Here on the front porch are the family pumpkins for 2011: Autumn Leaves, Scary GOP Elephant, Tribute to Steve Jobs, and Batman. Squash as a form of art, sentiment, and political expression is everywhere coming into its own.
This year two festivals of autumn fall upon the same day: Michaelmas, the feast of the dragon-conquering St. Michael the Archangel, and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. And appropriately so, since both, although from different spiritual traditions, call for reflection upon and atonement for our deeds and misdeeds of the past year and a courageous awakening to our innermost thoughts. The days now grow shorter, and as we head into winter we plan consciously to nurture the light within.
So in our family we honor the season ecumenically, if perhaps sacrilegiously, and don red garments, blow our tofu horn, say special verses and blessings to help us reflect, and share apples dipped in honey and challah baked in the shape of a dragon. A light-filled MichaelmHashanah to you.
To celebrate the autumn equinox, one of the two times of year when the day and the night are of equal length, my daughter and I baked half-and-half cupcakes (lemon/chocolate). We distributed them door-to-door in the neighborhood, wherever we saw lights shining in the window after dinner on Equinox Eve, since the actual event was to take place at 5:05 am EDT the following morning. And you don’t want to be caught cupcake-less. Although I’m not sure everyone waited until the following morning to eat them. Happy Autumn, everybody.
Today is the birthday of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), and so I post his poem for late autumn, along with a sketch made from the window of the Georgetown University building where my daughter has her weekly Sunday school class, and where therefore I am fortunate enough to spend a quiet hour thinking, organizing, and gazing upon this view. The setting inevitably drives my thoughts back in time—to Captain John Smith sailing up toward Great Falls… to the Native American village that preceded Georgetown… to the geological forces that carved out this valley… I am SUPPOSED to be planning my week, which seems laughable in context.
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
A poem, and a watercolor, for late autumn.Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate that brushes your heel as it turns going by, the man who wants to live is the man in whom life is abundant. Now you are only giving food to that final pain which is slowly winding you in the nets of death, but to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts is the work; start then, turn to the work. Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field, don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death, and do not let the past weigh down your motion. Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself, for life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds; from your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.
—Miguel de Unamuno
Another neighborhood tree sketch, this one by my daughter. If this IS a sugar maple, does that mean we could be tapping trees right here in Woodley Park, DC?