Sunday, September 29, 2013

Autumn Walking (24 September 2013)

"We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, — prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.” (226)
- Henry David Thoreau Walking 
(Library of America Edition, 2001)
“Story creates order out of the flux of happenings by arraying them in (or, discerning in them – let the question remain unresolved) such a chain of connectedness that leads one to speak of the end as the goal and the middle as directed movements.” (105)
- David J. A. Clines 
The Theme of the Pentateuch (1978)
“Since ancient times, poetry and walking have seemed to go hand in hand. From Theocritus and Horace, Dante and Petrarch, Spenser and Milton to the present, poets have represented themselves as walkers, figures wandering in a landscape and translating their movement into poetry.“ (3)
- Roger Gilbert Walks in the World (1991)  

It’s the Equinox_ and the Autumn calls me out to engage in its wonders!

There is time for work, and there must be time for play. And then_ there is the time we must give to walking. Spiritual walking; meditative walking _Actual walks, as well as imagined walks. Walks around the Meditation Circle as well as forays out into Nature. My sense of walking and its role in the spiritual life has evolved through the whole of my wakening life, from the time I was first conscious of my self as a self. Going out on day-hikes is something I’ve done ever since I was able (since I was first ‘allowed’) to walk about on my own, trusted to my own reconnaissance. It started with walks down the block, then walks around the block, then walks stretching out from the grade school I attended into a little wood behind the school and then up over the hill behind it. I soon discovered that walking down the railroad tracks could take you somewhere interesting, and by the time I was thirteen I was venturing out into a wood that stood north of the town where I grew up.

For the creative person, walking and the imagination go hand in hand. As Roger Gilbert demonstrates so clearly in Walks in the Worlds (1991), poets have always been walkers. As I grew up I made a regular practice of walking and therein learned the rhythms of life; I observed the changes in Nature over the course of seasons, I experienced the patterns of the weather within and across seasons, and I learned my own natural rhythms, within which I quite early began creating—telling stories, playacting various scenarios that inspired me, and eventually writing down my thoughts; my first attempts at poetic wording of the world and the place of my self within that world. It was only a matter a time before I discovered how the creative person makes and re-makes their own live-in worlds—and their own ‘self’ within those worlds. I have grown through many imaginative experiments in being-in-becoming, and have had transformative experiences within and beyond those experiments. All of my walking, imagining and creating has brought me to the place in life where I now find myself. And I embrace myself_ here. 

Walking in the Autumnwood is an experience in which I have long delighted_

As I’ve said before, every season has its style of walking. Every season has its unique experiences and possibilities. It is at the turning of the seasons that these signs and portents of natural wonders often intensify, becoming runes of change, both within and without. Turning with(in) the seasons, in tune with their rhymes, we ‘change our clothes’ as poetic experimenters and prepare for another thirteen-week-journey through the next arc of the year. Winter—Spring—Summer—Autumn is the ‘sacred’ round of the practiced walker, and there is a phenomenology specific to each season, as well as a history of personal memory and recollection of the self. 

I stand on the cusps of Autumn and sing of changes coming; both in Nature and my self.

Yesterday I was in the woods, and was struck by the fact of how warm it still is, and that there are very few leaves yet turning. It is a sign I’ve noticed over the last few years that the summer seems to be lingering, while the change to Autumnwood comes not quite as early as it once did. Yet I saw some of the old familiar signs and portents of Autumn, and gathered them to myself—in spirit, imagination and remembrance. I found a single red leaf as I hoofed it into the wood. I have been seeing these leaves – oblate and colored a deep red – for about three weeks. It has long been a rune for me; seeing a single red leaf on the ground in mid-August makes me aware that Autumn is on its way. In recent years, this hasn’t been happening until early September. I am looking for these leaves, now, more intently than perhaps I used to—perhaps marking the change of climate in the shifting of seasonal boundaries?

I then found acorns as I walked up to an old overlook; the view from which is now obscured by tall trees standing between the precipices of rock and the verdant valley below. I saw three large ripe acorns and gathered them up; these particular nuts have always functioned as symbols of Nature’s fruition at the end of summer—they are runes of the ‘harvest’ that occurs beyond the boundaries of our agricultural endeavors. Woodland creatures ‘harvest’ the natural surplus, as we harvest our crops and the fruition of gardens. I have loved finding acorns since I was a kid. I carried the acorns as meditative foci for the rest of the walk; one in each front pocket of my jeans and one always in-hand. Rubbing the tan-gray silky coating off each acorn in turn, they came to be shone a soft brown; ‘polished’ like a good wooden table surface, until they seemed almost radiant!

The fact that acorns are inedible without being boiled and soaked and mashed (so the tannins, which are mildly toxic, will get leached out) reminds me that Nature is not ‘made’ for us, though we have adapted to live off Nature’s bounty and what we can produce on our own. Significant boiling and a rendering process is required to make acorns edible, and this reminds me of the transformation that is required as we journey toward the threshold of Wisdom in this life and beyond. We are given; we are here_ but we have to mature and change and be transformed by our experiences, through study, meditation as well as through our actions in the world – in order to become wiser in the end than we were at the beginning of the journey. Walking, holding acorns in hand in the Autumn, one at a time, always makes me conscious of the path I am on; for which the woodland path I was following was yet another metaphor.

It was a walking meditation on the threshold of the Autumnwood!

Further along the trail I came to an edgewood, where forest bordered a long, narrow field. There, I found a few Sassafras leaves in the process of change to their rusty brown-red color. These leaves hung on young plants along the trail, where the chill of recent mornings had touched them and turned their photosynthesizing off for another year. Their green had faded to brownish red, and I felt the turning of the season a little more presciently that I had at the beginning of the walk. The field was full of late summer flowers of the composite family; Ironweed and Steeplebush—both past their pinnacle of bloom—New England Asters, Orange Hawkweed (past its season; as it usually is in flower only during High Summer). Milkweed and the persistent Goldenrods and Ragweeds—all were browning and past their prime, yet the field displayed such a vivid kaleidoscope of Autumnal coloring that I felt I had to stop and meditate for a few minutes; so I sat down on a large flat sandstone rock amidst Asters and Goldenrod.

Walking on from that field, I wound my way along familiar trails until I was standing at the edge of a long, deep valley that I had originally discovered when – at about age 14 – I was first wandering off-trail in the woods, seeking new horizons and traversing new vistas. The threshold of the valley is marked, now, by a foot-trail put in to extend the walks of pathers like me; always eager for an undiscovered country, however small and secluded_ and as I looked down the little brown trail, I saw the hanging grapevines which have been proliferating over the last decade or so on that side of the ridge. The month leading up to the Autumnal Equinox was sometimes called “Muin” amongst the Celts; the word means ‘vines’ and refers to vining plants that come to fruit in late August through September. This being another rune of Autumn, I strolled down to the hanging vines and ate some of the bitter Fox Grapes; a natural sacrament of this particular change of seasons.

Returning home, I felt myself firmly ensconced in the transition from Summer to Autumn, and am now looking forward to further adventures in this cooler, darkening time of the year that will carry us on to the thresholds of Winterwood. Autumn is, for me, a time for recollection and re-centering after an often more ‘rambunctious’ journey through the summer months, when I am more adventurous; more likely to travel further afield and journey to new destinations than perhaps I am in the other three Seasons? _Just perhaps. Green foliage, blue skies and blue waters are the main icons of my walks in the summerwood. My tripartite focus for Summer has long been “Flourishment—Maturation—Fructification.” By contrast, my meditative focus for Autumn is “Fruition—Harvest—Reconciliation.” There is fruition everywhere in the woods and fields at this time; as runed in the acorns I found as well as in the appearance of pumpkins and other fall produce at grocery stores and markets. Harvest is happening all around us; the fruition of summer. I have always sensed that reconciliation is appropriate to this time of year; to be reconciled with the end of summer and the coming again of winter—as well as other reconciliations that bring us, in ourselves, to own our harvest. So mote it be.

Autumn is also a time of ‘haunting,’ a time for ghost stories and walking near the thresholds of mortality, ever symbolically. It has always made sense to me that Samhain (Halloween) comes at the end of the Harvest phase of Autumn, and that during this ‘holiday’ we evoke memories of loved ones and ancestors who have gone over the sídhe, confront images of death and the touchstones of our deepest fears. Samhain – coming at ‘High Autumn’ – is a time to be reconciled with our mortality, as figured in the end of the growing season (summer) and then the passing of the season of harvest (early Autumn). The ghosts I often entertain are the figments of past versions of myself, the memory of old friends who are gone (either passed over the sídhe or with whom I am no longer in touch, for one reason or another) and family members who have passed over the sídhe, as well as echoes of transfigurations yet to come, as I seek to become as wise as I can be at my best. These ghosts may be summoned through participating in stories told in written, musical or film mediums. Today, I got a copy of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw from the local library, which I hope will facilitate my walking with ghosts through this Autumnal season. So mote it be.

May you have many imaginative walks in the Autumnwood!

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