The long wait is over — autumn is officially here! The new season swept into town in a shower of raindrops under cover of soft gray skies. The trees have yet to flash autumn a warm greeting of color, but the mushrooms? Oh, the mushrooms! They are welcoming autumn with all their might, much to the delight of the deer, who have been eagerly dining on the delicate morsels springing up throughout the yard and woods.
So many beautiful forms! Rounded and smooth, ruffled with fringe, embossed with dots. Buttons, cones, discs. Red, yellow, and tan against the bright green moss. And, of course, stark white against the fallen leaves, black with rain. Perfect on this day of balanced light and darkness.
Each year on the equinox, I return to a beloved poem by Lisel Mueller. By now it is an integral part of my life’s yearly cycle. Favorite excerpts are below. Happy Fall, everyone!
One More Hymn to the Sun
You know that like an ideal mother
she will never leave you,
though after a week of rain
you begin to worry
but you accept her brief absences,
her occasional closed doors
as the prerogative
of an eccentric lover . . .
You like the fact that her moods are an orderly version of yours,
arranged, like the needs of animals,
by seasons: her spring quirks,
her sexual summers,
her steadfast warmth in the fall;
you remember her face on Christmas Day,
blurred, and suffused with the weak smile
of a woman who has just given birth
The way she loves you, your whole body,
and still leaves enough space between you
to keep you from turning to cinders
before your time! . . .
She never gave up on you
though it took you billions of years
to learn the alphabet
and the shadow you cast on the ground
changed its shape again and again
- Lisel Mueller, The Missouri Review, 2.1, Fall 1978
December! The final installment of Walking in Season for 2010. What an amazing year it has been, full of change and growth in every area of this little family’s life. The wonderful thing about change is that the more you do it, the easier it gets. The more you embrace it, the more fun it becomes. These truths — and the truth that everything new is hard at first but becomes easier with practice — are perhaps my biggest lessons of the year. And to think: it only took three decades of living for me to learn them!
This morning, December dawned cloudy, a cold front moving through. Gray skies and wind. The warm, gorgeous autumn days that lingered throughout November have yielded to something wintrier — and more befitting of the holiday spirit that is evident everywhere around us.
Darkness comes early now, and we find ourselves falling naturally into our winter schedule, cued by the light: dinner by 5:00, screens (laptops, television, phones) off by 9:30, asleep by 10:00! I must say: in no season do I sleep as well, or as long, as I do in wintertime. It is undeniable: my Circadian clock (and body and mind) are powerfully tied to the available daylight, and in winter, my only option is to embrace their dictate that bedtime come early. A rule I am not the least bit sad to follow, especially in these last pre-newborn weeks!
The final month of this pregnancy is proving such a special time. Matt and I are filled with wonder and anticipation, and it feels as though the whole world is filled with wonder and anticipation alongside us! Goodwill, cheer, and beauty abound. December, I am finding, is an excellent time to round out a baby.
That said, this month is also a month for finding and celebrating light in darkness. The winter solstice — the longest night of the year — visits us on December 21. If you find yourself feeling less than merry as that natural holiday approaches, treat yourself to a noontime walk, sans sunscreen or sunglasses, to lift your spirits (and your Vitamin D levels). Fresh air and sunshine (even the wan light of December) always work a special magic on the heart.
And, without further ado: December’s Walking in Season Photos. The full year of photos can be viewed here.
Stop 1. Looking back on the photos of this spot over the year, we were surprised to see how many months it looks just like this: brown and dormant.
Stop 1.5. Gray skies, black water.
Stop 2. I enjoy this spot this most in the cold months. The tree trunks are like sculpture.
Stop 3. Peak fall color came mid-month last month. November 1, these trees were green; by December 1, the leaves had turned and fallen.
Stop 4. No turtles today! Just ducks. This stop is my favorite, I do think.
Wow, what a month October was: a parade of family members in town throughout the month; the baby shower; and, in the last week, the excitement of life without indoor plumbing!
A week ago, the main water line to our house sprung big leaks, and the repairs — for various logistical and bureaucratic reasons — could not be completed until today. From last Tuesday until just an hour ago, the water line was shut down, and we had no running water in the house.
If we had to be visited by such an adventure, this last week was an ideal time for it. Two sets of friends/family were out-of-town, and their empty homes were open to us for showers, cooking, laundry, and the filling of large tubs of water to haul back to our house for toilet-flushing the low-tech way. To these kind folks, we say: THANK YOU!
But now it is November! This month, everywhere around us, the natural world begins to slow and settle in for the long winter ahead. The trees drop their leaves… the nights lengthen… the days become cool and crisp… the plants offer up the last of their fruits… the animals stock up and hunker down — including many of us humans!
This month is a wonderful time to follow Mother Nature’s lead: simplifying, drawing in, shifting our focus from outward to inward. After the bustle of summer, we partake of this season’s quieter pastimes. As we warm ourselves by the fire, or stand stirring at the stove, or sit stitching in the lamplight, our minds find space and opportunity for introspection and reflection.
And, hopefully, around the fourth Thursday of the month (for us Americans, anyway), we also find opportunity to be thankful for all the good that our lives hold!
Less than two months to go before the little one makes his or her debut — we can hardly believe it! Today, we had a raft of errands and a faraway prenatal appointment, so we admit: November’s Walking in Seasons photos were taken October 31st, to ensure they got taken at all. Blue skies reigned both days, however, so we’re confident that yesterday’s shots are near-perfect representations of November 1′s path.
Complete set of Walking in Season photos here, all by Matt.
Stop 1. The leaning tree trunk in the center of the photo finally fell!
Stop 1.5. Sing along, everybody: “Muuuuuuuck on the wa-ter, and glare in the sky-yy.”
Stop 2. It’s strange but true: I like the wetland much better without green leaves.
Stop 3. Leaf by leaf, the canopy falls.
Stop 4. This stop is the most-transformed each month, I think — even the changes in the last three months alone are impressive!
The heart of autumn must have broken here,
and poured its treasure out upon the leaves.
- Charlotte Fiske Bates (1838 – 1916)
In our neck of the woods: lots of family in town (my mom, Matt’s mom, and tonight, my sister!), lots of bustling about, and lots of excitement, too! The Moms have been busily preparing for the baby shower on Saturday, shopping and planning and conducting secret closed-door meetings about all the details. Oh, the suspense!
Yesterday, fall decorations were procured to welcome shower guests: bunches of Indian corn to flank the front door, and a passel of pumpkins to post at the front steps. (Heads up, Williamsburg readers: Fresh Market‘s got large pumpkins at 3 for $10, and jumbo ones for 2 for $10 — a good deal!)
It’s been a rainy day here, lending a nice autumn chill to the air and a soft light to cozy the house. Hope you’re having a cozy day, too!
Yesterday, we took a Sunday afternoon drive to a very special place. As the Virginia countryside rolled by, time and again, we saw that classic scene of rural life in autumn: piles of leaves, raked, and set aflame, sending plumes of grey smoke skyward. And I remembered this:
Three Pieces on the Smoke of Autumn
Smoke of autumn is on it all.
The streamers loosen and travel.
The red west is stopped with a gray haze.
They fill the ash trees, they wrap the oaks,
They make a long-tailed rider
In the pocket of the first, the earliest evening star.
. . .
Three muskrats swim west on the Desplaines River.
There is a sheet of red ember glow on the river; it is dusk; and the muskrats one by one go on patrol routes west.
Around each slippery padding rat, a fan of ripples; in the silence of dusk a faint wash of ripples, the padding of the rats going west, in a dark and shivering river gold.
(A newspaper in my pocket says the Germans pierce the Italian line; I have letters from poets and sculptors in Greenwich Village; I have letters from an ambulance man in France and an I. W. W. man in Vladivostok.)
I lean on an ash and watch the lights fall, the red ember glow, and three muskrats swim west in a fan of ripples on a sheet of river gold.
. . .
Better the blue silence and the gray west,
The autumn mist on the river,
And not any hate and not any love,
And not anything at all of the keen and the deep:
Only the peace of a dog head on a barn floor,
And the new corn shoveled in bushels
And the pumpkins brought from the corn rows,
Umber lights of the dark,
Umber lanterns of the loam dark.
Here a dog head dreams.
Not any hate, not any love.
Not anything but dreams.
Brother of dusk and umber.
- Carl Sandburg, from Cornhuskers (1918)
It’s October — glorious October! A month of turning leaves, blue skies, crisp autumn air, golden afternoons, and early evenings. A month for picking apples, baking cobblers, carving pumpkins, and gathering ’round the hearth for the first fire of the season!
And, of course, it’s time for Walking in Season! Last month, after a long summer of drought, I wondered, “Will the wetlands ever be wet again?” October brings us the answer: an emphatic YES!
All week long, the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole sat over Williamsburg, dumping rain — days and days of solid rain — upon us. Over ten inches fell overall! The lake is high, the creeks are full, and the wetlands are wet.
All week, Matt and I wondered if October 1 would be dry enough for our monthly photo shoot, and, as luck would have it, it was! Thanks, Ma Nature. Walking in Season is still a day late this month, however, as the time I’d allotted for blogging yesterday was instead consumed by efforts to eliminate a small flood from our garage. (Happily, the garage is now flood-free.)
As always for the Walking in Season series, Matt shot the photos. We decided to keep with the point-and-shoot camera for Walking in Season through the end of the year, for consistency between months. But with the New Year, we’ll be switching fully to the digital SLR, and maybe introducing a new location, too! Stay tuned!
Remember, you can view the entire series of 2010 Walking in Season photos here at Flickr!
Stop 1. Green turning to brown…
Stop 1.5 Gray sky, black water.
Stop 2. The green field, submerged. Sadly, a fawn met its fate here during the storm — its little body lies half submerged nearby, and is a source of much fascination to the boys of the neighborhood.
Stop 3. The canopy is thinning.
Stop 4. Nary a puddle last month; now, flowing water!
June has arrived! And with it, fireflies, daylilies, and the first crepe myrtle blossoms. On our walks, the scent of magnolias consistently takes us by surprise — always, their perfume hits our happy noses before we spot their huge, thick, white blossoms nestled high against glossy dark leaves. We monitor the progress of the dense stands of blackberry bushes along the path; the fruits are growing, working their way from young red to ripe black.
Here are this month’s Walking in Season photos (as always, taken by Matt). Green, green, green!
Remember, you are welcome (and encouraged) to link to your own sets of month-by-month seasonal photos in the comments!
Happy June, everyone! Later this month, summer officially arrives!
Dense gray clouds filling the sky.
Air cool and thick and wet.
Good walking weather.
Three weeks ago:
Leaves just making their annual debut.
Now, through the neighborhood:
Every tree in full summer regalia.
Magnolias casting aside their old yellow leaves, freshening their wardrobes for the season.
Azaleas fluffing their petticoats of fuchsia, pink, white, and rose.
Rhododendrons about to follow suit.
Last night’s rain still lying about.
Water droplets glowing in the low early light.
Puddles filling every hollow: cupped leaves, divets in the road.
At the trailhead:
A box turtle resting in the middle of the path.
Eau de skunk wafting through the air.
In the woods:
The trail now winding through a tunnel of green.
Forest sounds, so loud in winter — creaks, breaks, scuffles, calls — muffled in a cocoon of leaves.
Tight white blackberry buds beginning to unfurl.
A barn owl muttering from the treetop.
At the water:
Ospreys scouting sticks to add to their fine high nests.
Tadpoles, black and clustering in the shallows.
A lovely one!
[* * * More photos from our gray morning walk on Flickr * * *]