Four o’clock and the sun has just fallen below the line of sullen dark November clouds casting a sudden and brilliant gold over the buff colored landscape. Stepping outside to look, the muscular and deft long tailed hawk swooped in to survey the birdfeeders. We surprised one another, each adjusting course back and away following one another’s path, me to the patio, it to the branch of the willow. I like the woodpeckers at the suet. No doubt, it does too.
I’m back from a jog to the lake, the slowest old lady run, barely faster than a brisk walk, yet blood flowing, heating cheeks and hands and feet. Better than any freezing-cold walk. The geese were back after a month of winter weather when we saw none moving south. They flew in waves as they do every fall, eleven or fifty or two hundred in their loosely assembling and reassembling Vees, in three or five or twelve groups across the sky, approaching and going away, some barely 40 feet above my head, some a thousand feet up. Six or twelve or forty seconds go by and another array does the same, some honking, some muttering, some eerily quiet save for the frumpityfrump of their beating wings. In an hour, thousands pass. Often well into the night and before dawn.
They know me and I know them. We watch one another twice a year coming and going, the same birds taking in this stretch of their route: the marsh near the small river as it winds down to the lake to one side of the little valley, the low ridge with houses and farm to other, the green barn, the person in the tattered blue jacket now shuffling down the road. We figure in one another’s inner map, each making our way through life.
I love November, it’s quiet, the retreating day, the gathering brown and cold. Reprieve from the garden’s bombast and the all-too-busyness of summer and fall. Even the late and drunken bumblebees buried deep in the bosoms of the last fading roses have gone.
In the space of the gathering quiet grief shows up, the unfixable kind, migrating up from the depth as it does every year. Grief for the lost innocence and love of childhood, mother, family. My children growing and their leaving, their suffering and struggles, how impossibly much I love them. This dying phase of life on earth and its exquisite and wild beauty. The passage of time and lost opportunities. And more.
This grief is no longer unbearable (though sharp and stinging!). Now it is softened by perspective and accumulated experience, tempered by a deepened and deepening capacity to bear it, hallowed by the unchangeable tenure of love. Here grief mingles with joy, itself so tender and durable and unfathomable. Here story falls away leaving presence and a pure, breathtaking beauty. Not the lovely kind, an almost terrible beauty born of impartial Awe. The kind that strips away hindrance and bondage, freeing up space and radiant possibility.