I wonder if some language has a word for it – the elation of a perfect fall day, crisp and gilt-edged and glowing, mixed with melancholy of wondering whether this might be the peak, the moment when the fruit is perfectly sweet before it tips to decay. I mean not just the coming winter, but the dropping shoe of it all- flood and drought and the cruelty of the terrified and in denial.
And what if another perfect day does come, and I fail to notice? What if I wake up as if from a dream in which I’ve opened a room full of opulent gifts, and then neglected to thank the giver? It happens. The ground is littered with bright leaves and sturdy acorns. I carefully select a few to bring inside, when I could lie down and roll in the brittle beauty of it all.
– Lynn Ungar – October 2, 2021
“Gosh, I could gush every day over the golden, glorious gorgeousness of these autumn days,” I wrote to a friend in response to the photos we were both posting. And then I read Lynn Ungar’s most recent poem, and knew that before these perfect fall days pass, I will lie down and roll in their brittle beauty and thank the giver.
The last time I posted we were on our way to Niagara to visit our families, the first time in two years. Packing was straightforward, though after forgetting my must-take-daily medication when we drove the few hours west to Jasper in June, I was particularly attentive realizing I was out of practice, that my systems honed with packing a dozen times a year for the last decade needed dusting off. The airport parking lot was full, evidence that while this was our first flight in ages, many were travelling. I’d bought breakfast sandwiches the day before, unsure what, if anything would be open at 6:00 am. While quiet, I was delighted that my favourite Italian food counter was open to get the best coffee in the airport. Piping hot, I sipped while eating my sandwich, looking forward to leisurely drinking the rest once seated on the plane. That proved foolish. Face masks, enhanced with shields made near impossible drinking coffee, let alone anything else. So those Italian deli sandwiches I’d also bought the day before would have to wait for the car ride.
While Ontario and eastern Canada are renowned for spectacular autumn colours, our arrival was several weeks early, so only the sumac and occasional maple blushed red. But the purple asters partnered with goldenrod were abundant in ditches and fields and on the banks of the creek, each siting evoking Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.
As I’d anticipated, changes were apparent in our families, both young and old. Children who were infants and toddlers when we’d last visited were naturally wary, needing time to warm up to their “come from away” aunt and uncle. But time with the young adult nieces and nephews and their partners, and our parents felt like yesterday, as we fell into easy conversation and catching up.
That Saturday I missed my weekly Camino de Edmonton, a repeat of last year’s multi-stage, multi kilometer walk along Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. The weather finally cleared so I dressed to make my ritual walk along my beloved Niagara River, a Camino de Niagara. A chance conversation with my high school friend and her husband, a walk through the cemetery to “visit” my Oma and chosen namesake aunt and notice who in my absence had since passed. Years ago, when my Oma died, and her ashes were put in the granite columbarium, I purchased the slot beside her, with room enough for two, and while not quite a river view, close enough. Funny thing how that purchase always brings a smile, it being one of my best investments, bringing peace of mind knowing I have my final resting place. Hmmmm, whatever that actually means…
Driving away from my parents’ home to follow the river north to the falls, I wondered, as I do more often now that I and they are older, “Will we see each other again?” “When will I next return, to whom, and under what circumstances?” I don’t belabor it. I can’t. It’s as pragmatic as my mother wondering will she live to see the us and the world through to the other side of Covid. It simply is what it is, a truth of our lives. Like the curious affinity of purple asters for goldenrod.
I copped this line from a friend’s recent blog. It was how she closed her essay on the impacts of living for eighteen months with a pandemic. When it arrived in my inbox last week, a quick glance told me – and I emailed her – this was one post I’d need to take slowly. That her candor deserved my time and reflection. And while I didn’t read it with the glass of wine I’d suggested, or our mutually enjoyed prosecco, sitting here on a cool fall afternoon, with Annie napping beside me, the space heater on, and a mug of now cold tea within reach, I was right. “So poignantly on point. Evoking what’s both deep inside and right on the surface,” is how I ended my reply to her.
Yes, I am OK with drinking alone and yet after cancelling another dinner with friends as our “best summer ever” descends into the hell of a “WTF” fall I’m not so sure I should be – drinking alone, or even drinking, that is.
Alberta is a mess. Last week our premier – absent for the better part of August – finally made a public appearance to announce – guess what – we’re re-instating a fourth wave public health state of emergency and imposing another round of restrictions. While his $100 a jab incentive announced a few weeks ago didn’t get much uptake, this week’s commencement of a vaccine “passport” resulted in vaccination rates soaring 300% in 24 hours. We have the highest numbers of hospitalizations and ICU admissions across the country and since the pandemic was officially announced eighteen months ago. And this didn’t just happen. We the people made this mess with decisions and choices made, or not made, and actions taken, or not taken.
This past week I was politically vocal every day on social media, angered by the impacts on our beleaguered health care professionals, people I know and don’t having medical interventions and surgeries cancelled, protests happening outside our hospitals. Atypical in that I am purposeful in using social media to uplift the good, the true, and the beautiful, believing, akin to John O’Donohue and others, that beauty is an antidote to the tragic, terror, and destructive in our world. After a few days, I deleted those posts, my outrage tempered by my intent and vision.
In response to a recent Facebook friend’s plight while travelling, we sensing a kinship, I offered:
“…with covid and all that stuff, I feel I have lost myself – the woman I knew myself to be – pretty confident, kind but fierce, irreverent at times…now I can hardly make a decision, and the anxiety, free floating and homed in – so much I am not doing. Many days any pretense of discipline and commitment gives way to ennui.…I think covid has messed with many of us in very insidious ways, and it’s not until we attempt “re-entry” that we feel how significant the impacts…. And what I have a very strong hunch about, that no one is talking about, is that all the virtual stuff – Zoom and such – while it has been very helpful and necessary, I think it is activating deep attachment trauma anxiety – seeing you and yet, not feeling you…that confusing abandonment. I once wrote after a women’s circle that I hosted – for myself and 4 others – “I miss you in my bones and by my body” – that ZOOM just didn’t do it for me, though better than not, or was it???”
Tomorrow we fly. Our first flight since returning from Spain two weeks before the world as we knew it changed. We’re taking one flight into a little airport, renting a car, and driving down the highway to visit our families. It’s been nearly two years. I’m anticipating change – in my elderly parents, blessedly healthy and still living in their own home; in great nephews growing from infancy to daycare, from toddler to kindergarten. And while we won’t be socializing away from home, I’ll enjoy toasting to life – as we know it now -together with family, in my bones and by my body.
“In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”
August has arrived in a heat wave, though not the “dome” that brought in July. Wave, dome – both feel pretty damn hot with a bit of wind blowing, deluding one into thinking “ahhh, it’s cooler now.” Cloudless skies continue, but the persistent blue of a month ago has given way to haze with smoke from the still burning forest fires that have disintegrated villages and have others on evacuation notice. Sun glowing red in the morning, redder at night, now later to rise and earlier to set.
Though less now, I’m still attuned to school year rhythms, where notions of work would begin to appear on the horizon, readying for start-up later in the month. It was a few years ago I wrote that August – always for us in the northern hemisphere, the last month of summer – feels to me like one long Sunday night. Today, Sunday, this first day in August – almost a decade since I left full-time employment to free-lance – I still feel that flutter in my belly. A cocktail of anxiety, ambivalence, anticipation, acceptance – the ingredients in this order, though amounts may vary.
I’ve alluded to and explicitly written over the past several weeks, that it’s been a “wobbly” time, difficult even some days. Writ large: the world trying to move beyond a virus that simply will not let us go, mutating faster, and exponentially more contagious. Here and abroad, again a season of relentless burning and unprecedented flooding, evidence that while the world was in retreat for eighteen months, climate change was not. Fractured and collapsed infrastructures. An apocalyptic unveiling of grievous global injustice and racism. Right now to my way of thinking, the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games appear the perfect metaphor. Writ small: me trying to find footing in a “re-opened” community, and province deciding to toss out all covid public health protocols, where I continue to monitor if and who to hug, how close to sit, where and when to wear masks, when to travel to see my parents. Sleep disrupted by the heat and a habit of worrying about unknown “what nexts”? Sensing another turn of the wheel and breaking of the “kitsugi” bowl to allow something – yet defined – room to emerge, then to be mended with gold. Sitting in such threshold space is often difficult for me when it activates old trauma reactions that vacillate between brittle anxiety and a listless, deadening loss of focus – both leaving me wrung out.
“The beauty that emerges from woundedness is a beauty infused with feeling.”
John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, 2004
And so I turn to gazing into the backyard sky and trees, onto the garden beds that are finally reviving. I walk Annie early before it’s too hot, enjoying the silence of our slowly waking streets. I listen to the water falling in the fountain – and while a far cry from my beloved Niagara River – let it soothe. I light the kitchen candle when loss’ grief comes calling. I take pen to page, not as often, and often reluctantly, to write anew.
“Beauty enchants us, renews us, and conquers death.
Piero Ferrucci, Beauty and the Soul, 2009
Wishing you all that is good and true and beautiful in your lives, dear friends. Much love and kindest regards.