece of broken glass. He seemed to have a knack for self-destruction and I was all that was standing between him and an early departure from this life.

Of course the biggest problem was: I was madly in love with this dog. By bedtime the first day I knew I’d die if anything were to happen to this gregarious pup. I was hooked and there was no turning back.

Consequently, along with the loss of any free-time, my creative muse took flight  upon Gus’ arrival and I began to think she would never return. There was a moment, late in the fall, when I thought we were making headway, then came November.

051115_0692In November 2015, Gus’ insane energy finally got the better of him and he broke his shoulder running into the corner of the greenhouse at the speed of light. Surgery looked imminent, but a wonderful orthopedic surgeon at the University of Missouri Vet Clinic said it could be avoided if I could commit Gus to 4 weeks of complete crate rest. The decision was clear, but no less challenging. Keeping the Tasmanian Devil still 23 hours a day for a month seemed impossible, but it had to be done.

Keeping Gus in his crate for 4 weeks was hard. Keeping Gus in his crate for 8 weeks just about broke my spirit. There was one setback after another and I thought if I saw him go downhill another time, I would need to be put in a crate – permanently.

To make a very long story short, the vet was right and Gus did heal, but by the time I’d gone through that trauma, I didn’t have a creative cell left in my body. It is only now, nineteen months after Gus’ arrival, that I find myself creating again. Today, as I write, Gus is finally sacked out beside me, giving me time to put my thoughts out into the ether once again.

So, at least for now, I’m back. Thoughts are flowing and hope is rising. As summer turns to fall, I look forward to sharing my blog with you once again.

 

Epiphany

If I had a blog, today I would write about an epiphany named Gus.

My Owain

My Owain

It has been a long year. In the fall of 2014, we said farewell to our beloved border collie, Owain, and his cousin, Hank the yellow lab. Both dogs were fourteen years old, but that only deepens the grief and sense of loss.

Emma

Emma

During the winter, we lost both of our Great Pyrenees: Bree and her sister Emma. They had been with us a decade and with their passing, our world was, for the first time in many, many years, empty of dogs.

Augustus the Wise

Augustus the Wise

With Mom and Dad now in their seventies, I decided it was my turn to step to the plate and keep our canine tradition going. To that end, I bought a yellow lab puppy in March of this year. I named him Augustus (Gus for short) and was suddenly in the midst of full-time parenting.

Gus is an amazing dog. He is handsome, kind, and loves everyone he meets, but little did I know that behind this Woman’s-Best-Friend facade lurked a great challenge: Facing off with an Alpha Dog.

A Dog With Attitude

A Dog With Attitude

I’ve known a lot of dogs in my time, but I have to say, I have never met a canine as completely self-confident as Gus. He fears nothing and bows to no one. Those are good qualities in a lot of ways, but they are a nightmare for the human who has to gear up and assert herself as the Alpha member of the pack.

I am good with animals. I can make friends with almost any creature, including snakes and box turtles, but it turns out, I am not the domineering kind. I want to be friends with my animals, not assert dominance. I tried this tack with Gus and in two months, he was running the show. No matter how loud I spoke, how firmly I asserted the word, “No!”, or how many times I scolded Gus for stealing (clothes, trash, pork chops), I was failing miserably. Gus was happy as a clam, but it was like sharing my home with a young hyena. Something had to give.

In desperation, I reached out to the breeder from whom I got Gus. She’s raised labs for years and I trusted her insights into my predicament. At first, I was totally on board with her suggestions: Loom over Gus, speak loudly and firmly, have him wear a leash in the house so I could catch him more easily. I was even ok with the idea of neutering him a little early. Some days I wanted to do it with my bare hands, so that was ok. Then the hammer dropped. “You also need to start using an electric collar on him,” the breeder said.

My heart stopped for a moment. Use a shock collar? How could I ever do that to an animal? I told the breeder I’d think about that one and though I ordered the collar the next day, it sat in its box for almost a month – until the day Gus tried to eat a baby rabbit.

Baby Rabbit

Baby Rabbit

It was sheer good luck that I stepped into the yard when I did. Gus and the baby bunny were both still as statues, waiting for someone to make a move. I crept up close then launched between the two of them and grabbed for the bunny. I missed, but Gus didn’t. The rabbit yelled and Gus dropped it in surprise. That gave me time to swoop in and gather the bunny to my chest. I got Gus inside the house, did a quick check of baby (thank goodness he wasn’t hurt), then stood in the yard and cried like an infant myself. The madness had to stop. I had to find a way to be in charge of the “Gus Situation” and the collar seemed to be the only bullet left in my gun.

The next day, I reluctantly strapped on the collar and took Gus into the yard. As luck would have it, the baby bunny appeared again and as Gus launched his attack, so did I. The collar was set on level 2 (out of a possible 100 levels), but even at that, one zap was all it took. Gus stopped in his tracks, ran to me for comfort, and started eyeing little critters with suspicion. Gus’ collar also vibrates and after the initial incident, I only had to use the shocker once more before I switched to vibrate and it has been all sunshine and roses from there. Miracles do exists and, boy, do they come in some unlikely packages.

Mom & Gus

Mom & Gus

The Collar has changed our lives. Within a week, Gus was no longer stealing anything, he quit jumping on guests, and has become the gentleman I knew was hiding behind Gus’ inner hyena. I’ve tested the vibration on myself and it isn’t the least bit painful, just annoying and distracting, so I can proceed with Gus’ training in a state of guilt-free bliss. It is Nirvana.

The real test of Gus’ progress came last weekend when my brother’s in-laws came for a visit. One vibe from the collar and Gus was the consummate host. He kept his feet on the ground, kissed liberally, but never nipped, and he spent his entire afternoon sitting by one guest, then another, as if making sure no one was left out. I was so happy I cried for a while after everyone left. My joy was complete.

My Boy Gus

My Boy Gus

Aside from the obvious, “Don’t make snap judgments” lesson, I have also learned that when dealing with animals, asserting dominance isn’t about being aggressive or, God forbid, abusive. It is about finding a way to be heard. As an introvert of epic proportions, it is hard for me to assert myself. I was afraid Gus would come to fear me if I made demands of him, but to my surprise, our bond is closer than ever. Now that Gus realizes he isn’t invincible, he sees me as his go-to person when he feels unsure and when he needs to feel safe, he knows I am there to stand beside him.

So as we enter a new autumn, an autumn of beginnings, I move forward renewed, with another dear friend at my side. Gus, this quote is for you:

He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion. – Author Unknown

His Name Shall Be Augustus

If I had a blog, today I would write about the little, golden ball of light that has just entered my life.

Little Loaves of Love

Little Loaves of Love

On January 15, 2015, my life changed forever. On January 15,  my new best friend was born: His name is Gus and he’s a yellow lab. For the first six weeks, all I knew was that Gus was one of three yellow males born to Christmas Holly at the home of Misty Woods Labradors. Right from the start I knew I’d chosen a good breeder. Gus and his siblings (both yellow and black) were the sweetest little “loaves of love” I’d ever seen.

Gus at two weeks

Gus at two weeks

Puppies are born with eyes closed and their early first weeks are spent nursing and sleeping. If I’d lived closer to the breeder, Tammy Johnston, I would have visited every day just to hold those precious new lives in my arms and soak in the love. As it was, Tammy posted weekly photos of the brood and it was thrilling to see the changes taking place.

 

Gus at 3 1/2 Weeks

Gus at 3 1/2 Weeks

I picked the name Gus in honor of Augustus McCray, a character in Larry McMurtry’s book, Lonesome Dove. Gus was a scalawag and a ladies’ man, but he had passion for life and a heart of gold – the things that make Labs such wonderful companions. I told Tammy I wanted a confident dog, one who would enjoy being my companion at home, in the car, and on our farm. Tammy told me the pups’ personalities would begin to develop at four to five weeks and she would find the right match.

Gus the Show Dog

Gus the Show Dog

Tammy took my requests to heart and on March 2nd, one of Holly’s boys traded his baby name (Maroon Boy, for the color of the ribbon tied around his neck) for the name of Augustus. According to Tammy, Gus was fearless and in love with life. She thought he would love life as farm dog as and make a great companion. It sounded like a match made in Heaven.

Augustus the Wise

Augustus the Wise

On Monday morning (March 16th), we met Tammy in Rolla, a pit-stop for her as she and one of her adult labs went to the St. Louis area for a show. As we pulled into the parking lot by Wal-Mart we saw her sitting on the grassy hillside, cuddling the most beautiful Labrador puppy I had ever seen. It was love at first sight!

 

Gus on his first day home.

Gus on his first day home.

Now, as Day Four of my Life With Gus begins, I am still in awe that I was chosen to be his person. Every day he becomes more handsome, more intrepid, and more fun to be with. Like all little creatures, Gus requires a lot of attention – day and night – so I’m a little sleep deprived and I have some scrapes and bruises from his needle-teeth, but I have never been happier! Gus and I are Forever Friends.

Flakes

If I had a blog, today I would write about living honestly.

Me

Me

“What will people think?” If I had a nickel for every time a parent, teacher, or other well-meaning adult sent this phrase my way, I would be a billionaire. While I admit that there is value in considering the consequences of one’s actions, I seems to me that the importance of what other people think weighs too heavily on my mind. Take yesterday, for example: I am in the process of getting a yellow Labrador puppy and, after what I considered “a lot of thought,” decided I’d get a black Lab as well. I emailed the breeder and she was glad the remaining black male would have a good home. Then I shared my plan with some of my more analytical friends and realized I was about to get in over my head. I weighed their cons against my pros and decided I’d better stay with one puppy for now. I was ok with the decision, even though “reason” is a real kill-joy, but I felt physically ill when I realized I’d have to email the breeder and retract my offer. “Oh my God,” I thought, “what on Earth will she think?”

One of the Baby Labs

One of the Baby Labs

As I lay awake trying to compose an email that made me sound realistic rather than indecisive, a new thought occurred to me: What if I really am a flake? What if I stop running from my fear of being exposed as emotional, prone to acting first and thinking later, and (OMG) utterly imperfect? I let this new paradigm float around in my head for quite a while, then decided to make the leap. I got out of bed and posted a simple email: “Hi, after giving my decision some more thought, I realized it would be better for me to have one puppy at a time. I’ll keep my yellow pup and wait to get a black later on. Sorry for the misfire. – Julie.” I still felt queasy, but at least I’d been honest and that felt good.

Mystical Me

Mystical Me

As I’ve gone about my work today, I’ve given this more thought and I think it has real possibilities. I don’t know how I will deal with what comes in the future, but I like the idea of accepting my idiosyncracies and letting them show. I can work on anything that’s giving me problems, but overall, it simplifies my life immensely. This way I am free to fail at things, make mistakes, embarrass myself, and even look stupid in public without the desperate need to cover my tracks and meet the world’s standard of perfection. I am Julie and I’m doing the best I can. What do you think of that?

True North

If I had a blog, today I would write about my secret love affair with arctic cold.

A Parhelic Circle that formed around the sun on our coldest day of 2014.

A Parhelic Circle that formed around the sun on our coldest day of 2014.

“Time for the weather report: It’s cold out, folks, bone-crushing cold. The kind of cold that’ll wrench the spirit out of a young man or forge it into steel.” On this ten-degree morning with 30 mph winds screaming through the tree tops, the forecast given by Chris-in-the-Morning on Northern Exposure fits the prediction for The Greenwood on this polar January day. While most people are running from shelter to shelter, heads bowed and bodies tensed against winter’s return, I have to admit, I revel in the cold. Whatever my bloodlines, somewhere in my DNA is the code for Eskimo, Laplander, or Sherpa – a string of the genome that makes me feel centered, even euphoric, when I face chores on a day like today.

Me in my Up North gear.

Me in my Up North gear.

Part of my love for les temps froids is simply that I thrive in the cold and wilt in the heat. My inner furnace keeps me warm regardless of the wind chill, but apparently I have no internal cooling system and summer heat sends me to the mat. But that’s just a small part of the story – a story that begins in 1990, with the advent of a television show called Northern Exposure. I was in college, living alone for the first time and searching for an identity that fit my solitary, wilderness-loving nature. When I saw Northern Exposure, a critical piece of my inner puzzle fell into place telling me The North was the place for me. Not only did pointing my compass in that direction lead me to my own version of Cicely, a little town called Ely in Northern Minnesota, it also introduced me to the fascinating world of dogsled racing – the world of The Beargrease, the Yukon Quest and The Iditarod.

True North - A piece of original art I created in 2000.

True North – A piece of original art I created in 2000.

Overall, I have no interest in professional sports, but when the dogsled racing season begins, I’m as rabid as a fan can be. I have no idea who won last year’s World Series, but I can tell you who’s won last year’s races, their finish times, how many dogs they used, and what strategies they employed to beat their competitors. I follow The Iditarod online and often stay up well past midnight to watch the winner pull under the burled arches at the finish line in Nome. Watching the men and women who spend ten days travelling day and night through treacherous landscapes and bone-chilling cold, I am filled with admiration – and, in my younger years, a dream of running dogs myself.

My Iditarod Gear

My Iditarod Gear

Now that I am now well into my forties, and deeply invested in my life here in Missouri, I imagine my Iditarod dreams will stay just that. Though I may never have the experience of crossing Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range or running down the frozen Yukon River at -40 degrees, I can still get my fix when the polar vortex comes to call. Then, standing on the rise beyond the barn, with snow swirling around me and the wind ruffling the rabbit-fur lining of my hat, I know for just a moment what it feels like to face True North, what it feels like to come home.

Longest Night

Snow-Light

Snow-Light

If I had a blog, today I would write about Yule  – The passage of  the Winter Solstice.

Forty-five years, and most of what I remember is light: The mellow gold of sunlight in autumn, the cobalt hue of a snowy morning, the greenish hue after a passing storm, the pink and violet of a summer’s eve, and the welcoming glow of the lights of home. These are the palette upon which my memories are painted and so, on this shortest day of the year, I think it is fitting to share some thoughts on the return of the light.

December 10 - Winter's Tapestry

Endless Twilight

Each year I look forward to the Winter Solstice, to the annual tipping point when the daily loss of light is stopped and the process reversed, bringing us a little more dawn and twilight each day until mid-summer. If there was ever a year when I need the Return of the Light, it is this one. Since the passing of our two canine companions in October, my inner light has been burning low. I get up every day and do my chores, my desk-work, and my errands in town, but it is all in a world as grey as the winter landscape outside my window. Until now, my only resource has been to submit to the perpetual twilight and ride it out as best I can.

The Yule Log

The Yule Log

As we gather around the fire tonight and light the Yule Log – an white oak log draped with juniper boughs, sage, and rosemary, aromatic herbs that symbolize life; with holly and ivy to symbolize the ancient celebration of Yule, and with sunflower seeds to celebrate the return of the sun. As we sprinkle the log with a few drops of wine as a toast to the coming year, then set it alight as a symbol of letting go of the past, I will try to send my sadness skyward with the fragrant smoke and dancing flames. Though my grief will not vanish as the Yule Log turns to embers, perhaps I can draw warmth from the memories of Owain and Hank and let that drive out the darkness of grief.

Celebrating the Light

Celebrating the Light

One more long night and the earth begins to tilt back towards the light. I am ready to reach for the light as well.

Happy Yule to one and all.

Julie

Christmas to Me: Part II

If I had a blog, today I would continue the story of my favorite Christmas…

The Dogs Arrive at Our Cabin

The Dogs Arrive at Our Cabin

Christmas Eve dawned grey and cold. By mid-morning, snow began falling, giving the landscape an ethereal, “Jack Londonesque” quality. Just before noon, the tableau was complete as two teams of sled dogs appeared from the forest edge. If Santa and his reindeer had appeared on Lark Lake that morning I could not have been more excited. I had wanted to be a musher since I was ten years old – the winter I hitched our yellow lab, Michael, to my toboggan and played “Iditarod” from dawn to dusk on the snow-covered fields that made up our farm. Now, at long last, I had a chance to do the real thing: Ride behind a string of sled dogs in the wilderness of The North.

Our Sled Dogs

Our Sled Dogs

The afternoon was everything I’d hoped for: Flying over the frozen landscape under the expert guidance of our mushers, getting a sense of the skill it takes to manage a team of eight canine athletes. My experience driving horses did little to prepare me for the experience of running dogs. Although the dogs were harnessed and attached to the sled, there were no reins to guide or stop the team. All directions, “gee” for right, “haw” for left, and the all important “whoa,” are spoken by the musher. The dogs have complete control over whether they obey or not, thus making a well-trained team an absolute necessity. Happily, both teams we rode with that day were the picture of obedience and their synchronicity with their drivers was poetry in motion.

Rest Stop on the Trail

Rest Stop on the Trail

After a couple hours of traveling, we stopped for a rest. We were cold and needed hot cocoa to fuel our inner fires, while the dogs were hot (it was, after all fifteen degrees that afternoon) and needed time to rest, drink, and roll merrily in the snow. If I ever had any doubts as to whether or not sled dogs were happy in their work, they were erased that winter’s day. I have never seen dogs with more joie de vie. As soon as our break was over, they were ready to go: Jumping and barking and pulling at the traces so we’d know they were far from ready to go home.

Thanking Our New Friends

Thanking Our New Friends

We returned to the cabin shortly before dusk and thanked the mushers and each of their dogs for giving us the adventure of a lifetime. As they vanished into the woods across the lake and the light from the mushers’ headlamps faded from sight, The Great Silence returned to Lark Lake and Christmas Eve began.

A Toast to Christmas

A Toast to Christmas

Our holiday dinner was simple fare: Hamburger casserole and dinner rolls, accompanied by fine wine, with which we toasted family, the North Woods, and the sacredness of the season.  As we did the dinner dishes, we turned on the short-wave radio and listened to a boys’ choir in Germany, singing carols to celebrate that holiest of eves. One-by-we made our way to the sauna, returning warm, clean, and ready for an evening around the fire. We sat up until midnight, sharing memories of Christmases past until, at last, we blew out the lamps and turned in for the night. Mom and Dad slept on the futon by the stove and David, Kindra, and I slept in the loft, nestled in our sleeping bags, with starlight shining in the windows. Music from a choir in England lulled me to sleep and for the first time in decades, I felt the spirit of Christmas in every fibre of my being. My last thoughts that wondrous night were the words of favorite carol. “O Holy Night…O Night Divine.”

To be continued…

Poor Thanksgiving

If I had a blog, today I would write about the sadness I feel for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Almost Home

Almost Home

I have always felt sorry for Thanksgiving. The sad truth is: It is the bastard child of holidays; the act that precedes the glitz and glam of Christmas as well as the revelry of ringing in the new year. What is a holiday to do when its foundation is in contemplation, not commercialism? Try as they might, the ubiquitous “they” have not been able to turn Thanksgiving into a gift-giving holiday (yet) and I suspect that is why the single aisle dedicated to autumn decor is dwarfed by the countless aisles of toys, ornaments, trees, and prepackaged gifts as soon as the Halloween bric-a-brac is stored away. Aside from the appeal of sanctioned gorging, time off work, and endless televised sporting events, I imagine few would miss Thanksgiving if it disappeared from our calendars altogether. It is just another obstacle in the path to Christmas, and that, my friends, is truly a shame.

At this point, you may be thinking: “Wow, is she cynical or what?” and, I suppose, to a certain extent that is true. Forty-five holiday seasons rubbing my introversion the wrong way certainly shaped my perspective. But it isn’t just cynicism that drives my thoughts. It is also my empathy for the underdogs in life. I actually like the Christmas season a great deal, but I feel a need to give Thanksgiving its due. After all, don’t we owe it to our lives to look for the blessings and thank whatever gods may be for the goodness, however small, that exists in our lives on this one, special day.

My Owain

My Owain

This past year has been a hard one for my family. In the space of a few, short months lost the companionship of three dogs who had shared our lives for more than a decade each. The loss of Emma, Owain, and Hank makes the approach to the holidays a daunting task, but I remain determined to give thanks anyway. If, as I have written before, my heroines, Corrie and Betsy ten Boom, could find reasons to give thanks while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, I can do no less. My pain and grief are nothing compared to theirs and a lack of gratitude on my part would not only be be rude to The Universe, it would also fly in the face of the miracle Corrie and Betsy experienced in that darkest of  all dark places.

Hank

Hank

And so, on this most auspicious day, I give thanks that Hank, Emma, and Owain lived such long, happy lives and that those lives encompassed me and my family. I am thankful that, when the end came, we were able to help our companions slip the “surly bonds of earth” with dignity and make The Crossing without fear or pain. I am oh, so very thankful for Bree, the Great Pyrenees who still resides with us. Bree has risen to the challenge of being an only dog and now accompanies us to the barn twice a day, sleeps by Mom’s bed at night, and is a constant companion in all that we do. At the age of ten, Bree has taken on new life. Just a hint that we’re headed for the barn and she starts dancing in anticipation. No one can be sad in the face of such joy. I am also thankful for my four cats, my beautiful horse, Rain, and, of course, my human family as well. It has been a hard year, but the love we share is a balm to our aching hearts and I give thanks for that love every single day.

Emma

Emma

In closing, I will share with you a quote from Robert Fulghum, that, for me, captures the very essence of the love I wish for everyone this Thanksgiving Day: “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge — myth is more potent than history — dreams are more powerful than facts — hope always triumphs over experience — laughter is the cure for grief — love is stronger than death.”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Arwen’s Choice

If I had a blog, today I would write about living through grief.

Winter Sun Over Mockingbird Hill

Winter Sun Over Mockingbird Hill

Living through grief is a journey through shades of gray. After the first blackness, into which we plunge when we experience loss, the pain eases and we come to rest in a place somewhere between pain and joy. Days pass softly, without the demands of desire, the need for excitement, or the drive of creativity to shatter our cocoon. If life permits us to submit to this lassitude, I think it is part of the return from grief, the journey back to a bright and joyful life.

Since Owain’s death, I have struggled to do more than get out of bed in the morning. I do my chores, my office work, and even take my photographs, but there is no energy behind my daily round. I’m not devastated anymore, I just don’t want to “feel” right now. I find comfort in a life without peaks and valleys, where I work and rest, eat and sleep, and demand nothing more of my battered soul.

November Woods

November Woods

In The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien writes of Arwen Evenstar, immortal elf maiden, who fell in love with a mortal man and, instead of following her people to the Undying Lands, she stayed in Middle Earth with her beloved, King Aragorn. After Lord Aragorn’s death, Arwen returned to the now abandoned Elvish kingdom Lothlorien. Tolkien writes, But Arwen went forth from the House, and the light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star…she went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent.

There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea.

We who choose to give ourselves to an animal make Arwen’s choice: We give our heart, the entirety of our love, to one who will, most likely, precede us in death by many years. We are willing to love completely, all the while knowing the passing of our beloved will, for a time, bring us pain.

The coming of winter is a mirror of my mood this year. I don’t believe I could survive the flash and dash of summer or face the coming of new life that happens in spring. Right now, I am as mellow as the pale sun shining in my window, as somber as the leafless trees. It feels good to follow the year as it winds down towards its end. Like the circle of the year, I will come back to color and light, but now I am comforted by the sense of finality that the end of the year brings. For now, I am happy living in shades of gray until the day I am ready to make Arwen’s choice and fall in love all over again.