AUTUMN HARVEST

Ready for Winter

Ready for Winter

Last night, I took a flashlight out to the pond and gazed into the waters and around the limestone borders. Thanks to our nifty filter, the water is as clear as chardonnay. Two sets of eyes shone in the night: my larger frogs, Green Lips and Green Head (original names, huh?) lurked beneath the overhanging stone shelves, eager for some bugs to come their way.

In this colder weather, the bugs are increasingly scarce—good for me, bad for the frogs. I have been wanting to write about the glory of this new, fresh, fall season for weeks now. I think it was back in early September that I got my first whiff of the season, blown in from somewhere, that fleeting tang in the air that smells like a fermentation of all that was summer.

Counting "King" frog, there are three frogs in this photo...can you see them?

Counting "King" frog, there are three frogs in this photo...can you see them?

Leaves are dropping now, but still hesitantly. I’ve rigged up netting over the pond to stem the deluge that will come from the leafy forest canopy. Like the rest of creation here in this part of the world, I am sorting my larder—storing and tossing. I am making an inner root cellar to feed my soul through the coming winter. Here is the bounty I have cultivated this summer:

In June, I made the decision—both medically and intuitively driven—to stop everything in my life, pull inside, and rest. Each day, I woke up telling myself, “I’m free today. Free! What calls me?” I sensed deeply that this stopping of my life and business had things to tell me, and it did. I was only able to do this “time out” because we had cashed out my small IRA. Yes, there are penalties for this. And yes, they were worth it.

The first thing that called for my attention was the pond that didn’t exist. My argumentative brain said to me, “You don’t have the energy for this. You are not strong enough to carry stones, to dig dirt, or to think clearly enough to plan this out.” Still, the pond called. I would find myself standing blankly at its neglected, broken concrete liner, my head in a fog.

Then, one morning, in my place of total freedom, my hands began tearing at the stones and the broken concrete. Carter brought a sledgehammer, and eventually, the broken mess was a clean, dirt hole. I found a focus and an ability to plan that I’d been missing for several years, and the pond came into being.

Evenings would find me exhausted, muscles aching, yet jubilant that the ache was a good one—not the feeling that I had been beaten all over with sticks, which had haunted me for so long. In my freedom, I tended and harvested the realization that my health and physicality CAN return to me, but only under the right circumstances. And I’ve learned that I can lose it quickly under the wrong ones.

I spent just about all of the summer outside, remembering over and over the same thing I tell all of you, all of the time: Nature heals. Simply absorbing her heals. Sitting quietly in green places heals. Putting shovels into her soil and planting things heals, even if what you planted never comes up. Time outside grows an abundant inner garden in the soul, and it is a guaranteed high yield, because that is what nature does. She grows, she heals.

To my door came critter after critter in need of care. Some, I ushered to health. Some, I buried. And in the process, I harvested another bit of precious knowing: helping the hurt ones heals me.

Autumn turtles in the hollow

Autumn turtles in the hollow

By late September, I was finding salamander and frogs under every stone near the creek. Most of them have moved on now, perhaps to winter shelters. The raccoon cubs that visited with their mother in the late spring are now coming on their own to eat the dog food and leftovers I leave out for them. They are sleek and fat, just like the flying squirrels—I call them unicorns—that I’ve been leaving sunflower seeds for all summer.

And I harvest the simple truth that, in my own little corner of the world, I can make a big difference. The creatures on my land are stewarded with great respect, and they respond by letting me see them in all their beauty and inherent mystery. “My” birds chorus for me. “Carter’s” pond fish rise and splash for him. “Our” frogs lullaby us to sleep. “Our” trees drop limbs and trunks so that we will have warmth in our hearth this winter.

Summer’s end found me restored to health and wellbeing, my arms like Madonna’s, and my legs strong as a sprinter’s.  I had been right: my body told me what it needed, and I finally listened.

Then, I took a close look at our finances. Ack! Our cabin has not sold as we needed it to (anyone want to buy a precious mountain cabin for cheap?), and the drain on us is huge. Says me to myself, “I’m strong enough now to take on some temp work.”  And so Kelly Services and I became acquainted. I took a job doing phone surveys for soft drink companies.

That was a little over a week ago. Wouldn’t you know it, my body feels like I’ve been beaten with sticks. I’m exhausted in the evenings and it is not a good exhaustion. My mind is going foggy and my mood is frantic and lost. And I acknowledge this powerful lesson I have harvested: My body knows what she will tolerate, and what she won’t. And my self-talk can kill me if I let it. I listen to the voice in my mind anxiously muttering, “I’m not free anymore. I’m trapped. I’m not myself. Myself would be doing something else, like taking the chickens out for a stroll.”

Depression is grabbing for me with sticky fingers, and I give thanks for yet another gift: I understand that am one among so many who is living a life that is for the moment forced upon us be circumstances.

This autumn I gather up and put upon my cellar shelves the realization that I—we—walk a fragile edge between what our bodies and souls will tolerate and what we must do. This past summer, I grew a garden full of powerful lessons. Now, I take them inside and store them, asking myself, “Will this harvest feed me through the cold months of winter?”

We’ll see. What future seasons bring is always in the hands of mystery and surprise—those giggly, coyote twins. But I have the newfound knowledge that I CAN heal, and that I know my real limits a bit better, body and soul. I found, too, that some lessons are worth the financial cost.

And, I just learned yesterday that you cannot attach a comfrey poultice to a chicken’s head. Live and learn, live and learn.

May autumn find you filling your soul cellar with rich, ripe treasures. May you be sanctified by the falling leaves, and baptized by autumn winds.

Tell me about your autumn? What have you harvested? Please, share your autumnal heart with us.

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8 Responses to AUTUMN HARVEST

  1. Rohana says:

    I love your writing, but this piece especially talked to me because right now I am wading through my life under a heavy weight that sometimes feels like it’s going to kill me (and oftentimes I would welcome that relief).

    I am weary of the heat, my unemployment, thundering rap music, loud neighbors (I can hear them talking in their house right now as I write this), middle-age aches, and a sense of being lost. I don’t know where to go from here. I used to think of this kind of a thing as an adventure, but I can’t seem to dig up that kind of innocence anymore.

    So, I want to thank you for your pond, your autumn leaves, your life in the woods, your frogs, turtles, racoons, baby skunks, squirrels, deer, elk, and all the other animal spirits that have blessed your life…and mine by extension.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Rohana, I really suggest you create a tiny pond in your own place. Even a washtub can become a home to newts, plants, and an magical whole world. Even the small stuff helps!

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Rohana, I also wanted to acknowledge what you said about sometimes feeling that death would be a welcome visitor. I think many sensitive souls—including me—harbor those feelings sometimes during these turbulent, confusing, scary, yet potentially amazing times. Hang on, girl. That’s the test right now. Can you hang on? We must. We must.

  2. Patricia LeVesque says:

    Oh Susan, you are the most authentic writer I know. Many thanks for this particular bit of sharing. We all need to read it. Peace to you. Pat LeVesque.

  3. Erin says:

    For Rohana, You are not alone. I also, am struggling at 67 years old to keep going. I also live where it is hot and want nothing more than a peaceful, cool place with nature out my window– and retirement. I have a small Social Security, but still have to work everyday doing the only job I could get at my age that will pay my rent and expenses…security for a school, which means this old body has to walk and stand all day and then comes home exhausted and almost unable to walk from the pain. But, we must find a way to go on and get through it. I, too, sometimes think I should give up. You are going to be okay, and so am I and others in our position in life, we just have to believe that there is plan for us.
    Hang in there! Like Susan said, we have to!!! Peace and blessings to you, Rohana.

  4. valerie says:

    Autumn. The most colorful and invigorating season of the year. How is my Autumn? Joyous and frightening at the same time. I feel I am one of the very lucky ones. I live in the Pacific Northwest. The mornings are cold. The nights are cold. There is that change of seasons feel in the air. I welcome that for I love change. Our garden didn’t do so well this year and we lost much.

    I have to chuckle a bit about the critter after critter coming to Susan’s door. I know how it is when a furry little face looks up at you in great need of help. There have been many kittens particularly coming into my place of employment and still coming in. Some are in great need of superficial care. None have died or had to be euthanized. I have only had one kitten to rescue this year. She was almost dead when she was brought to the shelter I work for which is a no kill shelter. As a former animal health technician, I thanked the powers that be for the knowledge gained in being able to save little lives. I gathered up all the supplies to help keep her alive and fostered her. I adopted her when she was well. Sophie Snakemouth lives with the rest of the brood now. It is a rewarding feeling to have saved a life. I am now fostering 2 feral kittens. They are making good progress.

    My Opposum, Bambi, has moved out. I feel he has met with foul play, however, because his move was sudden. He and I were not on handling terms but I spoke with him when working on my pottery and I fed him grapes and dry cat food. He no longer would run away when he saw me enter the garage.

    My art (jewelry, painting and pottery) is starting to gain momentum. Another rewarding feeling and as it is mostly animal oriented art there is that one extra plus to creativity.

    I live modestly. I am married to a wonderful man. My horse is fat and healthy, My cats and dog are doing just as good, my art and shelter work are great. Life couldn’t get any better but to each some rain must fall. I think it happens to remind us to keep both feet firmly on the ground. My husband was diagnosed last year with bladder cancer. Surgery went well. All was fine. But the disease came back this year with a vengence. It is now inoperable. He is in chemo and faces radiation soon. This is a huge blow to all the good stuff that is happening. I know there is a reason for all things but I cannot find the reason for this.

    So for this Autumn, I am counting my blessings and living each day as well as I can appreciating all that I have gained and accumulated emotionally and spiritually in my life. Possessions are nice but not important. They give us comfort but can easily be replaced.

    When we get older, it is a joy to reflect on our youthful days to gain perspective in our present day lives.

    Our loved ones, 4 legged, winged, finned, stationary and 2 legged are the important things in life.

    Thank you,
    Valerie

  5. Mmm … such beautiful, heartfelt reflections, Susan. There must be a reason, there has to be, a higher reason, why so many of us, after having given so much of ourselves to the world, to others, to life, suddenly find ourselves lost in an ocean of uncertainty and fear, in what feels like new and uncharted territory, of which we know not of the rules or laws. Why we feel as if we were drowning, hanging on by the tips of our fingernails, if we are even hanging on at all. Why we pray for death to come release us from a world we no longer understand or feel we can bear. There must be a reason, and as you wrote, it is a test, for each and every one of us. Let us hold hands with each other, let us join our hearts together in our times of such suffering, and let us remember we will have all of eternity to rest and restore our souls. Let us remember what we are in truth is but one, all-encompassing and beautifully radiant field of energy. Let us remember we came down here, under the ephemeral form of our separate identities, to do just that, to learn from the trials of life in the form and to enrich our soul from the lessons learned while trying to overcome adversity and survive with as much grace, patience and detachment we can possibly master. Let us turn to Nature, our Mother, as you so wisely teach us Susan, and learn from her. Let us be inspired by the flexible weed, bending and yielding to the most violent of storms, dancing in the midst of it, while everything attempting to fight against it is pulverized. Let us wait out the storm, if only to have a chance to see the colors of the sunrise on the other side and someday, maybe, to be able to share our stories around a fire and wonder in awe where we did eventually find the strength to hold on and make it through…

  6. I just went to make myself a warm pot of Mayan Yogi tea. As I tore open the tea bag to let it glide into the kettle, I noticed there was a tiny message attached to the string. For some reason, I felt compelled to unfold it and read it (I didn’t remember tea bags came complete with messages!). After reading the words, I had to come back to my computer and share this with you. Here is what my Yogi tea had to say to us today:

    “Your greatness is not what you have. It is what you give.”

    It speaks for itself, doesn’t it 😉

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