Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

The equinox occurred last night at 11:29 (CST). This was when the sun shone directly over the equator. After last night, the days for the northern hemisphere will shorten and the beautiful balance of equal days and night will tip over the edge towards darkness.

The autumnal equinox is also known as the Second Harvest (where everyone takes a break from the first harvest rush before pressing on) and more recently, Mabon (a Wiccan name and a male figure from Welsh mythology).

I’ve been considering how to observe this equinox. I’ve been poring over magazines, hunting for images and phrases that speak of the coming winter and darkness, a time of the year I take great solace in. Woodcuts from fairytales leap out, as do leafless trees twining over paths. At some point this week, I’ll make a collage but I wanted to do a small observance for the day and prepare myself for how the light will be changing.

In the end, my observance was born from observing changes. Yesterday was the first day I wrote a to-do list and didn’t feel ashamed or frustrated I didn’t get it all done. Yesterday was the first day that I wrote and thought hard and then let myself rest with a walk and a short nap. Yesterday was the first day I observed that I was balancing work and rest without guilt or self-flagellation for not getting more done. This was a huge balance that came from years of emotional work and rocky ongoing struggles.

Creation and depletion is balanced by play and rest. And the equinox is all about balance, two equal sides. It’s a natural time to honor the balance in life and notice the areas it’s occurring. I chose to look at the areas where I was successful rather than not. It’s harvest time, after all. A time to count, savor and enjoy one’s riches. I don’t have a pantry (nor did I do canning this year) where I can walk in and gloat over my jars of preserves and jams. So I walked into my internal pantry instead and gloated over the new preserves and jams nourishing my internal world. It’s a new chapter for me—enjoying what I have rather than lamenting over what I don’t. Work is always pressing onward but it’s good to take a moment and celebrate what is working out and what is in balance. It’s a beautiful and sweet time, a moment of deep breath taking before the last lingering days of autumn come to an end.


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Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.

Winter in the Time of Climate Change

There is a stream near my home and I walk along it nearly every day; I know its moods and seasons nearly as well as I know my own. We are family and our connections are pure: we’re both made of water.

Every day brings more distressing news about the environment. Big changes need to happen but whatever change that does happen is so slow. Global warming is now being felt by everyone, some more than others. I go out and walk along the stream when the news and all the unfortunate future unknowns press in too hard. Right now, it is running fast. This winter has been a series of freezes and thaws. November hit hard with a heavy, deep freeze and I expected this to lead to a  white Christmas but instead, it’s been a muddy, wet winter, full of more temperate days than frosty ones. The thermometer rides up and down, every day propelled by a bouncing ball rather than a steady progression of tiny fluctuations.

The stream locks and then unlocks. It accepts each freeze and thaw with inestimable grace. After reading the news, it is hard to know what is near or far, here and up in the sky, in the mind or in the present moment. But the stream is always present, it knows no other moment. It lives in eternity; as David Hockney said, “It’s always now. It’s now that’s eternal.”

The creek is still here, I think to myself whenever I see it, it is still living. It runs forward through this strange January, sometimes under the ice and sometimes not. Patches of green moss dot the banks nearby, beyond that the nearby plants are broken, brown, and dried. They are asleep, listening to things I cannot hear, dreaming of things I barely know of.