Early signs of Autumn have arrived, and I feel myself anticipating the intimacy of Winter. The nights are finally cooling after an unusually hot, dry summer, and the morning light through my bedroom window has softened. Dry seedpods have opened, and my terrier's curly coat is continually matted with sweet woodruff seeds. White and purple petunias droop over the sides of the red geranium pots, and all the hanging baskets, root bound and thirsty, now require watering twice a day. Creeping ground cover spills over the sides of the wood ties and seeps through the slats of the small boundary fences throughout the garden beds. The curbside cement cracks bulge with healthy clumps of weeds, and fall flowers are pregnant with plump buds.
The bees continue to feast on the last flowers of the oregano, mint and tarragon. Harvesting herbs in my yard can be risky, so I have made an agreement with the swarms of bees. If they allow me to harvest half the herbs, I leave them the remaining flowers. Young squirrels are busy gathering and burying sunflower seeds, not yet realizing that I will feed them throughout the seasons, which happily curbs their appetite to strip my trees and eat my tomatoes. Several new varieties of birds gather on the branches of the blue spruce while underneath, plump mourning doves and orange-tailed flickers continue to waddle through a blanket of seed shells. A symphony of geese flies overhead. With cooler evenings now, laughter fills the neighboring patios, and the smell of barbecue wafts through open windows. Kacie twitches her terrier nose in the air and becomes restless. She dreams of filet mignon.
I begin to mark Autumn on August 1st through a harvest celebration of thanksgiving, when friends and family offer gratitude for life's abundance. This day also celebrates Lammas, the medieval Christian holiday when bread was made from the first grains, signaling the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall. We also celebrate the harvest theme on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption. In pre-Christian times, this was a harvest festival when farms, orchards, fields and gardens were blessed. Processions continue to be held in Spain, Italy, France and South America, where local priests bless the fields. Today the Assumption is also known as Our Lady's Herb Day. In many central European countries the herbs of autumn are gathered and blessed for their potent medicinal powers. Harvesting is a sacred process, transforming grain into bread and grapes into wine.
This is the season of gathering, canning,
drying and freezing nature's generous bounty,
converting it into foods for winter. After
the first harvest in August, I fill my
large stainless soup pots many times. The
heat of summer and the salsa bubbling on
the stove are sweltering, and I enjoy resting
every late evening with a cold glass of
chardonnay while I admire the beautiful
glass canning jars filled with salsas and
relish. It is very satisfying to work together
with Mother Nature.
Wednesday mornings, June through October, I often stroll through one of the city's many Farmer's Markets which display a breathtaking abundance of fresh vegetables, fruits and breads. My senses are alive with the rich colors and the smells of fresh coffee, herbs and spices, homemade soaps, and buckets of fresh flowers. A trio of smiling middle-aged women plays the fiddle, flute and bass guitar. I dine on pot stickers and salad greens and weekly buy a prize-winning key lime pie from a Boulder baker to gift my aging mother. I sample salsas and jams and an unusual variety of flavored pestos. The Farmer's Feast is a carnival of culinary delights! Before I leave I buy a crate of fresh, juicy, sweet peaches which I share with anyone who graces my home during the week.
Soon I will prune rose bushes, cut back perennials and prepare my flowerbeds for winter. A surprise of color awaits the south flowerbed next spring where I have recently planted bright-faced pansies, iris and tulip bulbs. With a sense of melancholy, anticipating the bleak beauty of winter, I savor the last earthy smells and the feel of moist soil as I weed, prune, plant and snuggle into the lap of Autumn. Reluctant to let go, I purchased fresh basil plants at the market, hoping to keep them all winter in the sunroom. Mid-September will transform the landscape into a bright blaze of color, and October leaves will flutter and tumble to the earth, awaiting my crackling footsteps.
The deepening energy of the season invites me inward. I begin creating an Autumn Equinox ritual and prepare my seasonal altar. The central figure is the Divine Feminine in the form of the Corn Mother, who brought spiritual and physical nurturance to her people. Today many of these same peoples continue to honor the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squash, the fruits of Fall. Soon I will pull the shades on Autumn and burrow into the cave of Winter. I will trust Grandmother Bear once again and honor her urging to enter the underground, joining Persephone in an exploration of the dark psyche, the shadow self, the seat of power. I will linger there until the seeds of Winter are resurrected in the birth of Spring.
Autumn is the direction of the West, the sunset of the day, the place of introspection, self¬knowledge and transformation. Autumn honors the element of water, symbolizing the emotions, the purifying process of Baptism throughout the winter months, all things made new again in the spring of the year.
This season of nesting holds the promise of hot cups of tea, drying herbs, thick, rich soups and stews, good books, fresh journals, new projects and classes. I always feel the need and desire to learn something new. Maybe it is a habit from old school days. Autumn has a special coziness for me. I fill sheets of white paper, evaluating and contemplating the harvest of the past year.
Last week, one of my monk friends offered Mass and blessed my home. Several evenings later, our Sacred Pipe Circle met here, offering prayers of thanksgiving for the Coyote energies of summer and the approaching journey into Fall. Next weekend several of us will take a final picnic supper to a large labyrinth south of Denver and offer thanks for the many gifts of this past season of summer.
The wheel turns. The seasons change, and the cycle of birth, becoming and death continues. As I travel the wheel, I acknowledge the time of dusk in my own life and offer deep gratitude for its abundance, anticipating the teachings and rich possibilities of the seasons yet to come.
Judy Millyard-Maselli has worked in corporate sales, social services, and education. She is an ordained Pipe Carrier of the Ojibway Bear Tribe Medicine Society lineage, and has served as head ceremonialist for the Women’s Council of the Foundation for Spiritual Democracy based on the Iroquois Nation’s Great Law of Peace. She has facilitated Earth-centered Women’s Spirituality Circles for over 20 years.
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