Grief Overshadows Joy by Sara Wright

Fall is the season of ‘the cutting away’, a poignant time to celebrate the deepening darkness as we turn inward. I think the powers of the goddess are strongest at this time of year… I wrote this wistful poem in celebration of Autumn as I am experiencing it this year… perhaps the personal reflection that follows is the kind of thinking that is capable of opening a door to a new way of perceiving?  

Autumn Gold

Autumn gold

stains the maples

beech hay ferns too

each day

 a deeper glow

bittersweet bleeds

into lemon

liming veins

scarlet sears a leaf

or two

salmon rose blurs…

 fir balsam hemlock

spires reach

skyward

forest green

needles

soak in drops

of rain.

Fire

on the mountain

comes late

frost filled

nights

and crimson

swamps

are still

a dream…

Earth speaks so concretely about just how fast change is occurring here and everywhere.  At the end of September muted color has been the norm along with what I once would have called “too warm” night temperatures. Where is the swamp fire? My field has been cut, the flower garden shorn, my beloved insect ridden apple tree is bare, apples eaten. Her smooth  trunk is a study in pure grace – dove gray curves against pale ochre, faded sage. Red Deer no longer climbs the hill but moves swiftly through bowed ferns, rounding the house to feast on the second apple tree’s ripened apples. Grouse will soon perch in ruby laden trees. One crabapple is so thick with fruit that a daily sweep must be done to get out the door. Turkeys scratch a well – seeded ground layered with next year’s wildflower heads, grass -like mulch.

After the brutality of two months of summer heat and endless humidity this quiet descent into post equinox fall seems almost anticlimactic. I am scanning the sky for flashes of brilliant leaf color or peering intently at forest ground…. Wild orchids bloom on. Mushrooms abound. I imagine the billions of miles of mycelia just beneath my feet wondering which threads will support the twenty thousand species of fruiting bodies that will burst out of the ground somewhere on this earth, many seduced by rain. Around here frequent, almost daily showers have the rivers singing, and my brook pool is deepening, filled to the brim with healthy oxygen rich fish.  

These next few weeks will mark the end of the Season of Abundance as Nature orchestrates the Cutting Away. We notice then that the trees are stripped of their vibrant fall colors and leaves during this period that precedes winter white. The bones of the mountain appear; the evergreens have been chipped. I lean into the coming darkness a time to reflect and pose questions…

 One query I repeat year after year. How can I express my gratitude for nature’s bounty most effectively while including times of attrition as part of the whole? Only recently, within the past few years have I heard someone else articulate the former aspect of this question.

Scientist, author, and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks to the necessity of developing an attitude of reciprocity when engaging with nature. What she means here is that it’s critically important not to take nature’s gifts for granted. Like a sunset, an owl, or a decaying woodland trunk. She points out that most westerners treat nature as if ‘it’ (note the denial of personhood for lack of a better word) is a commodity, existing for the sole purpose of serving humanity.

As a naturalist and earth person I have never understood this attitude/belief because it never seemed real. My experiences with animals and trees taught me as a child that this thinking didn’t make sense. During adolescence this denial of nature’s personhood – Nature was inanimate – animals and plants didn’t have souls – became the core issue that split me away from the Christian church. Forced to choose between the two I chose nature and with it, guilt. (I was freed from the latter when I reclaimed my Native roots.)

When I first heard Kimmerer’s words about reciprocity they rang with authenticity. All Indigenous peoples know that intimacy with nature involves relationship because every living being in nature is a relative but I had not thought of this relationship as being one of reciprocity though I tried to live it. Nature wants and needs to be seen, appreciated and loved as individuals and as a whole.

Still, gratitude did not seem to be enough; it felt like I needed to do more. Of course, gratitude has both a passive and active aspect. Giving thanks and giving back…  

I advocate for nature through my writing of course, but this seems to be more about me than nature. In many ways writing about this earth l love so much is a way to deal with what otherwise would be intolerable personal grief over what’s happening to our blue green planet. In other words writing helps keep me sane.

I think incorporating the acceptance of grief into the story on a larger scale might be part of the answer. If ever there was a time to integrate the need for radical cutting away on a cultural level it is now. Changes in nature and politics are dramatic and unwelcome and one way I can deal with this present is to find a way to take the long view, which incorporates deep time into the whole. As Richard Powers quotes “we are born, live and die in the middle of things; this is not a good story”. Entering deep time is easier if I am, for example, watching a snapping turtle, knowing that this species has been in its present form for 60 – to 200 million years. My life in this context disappears into Time…But I cannot stay here.

So at present I can celebrate the cutting away as a seasonal change but that is all.

I suspect that my periodic inability to accept both sides of the whole – abundance and attrition equally – may be getting in the way of living my life joyfully. Unless I am actually in the forest actively participating with my beloved, wed to the present while sitting by a stream, peering into the trees, discovering new mushrooms, or listening to the barred owl’s call, grief overshadows my capacity for joy. I believe that nature wants us to feel the joy of being alive and I keep losing it. The fear of my own death and our collective need to destroy the earth both get in the way…

I think that there is also another hidden aspect. Overstory’s author Richard Powers asks another important question: “What if the living world sets patterns that we have to accommodate ourselves to?” This idea turns free will on its head, of course. But my life experience suggests that certain patterns do dominate my life. Once I suspected this I wasted a lot of time trying to ignore, rage against, or overcome what I could not.

Now what I want is to accept what is.

It seems to me that I need to re-engage with the Dark Goddess to help me live more joyfully while accepting   unwelcome earth changes including that of my own death.

Perhaps She’d also remind me that being willing to engage with an unknown future is what matters. And that deaths of all kinds, at least in Nature, always lead to new life.  

BIO: Sara Wright is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, Eco-systems, General

Tags: , , , ,

8 replies

  1. A beautiful meditative piece about this beautiful, yet mournful time of year. I’m especially struck by your thoughts about aligning with patterns of Nature. I have found that Nature teaches us just about everything we need to know, we just need to find ways to listen that are not usual in our western culture.

    Like

    • Ah, what a relief Carolyn – someone has a comment – have you noticed that people aren’t commenting like they used to? I kind of feel like we have slipped into a void – and “like” – well, I immediately think “like what”a sentence, an idea….or are they reading these posts at all?

      You, however, are the exception~ a wonderful exception – because what you have to say carries breadth and depth and I appreciate that…greatly

      Anyway, I want to respond to what you said about nature as teacher. You are right, of course. Nature will teach us everything we need to know if we pay attention… I wonder if it is our cultural alienation from nature that is responsible for this inability to see, to listen, to experience?

      But its not that simple. Many people take to “hiking” and more and more trails are chopping up what’s left of the forest and these people are totally unaware as well. They just use nature as an exercise gym – or a means to get to the view. Nothing much in-between…

      How else could we keep on going as if we were not in an earth crisis that involves us because we are part of it? –

      I just read yesterday that 70 percent of the wildlife has disappeared in the last 50 years (WWF) – what are we doing with this kind of information? the fires? the killings? Could go on and on here. These sorts of questions keep me up at night. Apparently not most people…this in itself is a source of despair.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

    • You know I’m starting to feel as if I am living in a parallel world or something

      Like

  2. I’m not sure why there aren’t more comments. It may be that this is just a busy time of year for a lot of people. I hope people know that they are welcome to comment with their own thoughts and life experiences and great conversations have happened on FAR! So often people will give me new perspectives on something I’ve written and I’m really grateful.

    I know what you mean about people zooming through nature on “hikes” rather than stopping to really experience where they are and all the amazing life that is happening around them. We have amazing trails near where I live and people are always dashing through, on their phones or talking to friends and not paying attention at all. I wonder if kids were taught in school to walk through nature, to sit and be still, and contemplate where they are if the world wouldn’t quickly be a better place. I don’t think this is a modern problem, though — your comments remind me of that quote from Henry David Thoreau, who wrote about 150 years ago “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la sainte terre (to the Holy Land).” May we all saunter in this beautiful fall (or, in the southern hemisphere, spring) weather!

    Like

    • I don’t think it’s the busy time because I’ve noticed this descent – a kind of lack of energy or something and like you just said we want people to comment with their own thoughts/ feelings etc – that’s what makes for lively conversation – and yes I have learned so much about other perspectives from these posts in the past – guess that’s why I miss them and oh do I miss Carol.
      As far as hiking the outdoor gym well no one is present for anything and yet we deface our forests to provide these folks with yet another place NOT to be present…as I said I live in a parallel universe. Thanks again

      Like

  3. Thank you for your lovely poetic witnessing, Sara. I live in California and was just in the Chicago to be with my sister; she died a few days ago. Amidst the grief, I saw a midwestern fall wit blazing red leaves as well as flowers that were alive a few days earlier now dead and blackened. My sister hated the fall and would escape to Puerto Vallarta from late October to early December until illness and COVID forced her home. Did she know she would die in autumn? Yet I have always rejoiced in the fall, especially in places where the glory of the tree leaves is so prominent.

    Like

    • Oh the grief – I am so sorry – as for death we just don’t know the particulars do we. As fir this season it is my favorite – poignancy and all – in fall we get to see how nature prepares for the coming year – letting the leaves go but not until they’ve put on their show – I am so glad you got to see them…my heart goes out to you in your grief.

      Like

  4. Hello Sara & Everyone at Far,

    This summer on an impromptu walk through a brackish tidal cove on the Potomac, three barred owls were jostling each other up on a bare branch. This was spectacular.

    There was a small crowd of day hikers, and even a few bird photographers who had heard the news somehow and had come out with fancy cameras.
    In the moment I chose not to photograph and instead just tried to absorb it, this awesome, sublime moment.

    Siblings, someone said, with their parents off carousing without them.

    I thought they were Bard owls, as in emissaries, singers of messages, but when I went home I looked it up and learned, no, it’s barred, as in the color patterns on their feathers. I told my son and his dad, it was exciting and wondrous and now, as that completely chance event fades, I realize it was likely a once-in-a-lifetime event. Three owls jostling on their branch, comfortable, sociable. I’m now an owl initiate.

    Owls have been a thing with me for a while now, even before I started writing about Athena. Such an iconic bird and yet known also for coughing up dead mice. Those birds still exist. It’s grace that we get to see them, even if only once. Athena’s owl, of course, follows her
    everywhere. The German philosopher, GWF Hegel famously observed an irrefutable truth, “the owl of Minerva flies at night,” by which he associated wisdom with late-in-the-day perspective.

    Since that one moment, I’ve heard owls calling a few times and twice I caught sight of a large owl fluttering off a tree branch, but those three roosting siblings, how they sat their, nudging each other and probably burping up mice as they played gently with each other, that amazing moment.

    Wishing you a happy Halloween and All Souls Day

    Liked by 1 person

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