‘Tis the Advent season when our waning evening light moves from outdoors to indoors. This afternoon, the late autumn air was so still, so balmy, and so fragrant in all of its fecundity, it pulled me out of my shake-shingled shelter.
Whenever I’m outdoors, I remember again how much more constricted my breathing is when I’m indoors. As we learn more about how trees and fungi have created a living network of communication in the woods, I’m beginning to understand that the trees beckon me to just be with them. Their calling is felt more than heard. Without forethought this afternoon, my sabbath time turned to clearing the deck of fond summer memories and sweeping away the decaying autumn leaves of my towering contemplative companions. It’s as if the trees announced to me, it’s time.
All of our crunchy tree leaves and wilted garden clippings are composted in these same woods under the trees from which they once grew. The tallest of the oak trees are right now being invaded by swarming winter moths, an annual mid-December scourge. Each spring, as caterpillars, these moths have devoured the first round of our oak leaves. By necessity, the oak and maple trees in our neck of the woods have to grow a second set of leaves in early summer and it totally stresses them out over time.
So, the leaves I’m sweeping off my deck this afternoon aren’t necessarily the same leaves that first budded last spring as the songbirds were returning to our secluded sea cove. The woods along the coast of Maine can be a brutal place in the winter when howling snow-driven Nor’easters blow in and rip down these clusters of weakened trees with shallow root systems. Indeed, even if you can’t see it, you can hear a mighty tree when it falls to the forest floor, the vibration is felt as much as it’s heard.
My style of perennial gardening involves dumping all of the spent potted annuals, along with the potting soil which fed their roots, over the deck railing to be recycled into the grass and wildflower garden below. I also don’t trim back the withered perennials. I keep their faded blossoms, shriveled leaves, and seed pods up on their tall stalks which will stay above the deepening snow, providing food and shelter for the woodland creatures who reveal their nightly feeding forays by their tracks in the snow.
I am amazed how much woodland wildlife traffic there is in my yard at night after a snowstorm. Even by night with a brilliantly full blue moon, in winter I can see exactly where the fox stalked and caught a mouse buried deep under the snow. I ponder all of this wild life with intention as I go about my work, more as an act of wordless contemplation than something to mark off on my list of things to do.
I am not alone in my work. With reverence and some muttering to myself about things I’ve previously left unsaid in polite company, I remember all that has happened over the summer, all who sat with us outside for a spell. I can see again how much bright color the petunias, milkweed, cherry tomatoes, sunflowers, and pansies brought us.
The faces and voices of loved ones are with me again too. I recall how the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds reveled in their bounty. The deck of my wooden ship is moored in a safe harbor and it makes my heart glad. This afternoon though, as the light begins to fade and the temperature drops at sunset, it seems as though my summer companions are all gone for good now. I’m only slowly learning that there is still life buried here all around us, all of the time, expectantly waiting to return.
As I pull out the contents of my window boxes for their ritual December dumping over the deck railing, I’m feeling as though I’m preparing for a windy winter voyage in my wooden sailing vessel. I always feel adrift when the winter winds blow. At the height of storms, it seems as though we’re under full sail. The light, the wind, the weather, and the water are always in motion all around us. In advance of the storm, I dump dead plants overboard with quick burial prayers. I also recall the summer days I hurriedly pulled these same window boxes planted full of bright salmon pink flowers out from under the eaves to catch the cooling summer rains.
I use my trusty five-gallon white plastic buckets to catch the summer rains which pour off the roof and into my perennially leaky rain gutter, which is unfortunately located directly above my yellowed front screened door. I could reseal the gutter every spring, but frankly, it’s much easier to fill the buckets from a leaky rain gutter than pulling out the garden hose.
Soon, as the blustery winter storms arrive on the horizon, I’ll fill those same rain buckets with well water drawn from the bathtub spigot. I’ll stash them in the bathroom for when Nor’easters blow in and those moth-ridden falling limbs and trees inevitably knock out our power. It’s all connected. We need the summer rains to fill our well for winter; we rely on electricity to pump the water out of the well; the stressed trees fall and bring down the electrical lines, and in all seasons we use the buckets to store up some fresh water above ground for when we need it. And no, I just can’t hear the trees if I have a generator grinding on during a blackout, so no. Turn, turn, turn, so it goes with our seasons of work around here by the salty sea.
After a long winter’s slumber spent indoors, my yeoman’s work is to remember to breathe. I’ll keep an expectant watch for what will be blooming where it’s planted next spring. Springtime always brings its own surprises, but for now, we’ll bring the Light indoors for the winter. The seeds are being planted and cuttings are taking root. Different blossoms will unfold and bear fruit inside of these twilight days of winter.
It’s been a good growing season in ordinary time. In Advent, we now begin again within our expanding circles of sacred time well-spent. Full speed ahead.
Thanks be to God+