I had a plan. I’d join a Land Trust tour at Camp Polk Meadow, learn more about the plants and creatures, and write a November post from the place. On my last visit in October, there had still been dragonflies. A gang of wild turkeys had sauntered down to the cat-tail pond. The leaves had just been turning goldy-green. I was eager to see what came next.
I drove the dirt road into the Preserve. The little parking lot was filled and cars were parked along the side of the road. My solitary heart (always more in evidence in the fading light of Autumn) yelped “No! Too many people. Run away.”
I kept driving. I’d never been in the other part of the property, or in the cemetery up the slope. The cemetery was empty. I parked, grabbed my Soupcon lunch (the fabulous weekday soupcart at the corner of Harriman and Greenwood) and found myself a bench in the first plot to the right. I sat for a few minutes. I love October and November more than any other months, but I had been feeling the effects of the shrinking light--I wanted only silence and not-doing. I've learned to trust how light moves in me.
When I first came West in 1985, I found a little ramshackle cabin in an old vacation retreat south of Flagstaff. My home was surrounded by second growth Ponderosa. Sun and shadow flickered in the windows. A woodstove kept the one-room shack warm. There was no indoor plumbing. We lucky residents took turns in a central shower house and brought water back to our places for drinking, cooking and washing dishes.
I walked out one November night to fetch water. I looked for the moon to rise in the east. The night before at the same time, it had glowed molten silver. I studied the place above the trees where it had risen. There was no moon. I wondered if I had gone a little crazy--or found myself in one of the fairy tales of my childhood.
The landlord walked up. “What are you looking for?” he said.
“The moon. It was right there last night at this time.”
He laughed gently. “Honey, you are such a green horn. The moon doesn’t rise at the same time every night. And, it never has the same shape it had the night before.”
“Ah,” I said, “Ms. Nature Woman has a lot to learn.”
“You got to get the city out of your blood,” he said. “Let the moon and sun be your clocks.”
Now, twenty-five years later, sun and moon are not merely clocks--they are Time itself in my blood. And I realized that since childhood I have felt slower, sadder and a little more afraid as we move toward Winter Solstice. I want to curl up in my house alone. I find being with more than one person difficult, if not overwhelming. Perhaps you feel the same. There is of course, a medical name for our condition: seasonal affective disorder.
But seasonal affective disorder is probably not a dis-order as much as it is a wisdom--the wisdom of an animal that goes to ground in the winter. We are, after all, animals. We are, after all, as much at the mercy of the seasons as they are--no matter how bright our electric lights might shine.
I opened my salad. It was a glorious concoction of grilled sweet potato, avocado, apples and brown rice. The food mirrored the colors around me--juniper green, a flare of red-orange leaves, the dark earth beneath my feet. I ate slowly. Later, others would come up the slope to the cemetery. But for that moment, there was being alone, with silence broken by the rustle of dry leaves. There was delicate sun on my face; there was the perfect mystery of the words written on a slab of weathered pine wired to the fence at the edge of the grave plot: Sue’s Lonely Blue Boy.
I had no idea what they meant. The gravestone said something about the soul below dying with his boots on. There was a lariat slung from a corner of the gravestone. I could have made a dozen guesses.
But there was the fresh taste of apple in my mouth, the sweet quiet, the absence of any plan to be anywhere, doing anything, I was joyful that I didn’t know what the words meant. I knew I could research them when I was back in the world of telephones and computers. I guessed I wouldn’t. Better for them to remain a mystery. Better for them to emerge some day in something I would write.
I finished my lunch. A van pulled in. I made my way back to my car and drove down to the curving trail through the lower meadow. There was no one there. I thought of the great fortune of being able to return again and again to a natural place, to witness only the changes made by weather and time, to learn in a classroom lit only by natural light. I promised the place I would return for the next Land Trust tour. And, I was grateful for the knowledge that there would be a next tour, and another and another.