It's all changing again. The days are shorter, and colder. Nature seems to be running in reverse now. Leaves are shrinking and dropping, and colors are fading as signs of life descend back into the earth. We too are returning indoors, shutting up our windows, and putting back on the layers of clothes we peeled off in May. Like many people, I wish I could slow things down, just a bit, to savor some sweet moments for a while longer.
In his magical recollection of a long lost summer in 1928, Ray Bradbury's semi-autobiographical DANDELION WINE recounts the whirlwind revving up and the inevitable winding down of a 12 year old's summer. The protagonist, Douglas Spaulding, attentively helps his Merlin-like grandfather prepare and bottle up three months of Dandelion wine, one bottle for each day of summer. This way, come late autumn, and during the cold dark days of winter, each summer memory can be recalled and savored while sipping the golden elixir. It's liquid sunshine, certain to warm our hearts too.
Like Douglas Spaulding, I also bemoaned shop windows by August 1st advertising back to school sales. Why did they have to rush it? Why spoil the magical song of summer? But time passes, and before I knew it, early September brought stores filled with Halloween decorations and candy. It always felt to me like a forced thing, the rushing in of the future, of things from another world, into the present.
By early October, however, I had seen the trees change color, and jumped headlong into enough crunchy leaf piles, that I could accept the new season. I was ready to pick out my Halloween costume. My mom would take me to Woolworth's where I spied creaky wooden shelves loaded with orange plastic lighted pumpkins, cats and witches. Each year we'd buy a new one to place in one of our windows or use as a spooky nightlight.
The costumes Woolworth's carried came in bright cardboard boxes with cellophane windows. Alas, being a tall kid -- I was cast as the Jolly Green Giant in my 5th grade play -- even the extra large sizes barely fit me. Back home, my mom plugged in her Singer sewing machine, and using scrap fabric, deftly began to extend sleeves, capes, and pants to fit me.
In the 60's and early 70's the costumes were a milder assortment than the ghoulish horrors of today. Kids actually were okay wearing a Casper or Gumby costume. Bugs Bunny and Snoopy were fine too, as was Snow White or Polly Purebred. Even the vampire or Frankenstein costumes were, in their own way, kooky and winsome.
It's no accident that we have so many holidays jam-packed into such a short period. In a mere eight weeks, we speed from Halloween and Thanksgiving, to Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, finally capping it off with a rousing noise-filled New Year's. I think we need these holidays as festive counter points to the days growing shorter and colder. Halloween, as we know, is not just for kids. Even for grown ups it can be a cathartic experience -- a release if you will for our inner alter egos.
Surely being nice all year long has earned us a chance to be just a wee bit wicked? And perhaps our drab Clark Kent lives need a little charge as we don a super-hero's cape. It's certainly cheaper than seeing a shrink. I'll admit that as a precocious 17 year old freshman at Columbia, I won first prize for my fantastic feather filled transformation into Dolly Levi. This time I made my own costume, and didn't tell mama. It was GLEE 30 years ahead of its time, set to a disco beat. It's all in keeping with the harvest spirit of completion and coming full circle. The ritual of costuming lets us give voice to less often experienced parts of us that we may want to gather back home.
Early on, I noticed that cultural events with great commercial build-ups often end unceremoniously. If Halloween is a season, it ends abruptly the last minute of October. Immediately down come all the decorations, and plastic pumpkins are spirited back into the attics. It's similar to seeing Christmas trees heaved out on the curb on Dec. 26th. For me, there's a harsh let down, a sense of loss, almost as though the holiday didn't really count at all. I long for more graceful transitions.
As years go by, I've developed an appreciation for the cycles of nature. During late afternoon walks with my ace border collie, I watch the sun setting farther south each day. In one last burst of firework colors, the maples and oaks scatter leafy flames on the lawn, and early one morning, a frost laden silver haze firmly calls all late summer growth to an end. The whistles of distant trains in the valley sound all the closer now, without a canopy of verdant leaves to muffle their sound. The wind carries these haunting cries to my window, and I can't help feeling a twinge of loss and sadness. But I also know that the seasons, like the tides, have both ebbs and flows. There's wonder to be experienced at every stage.
As I bend down to pick up an acorn, admiring its smooth shell and the minute detail of its jaunty cap, I realize that I am also holding the promise of next spring in my hand. I come to understand that falling leaves serve to nourish roots, and return as new leaves next year. In this sense we are all a continuation of that which has come before, steady, progressing, and ever renewing.
I can enjoy autumn and winter as times to harvest the bounty of this year's productivity. But taking inspiration from the simple acorn, I know it is also time to go within, to recharge, and develop a strong deep taproot that will support me for the New Year to come.
Of course it's hard to get through the day without noticing all the pain and suffering around us. The saddest thing is that most earthly woes are entirely man made. However, in the cycles of nature, there is beauty in the world. How lucky I am to have air I can still breathe, water I can still drink, and clean food still available for my table. How lucky I am to be lighted and warmed by the sun and refreshed by the wind. I am grateful that I can love and receive love. I can also open my heart to others far away, and embrace a whole world of brothers and sisters.
For all our seeming differences, I celebrate our oneness on this living spaceship called Earth. I affirm life in all its colors and forms. I am thankful for life's bounty, and for my many blessings both tangible and intangible. In this season of giving and thanks, I reach out and give back through programs like Heifer International and World Vision, sending needy families farm animals that can provide food and financial stability. Serving these fundamental needs is a simple gift that leads to greater world peace and good will. It is my way of saying no one is truly alone.
And as I tend to my own inner garden each day, I patiently await the sun again rising higher, on December 21st. There may be a blanket of snow all around us, but that's when the day's light starts to grow, signaling that new life can't be far behind.
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