Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Falling Petals

My neighbor Jackie stopped in to drop off copies of The New Yorker and exclaimed how beautiful the yellow leaves were on the maple tree in my backyard. I downplayed it and said that she should have been here a week ago when all the trees were vibrant with fall colors. Then I turned and saw the yellow filling up the entire window and I was stunned. Knowing how much was gone, I no longer saw what was still here.

When leaves drop in autumn, I am sad for the loss of all the life that has buzzed, flown, grown, and run through the woods. Colors become muted, trees go bare, and a chill clings to the air. I turn away from the windows thinking that life has ended outside and there is nothing more to see. Yet when the leaves are gone, I will be able see deer moving down by the creek, a barred owl sitting on a branch, feel the contours of the land, and watch sunset’s rays moving through the bare trees.

Wang Wei writes of this dying of beauty in his poem, “Magnolia Basin,” of hibiscus blooming in a remote mountain where no one sees them: “One by one flowers open, then fall.”

I do not like dying. I’ve become used to the glory of summer and do not want it to end. The coming of winter is a time of transition, when I learn to let go of what has been and start to notice what is coming.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Spirit Land

Sometimes we hear the voice or feel the presence of a family member who has died. But is it real?

When I hike in Yosemite, I feel the presence of Nature’s spirit. Coyote trots across the meadow with a smile. The wind whispers to me about tomorrow’s weather. Native Americans believe that all the members of creation are related to each other---the buffalo, mountains, human beings, rivers, and ravens. The Sioux pray to the Grandfathers to send messages to guide them. The Japanese build altars in their homes to help them communicate with their ancestors.

There is a trinity of days this time of year—All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. The ancient Celtic people celebrated this time with an observance called Samhain, believing that the barrier between life and death thinned and people in both worlds could see and speak to each other. Latin American countries have a similar celebration called the Day of the Dead.

When we share with others, part of us begins to live in them, and this does not die when one of us does. I believe that the spiritual can be more real than the physical, and that matters of the spirit are not bound by laws that govern physical objects.

This year I want to listen more often to what I cannot see, trusting that what I feel is near.