Fall Fever in Kentucky

FallKY

Autumn carries more gold in its pockets
than all the other seasons
.  (Jim Bishop)

Of all the seasons in Kentucky, I like fall best with its myriad days bathed in soft light, keeping company with tepid warmth and gentle breezes following summer’s humid heaviness.  I like the way it lingers, sometimes right up to Thanksgiving, a seductress stubbornly clinging to her teasing ways.

Fall helps creation catch its breath and prepare for winter’s long sleep. The prescient wrens, doves, jays and cardinals jostle for space at their feeder, fattening themselves for aerial flight to distant climes.  Scurrying squirrels ransack the ground, greedy for winter  provision.  Trees flame and flicker in a palette of oranges, yellows, and reds, a few of their leaves–emissaries of snowflakes–softly eddying their way earthward.

My roses renew their glory, liberated from summer’s scourge of heat and insect.  And I am also quickened, eager to cross over the threshold of human artifact to immerse myself in Fall’s last blooms.

Oh that life might be like this–languorous days when even time stands still and we wake to find our haunting ghosts have fled.

–rj

Where are the songs of Spring?

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Saw a sign yesterday that read, “Spring is coming soon.”  That’s something we’re all wondering about, even in Kentucky, where we’ve been having an unusually cold March, which makes it hard to believe the Kentucky Derby is merely six weeks away.  They say it may be related to melting glaciers changing our wind patterns.

But the real sign nature is about to turn generous was yesterday’s afternoon delight in seeing my goldfinch friends, busy at their feeder, newly returned from their long and distant migration.  I remember late October when suddenly they were gone, the absence of their aerial eagerness and bright collusion of yellow and black; the silence and loneliness of it, like saying good bye to a good friend who had brought abundant joy, “A quality of loss/Affecting our discontent” (Dickinson, “A Light Exists in Spring”).

I’m not a member of the Audubon Society, but I quite understand their love for birds with their bright plumage and merry song.  I think of St. Francis of Assisi whose kindness the birds reputedly reciprocated by sitting on his shoulders.  Sometimes I think they take their own measure of me in their aerial hideaways when I replenish their several feeders in our backyard.

Birds need our help these days more than ever.  I just read the other day that an estimated 100 million birds are killed worldwide each year by outdoor cats and other scavengers.

Diminishing canopy of forest and brush, draining of wetlands, and climate change add to the toll.  Squirrels and other rodents raid their nests, devouring eggs and young hatchlings.

Migration itself can be costly, with many killed and injured, caught in storms or flying into buildings, and sometimes planes.  Many are blown off course and show up in risky environs.  I feel bad that each year several of them smash themselves into our sunroom windows and I am left with their still warm bodies.

Some of them, hawks, are wantonly shot by farmers who see them as predators.  I had an unpleasant experience in New Zealand in hearing of a crusty elderly man who had nothing better to do than shoot hawks as everyday pastime in that gorgeous Taranaki countryside of lush greenery.  In Kentucky, especially in the mountains, hawk-killing takes on a compulsion.

Down the road and around the curve, I often see a sentry red tail hawk on a high telephone wire.  I like what I see when I drive past His Majesty.

I relish reading good poetry and there are poems, great ones by Keats and Shelley, Hopkins and Dickinson, that wonderfully excel in depicting the splendor of birds like “Ode to a Nightingale, “Ode to a Skylark,” “The Windhover,” “A Bird Came Down the Walk” and, sometimes their sadness as in Angelou’s moving “I know why the Caged Bird Sings.”

But I began with the subject of Spring and so Keats’ question of “Where are the songs of spring?” (“Autumn”) comes to mind and finds its answer, for me at least, in yesterday’s return of my yellow-jacketed friends.  Let Spring’s sweet song begin!

Be well,

rj

Reflections on Spring’s delicate weave

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         

What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Spring,” Poems and Prose [Penguin Classics, 1985])

photo_20Karen reminded me this morning that come bedtime tonight we’ll need to move our clocks one hour forward. And I’m thinking, can it be that time again?

Actually, it’s something I should welcome, a kind of herald, if you will, of spring’s approach and our soon deliverance from winter’s long night.

I do love its entrance. For one thing, there’s the pleasure of working outside again, hoeing away winter’s scattered debris. They say we’re having temperatures in the high fifties here in Kentucky this weekend and already, in excited revery, I’m planning my priorities for making the weekend count, beginning with haircuts for the shrubbery, a few dead tree limbs to trim, and mulching the rose bed into weedless blackness.

I notice the box stores and gas stations are getting ready, too, witness the potted pansies peeking over their rims that I saw at Walmart today and the high piled bags of mulch when I pulled in for gas this morning.

As a former student and teacher of myth, I can understand the archetypal reverence for this season, mirrored in story, music, and dance celebrating regeneration, or earth’s greening. And there’s that beautiful story the Greeks loved to tell of Persephone’s return from the Underworld in consort with every spring, rekindling a dormant landscape into verdant tapestry. Spring is Easter and Passover, celebrations of passage from death and bondage to new life and future hope. Universally, the egg is its symbol.

But I’m also cognizant that spring isn’t always kind and sometimes lashes its way into entrance, forsaking sweet whisperings redolent of incipient blessedness. In Kentucky, for example, it brings not only the Kentucky Derby, but tornado sirens and, on occasion, flooding, reminding us of the delicate weave of life and death, sorrow and joy that has always defined our destiny.

Alas, we ourselves have been playing havoc with that balance, unwittingly triggering with our technology, fossil fuel dependence, and ravaging of our resources, whether of mineral, plant or animal, our own demise. As in T. S. Eliot’s magnificent Wasteland poem, we have springs more often associated with too little rain, or hot summers arriving too soon, suggesting spring’s own waning in the growing menace of global warming. Our earth weeps to be delivered, but there are no saviors among us to redeem and restore.

But then there are those momentary lulls when Equinox hovers in a topography of gentle wind and earth rages with the fever of life and healing and languorous days of apple and cherry blossom, lilacs, tulips, hyacinths and daffodils and we dream not of a distant heaven, but bathe in a heaven brought down to earth in renewal of Edenic splendor.

Would that this could always be. In the meantime, pile up the nows of halcyon days that sew warmth and bloom and hope.

Be well,

rj

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