I went for a nighttime stroll down an old familiar sidewalk a week or so after the hurricane. The damaged neighborhoods of Pear Street were lit more by the growing moon than the occasional proof of generator electricity. I wished that a lot of the well-known old timers— who have now gone on, who use to live down that way— were around to talk about what has happened to this place that I call home. I know that many of them loved the neighborhoods and the streets and the town as much as I do. So, I guess that the disfigured beauty out in the chilly darkness was colored with a little melancholy for me on that night. I could feel something that I believed to be the spirit of the town all around me, as I walked. I stopped for a moment and asked the town if it was going to be alright. And I was sad at the thought of certain trees that I will never see again, the always present buildings that will probably have to be torn down— and the people, and the good old days. I said a little prayer. I remembered to have some faith. Then I made my way back through the dark night, still using my flashlight to guide me, this time to the place where I had parked the car. I soon took the road toward home, with a sleepy head and a heart slowly becoming comforted; realizing that tomorrow is another day, carrying with it the hope that will hopefully grow from a clear blue sky. . .
This blistering summer was so rainy and overwhelmingly humid that nearly everybody around town was talking about it. Most likely, any or all of you were part of one of those conversations. I guess that it’s hard not to talk about what you have to deal with every day. But I, for one, have been sensing a change that’s coming. It usually happens every mid-August or early September for me. Maybe it’s the sparkling blue of the sky as the cirrus clouds hang up in the high altitudes, like gossamer strands. Or it could be the chip chip chipping of the mockingbird, choosing not to sing during the end of Dog Days, for whatever reason. And it might be the way that the narrow, lengthening shadows lay on the ground for most of the day. Or maybe it’s an occasionally cooler night that triggers the sense in me that Autumn is around the corner.
But what is it that makes the Fall of the year so welcomed, so anticipated, and in a lot of cases so longed for? It depends on the person, I guess, but in the minds and hearts of many it probably has something to do with the prospect of home town football; the turn in the temperature; the leaf change that comes around November; or the mystery of a foggy glow at midnight. It could also have something to do with the far-off sound of shotguns on a Sunday afternoon; ghost stories; the woody, mellow smell of burning yard litter; or the farmers’ market on a Saturday. And it might be something about that derelict old shanty at the end of the lane; the local dollar store’s aisles filled with Halloween candy; seeing the last golden flower nodding its tired head, far away in an abandoned field; or the incredible food and history associated with Thanksgiving that sends the mind racing.
This past Sunday I was watching FOX News while getting ready for church, and a Marie Calendar frozen turkey dinner commercial came on. Then I looked out through the front window at a beautiful morning, and thought about the hint of Fall that I have noticed these last couple of days. I immediately got to thinking about cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffle, gravy and mashed potatoes, congealed salad, squash casserole, biscuits, brownies and chocolate chip cookies, ambrosia, tender speckled butter beans, a honey roasted ham, laughter, and turkey of course.
Fall is a time for remembering, anticipating, and experiencing all those beloved notions that our thoughts can conjure; whether it’s the delight of great Thanksgiving fare, or any of the other much adored things that are connected with the season. But Autumn is also about a lovely dying away, when the world prepares for a well-deserved change; a comforting change that has been achingly awaited, like an old friend returning from being a long time away from home. Autumn is a season when we are all reminded, once again, just how awe-inspiring it can be to experience something as simple as a high school football game, or a forgotten pumpkin vine out at the old fattening pen, or the clusters of glittered leaves and acorns on the thrift store shelf; and then to get caught up in the overwhelming wonder of it all. So, please come quick Thanksgiving and Halloween and leaf change and cooler conditions; and all the rest that there is to love about the soon-to-come season of wonder. . .
I started a fire a couple of nights ago on the burn pile out back of our property, soon after darkness fell. The spot is near the woods in which a thin little stream bends and gurgles southward, eventually spilling into that lovely, sequestered tributary known to locals as Stafford Creek. The air of that fledgling night had a little early May nip in it, and the sky was so sparklingly clear that it seemed you could nearly see forever. There was a high and dazzling, yellow-white moon up there, companioned by a thousand/million scattered points of shimmering, silvery light. The wind was coming from variable directions- mostly gentle, with an occasional moderate gust- and was nice and cool, as it carried the pleasant and mellow smell of smoke and the dewy, freshly cut grass.
While I was out there in my little tucked away corner of the world, burning several boxes, some limbs, and a couple of wads of plastic weed barrier that I had ripped up from the vegetable garden, I enjoyed listening to all of the echoey sounds: the neighbor’s children laughing from way across the street; an almost silent night bird that was probably wading in the shallow waters down in the woods; a far-off dog talking to another far-off dog from a different direction; the nighttime songs of the few crickets that were brave enough to cling to the dark and hidden places, under such chilly conditions; the changing breezes caressing and nudging rustling leaves up in the tallow tree; and the raucous noise of an engine racing- probably some young buck in his pickup truck out near the highway, toward the east. And I could hear the usual swamp frog or two.
But the thing that was most noticeable on that crisp and wonderful night was the sound of the fire; once it stopped its flailing and roaring, as it ran out of most of what fueled it. It gradually changed to a soothing and comforting crackle and pop, and murmur- glowing a golden glow that was tinged with orange and greenish blue in the nooks and crannies, where the black plastic and a log from a couple of months ago were still slowly burning, until the flames eventually died away altogether.
A fire like that can be a mesmerizing thing for some reason. A fire like that, along with experiencing all of the sounds, and the smells, and the beautiful mystery of such a night, can cause a person’s mind to go to wandering and wondering- at least for me it can. I start to thinking about God, or little green aliens, or the vastness of the universe. I might also consider how tranquil and wondrous all of nature can be, or how badly the nearby fence needs weeding, as the waning flames shed a dwindling light on the overgrowth.
A fire can also make me think about the people that I roasted wienies with back in younger days; my long lost, beloved grandma; the friends who have moved on; and the new friends that will share future fires with me on future nights, when the cold air makes an inviting situation for needed warmth. But whatever crosses my mind as I tend the flames and stare at the stars, I can be guaranteed that a fire, whether for pleasure or for utilitarian reasons, will always be a warm and welcomed companion when a cold wind blows. Yes, I think that a restrained, worry-free blaze is sometimes the nicest friend that a person can have when the weary nighthawks soar to a far-off roost, somewhere away from the busy, complicated, and sometimes bothersome world. . .
Having something to consistently look forward to is a significant way to keep each of us happy and more emotionally content in our day-to-day lives. In fact, this idea can benefit not only us individually, but those around us in most cases- if we pick the right pursuits. Here are a few ideas for regular activities to help all of us feel happier as we live together in our beloved neighborhoods and town:
- Go for a neighborhood tour- Take a friend or family member and go out after dinner. Walk for an hour or so in a chosen neighborhood. Try to learn who use to live in the various homes, and who lives there now. It could be something to look forward to on a nightly basis, and could foster closeness with you and the ones who tag along.
- Visit someone in the hospital- Do this routinely to lift the spirits of local patients. It’s also a good way to get to know what a person’s story is.
- Do something nice for five people- Pick out five people for the year- maybe they’re alone or elderly or related to you. Stop by every month with a goody bag or a crossword book and say hello.
- Exercise- Go out to Sam Atkin’s Park or the Bike Trail three times a week and play a little basketball with some friends, or do some fast walking/running . You might include some pull-ups, stretches, or other types of calisthenics along the way.
- Mentor someone- Spend some time each week with a young person in our community, maybe helping them with homework or listening to their problems.
- Plant a garden- Tending to a manageable sized vegetable or flower garden is a good way to relieve life’s pressures. It makes you slow things down and relax, and gain something delicious to eat or beautiful to look at, as a result. You can even share your spoils with the neighbors and get to know them better.
- Put up a bird feeder- Hanging a bird feeder in a tree near your house, and filling it with good quality seed, is a good way to see nature’s beauty at a short distance. Add a shallow water dish close by, as well. A person can gain a lot of knowledge by learning more about the various feathered visitors. (Aquariums are nice too, but might prove to be more costly and maintenance intensive.)
- Have someone over for dinner- Sharing a meal with someone that you know well, or would like to get to know better, is something to look forward to- for you and your whole family- and your guests.
- Volunteer- Find a local organization that you think is important and help them out- put your skills and ideas to use.
- Be there for a person in your community- Cut the grass of the elderly man or woman next door, or take them to the grocery store, or make them a cake.
- Get involved with a church- Learning about faith, having regular services to go to, and contributing in some way to a church’s projects or ministries is very rewarding, It can make you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself.
- Get organized- If we would each spend just 30 minutes every day at getting our paperwork, messes, and other stuff in order, we could easily get things under control within just a week or two; rather than waiting for what often ends up being years to do what ultimately might take just a few hours in total. Look at each 30 minute session like that’s all you have to do, and ignore thinking about the larger job. In just two weeks, you will have put in seven hours on whatever you’re behind on- most projects can easily be completed in seven hours or less. (This is the hardest one for me; and it’s not so much something to look forward to as it is getting things under control.)
Good ideas? Try a few and see for yourself if things become better for you and those around you. Indeed, such a plan could go a long way toward making life in our little home town better for everyone.
Long, long ago, a newborn infant slumbered and dreamed in a small, hay-filled manger; surrounded by oxen and sheep and a humble burro. Mary and Joseph couldn’t begin to imagine what was in store for their beloved son, or who he really was, or what he was actually here for: to display the most unimaginable and selfless act of love that mankind had ever known- to save the world.
Envision yourself bundled-up and alone, in a glistening, moon-washed clearing. A serene and sleepy forest flanks the ground on which you stand- underneath a lonesome, cloud-swept sky. The undulating winds blow gently and cold against your face; as silent drifts begin to fall on an already blanketed, unwakeable world. You can feel God all around you in the noiselessness. And you think that you sense the unexplainable presence of angels in the evergreens; while a whispery, faraway sound threads its way through the sighing bows of snowy fir, and spruce, and soft-scented pine. There is peace and comfort for as far as the soul can see. . .
*And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David);
to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, “Fear not. For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
. . . you become so flooded with the intensity of your thoughts and emotions, that your eyes well up with unworthy tears, from the overwhelming wonder of it all. You realize that these tidings are yours to go and share; just like the celestial messengers and the shepherds of yore, when it was so gloriously foretold on that kindred, distant night. Yes, you must now leave the silent clearing, with aching reluctance. But as you finally turn to heed the far-off voice of someone beckoning you home, you think you hear what must be the whole world calling out in the frozen, meandering wind:
**Hallelujah, we’ve been found, a child is born to save us now.
Hallelujah, light has come- a Savior set us free.
Hallelujah, we’ve been found, a child is born to save us now.
Hallelujah, light has come- a Savior set us free.
Praise to God on high, He has heard our cry. . .
Praise to God on high, He has heard our cry. . .
Praise to God on high. . .
*The Gospel According to Luke- from the King James Bible- 1611 A.D.
**Alyssa, Rebecca, and Lauren Barlow- from the song “Hallelujah (Light has Come)”- 2008 A.D.
There is always something for me that hearkens to autumn, during the mid-August dog days. In my corner of the world, dog days are when we get to suffer through heat that is nearly unbearable, combined with much rain- at least that’s what happens most years. In fact, the old folks use to say that it rains for forty days and forty nights during this annual spectacle, just like in the Bible. It has also been said that the mockingbird does not speak when those rainy days and nights occur. I think this, too, is right, because I have noticed it happen- I always pay attention to nature. But the thing that I notice the most is how the shadows start to get longer and the days start to get shorter. And there is something comforting but a little mysterious about the way the world sounds- the buzz of a solitary bee or a brief rustling of leaves. There is also something about the angle of the sun as it rises and sets, with the dog star Sirius by it’s side. And there are glimpses of dependable, emerging plants, which possess a fall flowering nature; appearing along the roadsides and overgrown areas in a yard, here or there. But mostly it’s the unexplainable something- it is more of a feeling than anything a person can see or hear- maybe it’s just me that senses it. But somehow, there seems to be a mellow and comforting emotion that returns; like an old friend who comes back home after a long time away. It is odd to me that I get these hints of autumn in my mind, when the days are still so overwhelmingly hot, with greatly anticipated cooler days yet a month away. Even so, I am glad at the prospects of relief from the sticky heat and the incessant rains, and the coming change. . .
Late this afternoon, I went to check on an old friend, who lives in a neighborhood that was established many decades ago in this fair town of mine; on a quiet and simple little street, with tidy yards, and the conservative but pleasant houses of bygone days. The way the dwindling sunlight lit the neighborhood was as if someone had put a beautiful filter on the world; and the blackbirds were singing from the next street over, near the local grocery store. The smell of grilled burgers from a nearby home permeated the air, as the sun continued it’s journey to the edge of the earth. There was just a hint of a breeze, which soon began to pass among the large trees and the small yards of the drowsy homes that line that happy lane. And soon, the sun- no longer seen on the horizon- was casting its upward rays to create intense and blissful hues of deep purples and soothing burgundies in the layers of remaining clouds- it was stunning. What a great afternoon it was- like something out of a dream. . .