Fading into Stillness
On seasonal collisions
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Here we are in early September—it’s still very summerlike today, and was yesterday too, with highs in the upper 80s. When I sit on the end of the dock, lily pads stretch out before me like a carpet unraveling into open water. To my right, there is a tiny patch of yellow flowers growing out of a muddy tangle of old roots and decomposing reeds, and the distant hum of a lawnmower. The beaver lodge is covered in an astonishing array of aquatic plants and flowers, though the foliage is just starting to die back in preparation for frost, which in these parts, sometimes comes by the 15th of this month. Darkness is catching me off guard in the lingering heat when it falls at 8pm, instead of 9:30 like in high summer. School has started for many already, and the state fair wraps up this weekend. The time of blossoming is coming to a close. Harvest will soon be upon us. It’s hot today, but it won’t be tomorrow. The seasons are about to collide. I’m readying myself for the shift while also trying to savor the season that is.
As I was mulling over the pending seasonal shift, I thought of a short excerpt from my first essay collection, Woodland Manitou, which published what seems like a very long time ago now, in 2017. It’s a funny thing, to revisit old writing, even old writing in published books—I’ve continued to evolve as a writer, and I’d probably write it differently now. But this is who I was then, and the truths at the core of it remain, even if how I’d say it has changed a little bit.
You can feel summer leaving today. The cooler air that whips around my limbs when I go up to the garden to collect the last of the Swiss chard and lingering red tomatoes holds a sense of ownership. It will be sticking around, even with the warmer days that will surely still grace our weeks as the leaves start to turn toward burnt umber and ruby and tangerine. The flock of turkeys is poking around in the field that we didn’t till this year, intent on finding whatever treasures turkeys try to find in weedy fields, and their young race around the edges, unhindered by the gusty winds and bleak gray sky. The tomato forest, as dubbed by our toddler, has started to wilt and wither despite the green tomatoes and hopeful blossoms that still remain between the staked patches of vine. The Delicata squash lay exposed, the huge green canopy of their earlier life on the ground around them, interspersed with the squash bugs that insist on making their presence known year after year. Potato plants lie on their sides, waiting to be unearthed, their tubers snug in the soil until we are ready for them, or until the ground freezes, whichever comes first. The inevitable squash vine that grows from the compost heap looks healthy and robust as it stretches its tendrils out over the grass. It must not realize the frost is just likely weeks away. The tiny green pumpkins don’t stand a chance.
Such is life in a garden, and in the wild. After a season of cultivation and growth and newness, there comes a season of death and settling in and newness in a different way. The earth is slowing down and making ready the space for stillness and rebuilding that defines winter.
I don’t feel quite ready to let the garden go yet – this year was colder than usual, and the plants got a late start. Some didn’t pollinate, some didn’t grow as we might have hoped they would. I’m just getting in the rhythm of harvesting and sharing the abundance that we have to give. But I don’t get to decide. That’s the thing about living on the earth – we humans can make all sorts of decisions and plans, but at the end of the day, the earth always gets the last word. There is something soothing in that, even when the earth gives us conditions that we might not want.
Though summer is on its way out for the year, autumn and the stillness that comes with winter are filling in the gaps. As the cold wind blows and the leaves start to fall, I am reminded that there is no renewal without the passing away that punctuates all things in a human life.
Anyway, back to the present. Up in the garden this year, the sunflowers that towered over me midsummer are drooping, heads heavy as they drop seeds where their petals fell weeks ago. Their time of growth is done for now. Any seeds they leave behind will have a chance to start anew come spring. But for now, they are fading into stillness.
Speaking of autumn, here are a few things that are coming up:
The Marine Fall Festival — I’ll be there with books to sell, along with some free Poets of Place chapbooks. From 10AM to 2PM on Saturday, September 17, the Marine Fall Festival will take place at Marine Mills Folk School (550 Pine Street). From 2PM to dusk, the festival will continue in downtown Marine on St. Croix.
This annual, family-friendly event is free and open to the public. Registration is NOT needed for this event. Just show up and enjoy!
And I’ll be at the St. Croix Valley Author’s Fair on September 24th from 11-4. Join East Central Regional Library at Pleasant Valley Orchard for book readings and Q&A sessions with 7+ local Minnesota authors from the St. Croix Valley area.
Browse the author tables, purchase books, or bring your own copies to be signed by the authors. Local bookstore Twinflower Books will also be on site with books available for purchase.
Pleasant Valley Orchard is located at 17325 Pleasant Valley Road, Shafer, MN 55074. This event is open to the public and no registration is required, just come on out and have fun!