As I write on my small deck, surrounded by flowers, on this Labor Day morning, I enjoy the chill that requires a sweater. For as long as I can remember, this shift from summer to autumn has been a …
As I write on my small deck, surrounded by flowers, on this Labor Day morning, I enjoy the chill that requires a sweater. For as long as I can remember, this shift from summer to autumn has been a more important marker in my year than the beginning of a new calendar year. While there is a lot of ballyhoo about the New Year, shedding the old and starting anew with admirable resolutions, what could be a beautiful, meaningful ritual in our lives is lost in the stream of excessive commercialism starting around Halloween, when the plastic Santas start to sing and ending in January with the letdown and the debts. While marketers come up with a myriad of images to portray the glittery, glamorous, parties we’re supposed to enjoy on New Year’s Eve, pandering to our food and alcohol addictions, most people I know prefer to stay off the roads and enjoy an evening at home with friends and family, or in peaceful solitude.
Labor Day weekend, though, that’s the real deal. The season shifts noticeably, often with a marked change right on the weekend. The humidity evaporates and the crisper air brings the message, “Time to quit messing around, refocus, and get some stuff done!” Recharged with energy, I look forward to taking on new projects and completing old ones during my favorite season.
Living in the Midwest — and I have been a lifelong inhabitant of the prairie, farmlands, and forests — the changing season triggers an internal countdown that shows the Times Square countdown to be the pale imitation that it is. The earth tilts on its axis, giving us a different view, and we must shift to keep our balance. Our bodies feel the gradual changes, as we are immersed in autumnal colors and crisper nights with a promise of frost, turning toward winter, for we are lucky enough to live in a place with a real winter. The Fall equinox coming soon brings days and nights of about 12 hours each all over the planet. We harvest our gardens and prepare ourselves for the long, quiet of a Northern winter.
Even my domesticated, pot-bound flowers, peppers, and tomatoes show that they got the memo to slow down and stop producing. Letting go is not one of my inherent strengths, so it seems I have needed a lot of lessons in how to do that gracefully. The plants have helped teach me. I keep them alive and outside as long as I can, covering them up during the first nights of light frost, but then I must bow to the inevitable. I bring in those that are resilient enough to make it through the winter where they join the houseplants to make an unruly indoor jungle. The others must go. I can’t deny their cycle.
In our daily cycles, we enjoy skies crowded with dramatic clouds during the day and stars spilling out of the Milky Way at night. A clear view of the horizon and the visible trajectories of the sun and moon help me feel balanced. I didn’t realize how important that was until I moved to Minneapolis and lived in a tall duplex surrounded by tall buildings which blocked the horizon. I could only see the sky directly above, and I would ache to catch a glimpse of the moon. Often, seeing the color of the sky change, I would jump in the car and speed over to one of the lakes in order to see the sun setting below the western horizon. Just as a person is more likely to avoid being seasick if they stay aboveboard and keep their eyes on the horizon, I think we all need to have the horizon available to feel grounded, recognize our connection, and keep our balance.
Our daily cycles shift, too, as hours of daylight shorten and dark grow longer, with more internal messages to slow down a bit and take it easy. We humans have often forgotten our bodily rhythms and needs in our quest for technological change, but our bodies tell us you can’t fool Mother Nature when we jump on a plane. Superman may speed around the globe supersonically, but normal humans aren’t meant to leap over time zones at 600 mph. Traveling east to west is more difficult because the body has more difficulty advancing than delaying the internal clock. When Daylight Savings kicks in, losing an hour in the spring, many of us will be affected and not realize why.
Labor Day has traditionally marked the end of summer and beginning of the school year, and that call to action beats its drum within me, even though it has been many years since I was a student or teacher in the public schools. The anticipation of change brought anxiety and excitement, but I enjoyed school and learning, so even while feeling some sadness in saying goodbye to summer, I looked forward to the new year, and I would resolve to do well. I’m sure most of us feel the urge to buy new school supplies and a pair of penny loafers…maybe in the form of a new cell phone and some hiking boots…when September rolls around.
We also have our election cycles, so essential to our democracy, which harken possible change as voters turn their attention up a notch and candidates strive to get their messages out clearly in the cacophony and contention of electoral noise. It’s a season to pay attention, be clear on our values, and sort out fact from fiction.
The well-known song, “Turn! Turn! Turns!” sung by the Byrds, recounts the many seasons of life with the text from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. We are grieving this week for our friend, neighbor, and co-worker, Keith Vandervort. May he rest in peace.
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