Gifts and Graces

Autumn Leaves Over the Pond

Gratitude. It doesn’t always come naturally.

grat i tude noun the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Along with the continual quest to lift my eyes so I can see, I’ve been trying to acknowledge life’s gifts and the little graces of each season. It’s a practice that helps me cultivate gratitude and walk life’s road more grace-fully.

These are some of this season’s gifts and graces:

  1. Cats, because field mice and fall. And also there’s purring.
  2. The settling in that comes with shorter days and longer nights.
  3. Glimpses of the sun after a string of grey.
  4. Board games, because I too easily succumb to the pseudo-rest of DVDs and Amazon Prime.  A modified version of Bananagrams  continues to be something our family gathers around.
  5. Candles. They’re cheery company on grey days and when darkness falls too early.
  6. Maps. I’ve had an unusual amount of road time this fall and, while GPS is a gift of its own, it’s nice to see the whole route at once.
  7. My daughter’s navigational skills, a trait she got directly from her dad. When the two of us went on a road trip involving more traffic than I am comfortable with, I was grateful for her ability to get a map in her head and understand the landscape. More than even that, I’m glad to know that if she finds herself living in a city she’ll be able to find her way.
  8. On the subject of road trips: Grandparent willing to substitute teach. Reliable vehicles. Generous offers and kind invitations.
  9. Color.  God makes all things beautiful in their time and in their way.

And you? What helps you cultivate gratitude in your life beyond the Thanksgiving season?

Happy Thanksgiving,
Signature

For everything there is a season

Sharing with the writers at Kelly’s #smallwonder link-up.

Bridges Between

IMG_0828One fall, when I attended the University of Iowa, I went a few weeks between visits home. When my parents drove me to school, the fields were full  and green. When they brought me home, the fields stood empty. Even the combines and trucks had gone home.

Growing up in rural Iowa, I’d never experienced fall without seeing harvest, that gradual dismantling of the familiar, fertile landscape one field at a time. It was unsettling. I’d seen empty fields before, with the stubbly shave they wore between fall and spring each year. The problem wasn’t how they looked. It was that, while I was insulated in the city, fall had stolen in without me noticing. I’d missed it, and now I felt out of sync, like something was wrong in the world.

Twenty-five years later I can look back and recognize harvest for what it was, a long event that was part of my transition from one season to another, one that carried me from the verdant warmth of the growing season to the stark beauty of winter. According to merriam-webster.com, one definition of bridge is “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.” Another is “a time, place, or means of connection or transition.”

Harvest. It’s more than the gathering in of carefully cultivated bounty. It’s a bridge, a steady, unfolding process that I fail to notice until I miss it, one that spans the chasm between heat of summer and the chill of winter.

The measured pace of the seasons is a hidden bridge which carries me gently from where I am to where I need to be. It extends some space to prepare, not just to enter the coming season but to let go of the best parts of the one  fading away.

Bridge

Life offers other hidden bridges, simple, vital, nearly unnoticed parts of our days.  These are structures that carry our path, that support us along our road, that make the impassable way possible, that provide connection and transition. Stopping to look closely enough to actually see  helps me to understand these three for what they are. Gifts. Helpers. Graces.

Fatigue: That I want to do just one more thing before bed prevents me from either getting up when I should or being at my best for the people around me. That I get tired insures that I lay down for the rest I need. Fatigue furnishes a daily opportunity for fresh starts and new mercies.

Hunger: Because my body needs fuel, I get to pause, body and soul, not for only bread but also for breath. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.  Hunger bestows three chances to pause between where I’ve been and where I’m headed next. Three opportunities  to gain perspective before launching into the next item on the list. Three occasions for thanksgiving.

Slow Fades: Under the influence of the hardest part of any season, I think that when I’m done with the season, I am done with the season. As in, I think I could switch from one hundred degree days to fifty degree days. I can’t. It takes time to shift between the long, hot days and the short, cool ones. My body isn’t ready and neither is my mind. The seasons’ slow fade offers transition time, a space not just for hello, but for goodbye.

BridgeAnd you? Are there hidden bridges carrying your path along right now, supporting you, making a way for connection or transition?

 

Linking at Kelly’s Small Wonder
and Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday.

Because Winter is Inevitable

aspen
Once, long  ago, before babies and moves to houses in new communities, I picked up the beginning of an understanding of the seasons—their rhythms, their tasks, their hard realities. Learning to be a mom to three babies while finding my way in three different towns left room for little else in my brain. I traded a loose grip on the concept of seasons for the clutching fist of survival.

It was not a good trade.

I forgot that seasons really do change. That whether delightful or dry, balmy or bitter, fertile or fruitless, they don’t last forever. That there is a time for every single thing.

SmokeysI still thought about seasons here and there. I even wrote about them. What I didn’t do was believe the truth of them, a truth that drifted around, unanchored, just beyond my grasp.

At least, that’s how it was until I woke up on the hard ground one morning in a tent in South Dakota to a bombardment of missiles launched by a pinecone-gathering squirrel. The squirrel didn’t forget. Because he is a creature of instinct and the outdoors, he knew. Yellowstone 2011 It was September and he was doing the work of the season—gathering pinecones and flinging them down from the tree in rapid succession. They landed on the ground, the picnic table, the tent, and the camper next door. Autumn, the season of harvest, of preparation, of gathering and storing what he needed for the winter, weighed on him. He went to work with the sunrise.

Cocooned between my husband and our littlest one, who’d woken up cold in the night and sought out somewhere warmer to sleep, I listened to the frenzied activities of the squirrel in the tree above as he prepared for the unavoidable days of winter. From the warmth of our double sleeping bag, I considered the cycle of the seasons and acknowledged my own.

Deep winter. There was no other name for it.

Above the Basin

Our babies had grown into big kids, but even years beyond what we hoped would be the last move, the bleak chill of displacement claimed my soul in the same way the afternoon cold settles into my bones and makes them ache. And this frozen season of the heart held on too long, so long that my emotional storehouses—reserves against times drought and famine—depleted to dangerously low levels. With little left to fight off an engulfing depression, I longed for spring, a spring so slow in coming I thought it might never arrive.

But it did.

It came quietly, meandering in soon after waking up to that squirrel. It came on the heels of a long breakfast with an old friend, several perspective-challenging days in the mountains with my dad, and a couple of space-making weeks in South Dakota with my family. It came slowly, spring, with its powers of restoration, and its light, balmy air that took the chill off my soul.

The squirrel gathered because his fields were ripe. He gathered because it was time to harvest. The physical world is tidy that way. The seasons come in turn. Winter, then spring, then summer, then fall. And then it begins again.

101_0915It isn’t so simple in the world of people. Our seasons don’t follow a predictable pattern. They don’t always come in turn. And because of the rich complexities of our lives, we sometimes find ourselves facing deep winter in one place and high summer in another.

What the squirrel didn’t know on that sunny September morning was that within the month his home in the Black Hills would be blanketed by two feet of out-of-season, blizzard-driven snow. Like him, I’ll never know when autumn’s abundance will end. But what I’m learning is that winter is inevitable, that it’s best to gather whenever and wherever the fields are ripe.

For everything there is a season

Linking with Kelly’s Small Wonder and Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday.

This post was originally shared at circlingthestory.com.

Gifts of Spring

Spring Collage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring.

Like summer and fall and winter, it visits us every year. And like that bird I saw last summer, each of the four seasons brings a regular reminder to remember that somewhere down the road, things will change. That, along with each season’s inevitable hardships and gifts, are part of their rhythm and their charm. Some of these gifts are obvious and some are hidden, requiring us to search or simply be still. These are some of the gifts I’ve found this spring.

Birdsong: It’s so, so much better to wake to the birds than to the alarm clock.
Grey days: What better foil for the brilliance of the next morning’s blue sky?
Graduation parties: Celebrating with these kids and their families is a joy.
Picnic tables: My people linger longer when we’re seated outdoors.
Wildflowers: Even dandelions look fetching in an open meadow.
Baby animals. They’re baby animals, and that’s enough.
Open windows: They invite breezes and birdsong.
Campfires: They’re best when it’s a little cool.
Full streams: They sing one of nature’s songs.
Moss: I don’t even know why. Yet.

What gifts are you finding this spring?

For everything there is a season

All Because of a Little Fire

After the Burn by Courtney Celley/USFWS                                                                                                                                                               Source

The springtime landscape in rural Iowa wears a mosaic of ever-deepening swaths of green broken by plots of freshly turned fields and charred black ditches. Growing up, I saw the burns and wondered why people, including my farmer-grandparents, endured the stress of trying to contain a fire they’d set themselves.

They serve all manner of useful purposes, these controlled, or prescribed, burns. They break down dead plant material and return nutrients to the soil. They help with reseeding. They even control ticks.

My dad explained it to me when I was young, but it wasn’t until my family and I took up residence in the country that I began to understand. A long strip of grass lines our driveway. It bears the marks of once being a flower garden–a rosebush lost in the jungle of tall grass, a peony, clumps of black-eyed Susans, and a sea of towering, sunset hued lilies.

After we moved here nine Februarys ago, the melting snow revealed a tangled mass of the previous year’s grass. So we burned. We burned that year and the year after and the year after that, and while it wasn’t beautiful, it was uniform and green and sprinkled with blossoms.

And then we got bees.

They live just beyond the strip of dilapidated garden. When their first spring rolled around so did the mat of long dead grass, but we didn’t feel comfortable burning. For three years, a little fresh greenery but few flowers emerged through the snarl of brown grass. It was ugly and depressing.

So last spring we burned.

Bees orient themselves to the sun, leaving the hive only after sunrise and returning by sunset, so we waited for the sun to disappear, soaked the hive, and struck a match. The grass, cured by days of withering sun and drying wind, carried the fire from one end of the garden to the other while my son hovered over it with a hose.

We discovered, as the flames opened up space where the dead grass had been, interesting bits in the ashes: singed but living lilies, the charred remains of a  poison ivy vine, a couple of pop cans left behind during some day of outdoor work.  Our cats, always after a meal, crouched as closely as they could to the flames, watchful and ready to pounce on any unfortunate–and to my way of thinking, unwelcome–field mice displaced by the heat.

The fire consumed the remains of the grass, the trash, and the vine. It exposed the pop cans and the mice. What it didn’t do was destroy the lilies. And of everything we saw when the flames cleared, only they belonged in the garden.

The fire burned right over them.

It’s the same with us. Fire consumes and exposes the decaying remains, the trash, the weeds, the litter, and the vermin that clutter our hearts and our souls and our minds and sap our strength. It eradicates the things we don’t want and makes space for the things we do.

Not that that kind of heat is easy. The fire burned hot enough to keep us at a distance. Only after it passed by could we get close enough to examine what it left behind.

Spikes of green poked through the charred soil within days, the first hints of what became uniform waves of grass with a few black-eyed Susans around the edges. The lilies, singed but unharmed, stretched toward the sun and presided over the driveway. All because of a little fire.

campfire

And you? Might the heat you’re experiencing be opening up space for something important by burning away the things that don’t belong?

 

 

Sharing this week with the writers at Small Wonders, Thought Provoking Thursday, and  Weekend Whispers.

 

 

 

 

 

Influenced By the One That Came Before

InfluencedbytheoneswhichcamebeforeSummer’s green is wearing thin. Before long, it will give way to the colors of autumn.

Some years, summer’s heat and its green march across the lawn arrive with a suddenness that suggest we’ve gone straight from winter to summer with no stop for spring. This doesn’t happen with autumn. Thanks to the turning of the leaves when summer fades to fall, it’s a transition impossible to miss.

aspen

Even though the leaves turn every year, even though it’s impossible to miss, it doesn’t always look the same.

Some seasons the trees along the roads and in the woods wear a regal assortment of gold, russet, and scarlet, intense pigments as invigorating as the crisp autumn air. Other years they cloak themselves in a faded array of the matronly hues of serviceable cloth.

The difference between the two lies in the weather.

During the growing season, the chlorophyll that colors the leaves green is constantly replenished by a transaction between sun and tree. As fall ushers in short days, a weak spot forms between the branch and the leaf. This weak spot, known as the abscission layer, prevents any exchange between the leaf and the tree. Chlorophyll restoration ceases and the leaves lose their green color.

The most vibrant displays result from a summer of abundant rain followed by an autumn of dry, sunny days with cool, frost-free nights. When low temperatures arrive after the abscission layer develops, it hastens the loss of chlorophyll and causes fall’s orange and  yellows to arrive early.  At the same time, the brilliant days and chilly nights enhance the reds and purples which lend autumn its splendor.

After a dry growing season, trees shed their leaves prematurely. They drift to the ground before decreasing daylight diminishes the production of the chlorophyll mask and fall’s yellow and orange are revealed by the fading green. An untimely freeze hinders the leaf’s ability to make the intense red and purple pigments that give the forest vista depth.

The colors of autumn are influenced by the season which came before.

Yellowstone 2011 175Sometimes, during a stretch of difficult days, a friend will tell me, or I will tell her, or we’ll tell one another, “It’s a season,” and look forward to the day it will pass and the situation will be different.  But when it gives way, when whatever has been coloring life fades and the new season is revealed, it doesn’t seem quite right. It lacks some brilliance. It isn’t as vibrant as expected.

I wonder if, like the colors of the leaves, our seasons are influenced by the ones which came before.

Perhaps there was a drought of sleep, money, or friendship. Or a deluge of opportunities and obligations. Or the chill of hardship, disease, or death. Or maybe just  too much cloud cover for too long.

It takes time for the effects of a such seasons to pass, time for the rain to penetrate the parched soil of our lives or the flood of too much to recede, time to feel the warmth and brightness of the sun on heart and mind, body and soul.

It takes time and I find it hard to wait. Still, it’s worth it, to count on the nature of seasons, to believe that a new one is one the way, to remember that as one color draws back another will be revealed, and that, while it might not be at all what I expected, there is a time for everything. Every single thing.

For everything there is a season

Sharing this week at  Small Wonders and Thought Provoking Thursday.