Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Flowers of October

Thinking about my absent parents tonight; my mother who died last January, and my father who preceded her by a mere seven months. I'm thinking about time passing, about rituals, about the upcoming holidays. Which for me start with Samhain, All Hallow's, Halloween: the turning of the Yearwheel, and for me, the true start of the new year. I am contemplating life the way I usually do in October, as the year dies, and the biosphere around me shifts into deep autumn, slowing down to its annual hibernation, the leaves failing and falling, and brightening the earth as they crumple. The utter clarity of the cold sky the mornings after the first hard frost. Over summer, I transplanted my father's pink rose bush from the old house to the new; this was the rose that grew in front of the house. Whenever it grew a blossom, in the last couple of years, Dad would cut the rose and take it to Mom, who was living by then in the Alzheimer's residential home. He would take her a fresh pink rose, which she loved. She always loved flowers, and Dad always had a rich flower garden. I didn't expect it to bloom this year, although it's been healthy otherwise. But this, this late in autumn, there is pink bud on it; if we don't get a hard frost, there will be an October rose, or maybe a November rose. Can you imagine. What a rare blessing. A bloom in late autumn, to end and begin the cycle of the year. It will bloom, and be a message.

Last night, I found out that the son of an artist friend of mine, who was developmentally disabled, prone to seizures and brain events, passed away suddenly a couple of days ago. Very suddenly, during one of his most extreme seizures; although it's wonderful he lived this long, as he's dodged a few bullets before. He was a great guy, very loving and caring. Yes, he had problems, but he was always involved in art experiences, he loved the outdoors, and he very sincerely prayed for my father, when learned my father had cancer; and he also prayed for me. He was a big-hearted person who gathered friends into his life very easily, very quickly. A remarkable soul.

In my new front yard, I have a small garden plot. There had been three old, flat juniper shrubs, that weren't doing anything except growing sideways and covering everything up. In the past month, I pulled them out, dug into the dirt around them, pulled out the bad roots, and left the crabapple tree roots from the tree stands at the corner of the garden plot. In the past few weeks, I've planted new perennial bulbs for next year. Remembering Dad's garden, how every year he planted new bulbs, even though he already had a hundred or more, around the house. remembering the explosion of color that began in March, with the purple and white crocus emerging almost before the snow was gone, through the tulips and daffodils, the lilies of high summer, and other flowers later into the early fall. in my new garden I've planted narcissus (daffodils), tulips, alium, hibiscus. I am remembering my father working in the garden. It was his form of personal therapy; he would come home from his doctor's office, change into grubby clothes, then go spend and hour or so in the garden before dinner. When he came back in he was always cheerful and present. I realize now that he was putting the difficulties of the day, the toils and frustrations and anxieties, into the soil: he was planting his darker feelings into the dirt, shedding them, giving them back to Mother Earth to be purified and released. I see myself in him, now. I understand his garden therapy, and I am starting to do it, for myself, now. I will plant some more tulips and crocus tomorrow or the next day. I transplanted the pink rose earlier in the year, but I also transplanted some hostas from Dad's yard, to line my shaded walkway. Hostas are amazing and beautiful plants, need little care, and thrive in a lot of places that other plants don't like. Many Japanese gardens in the USA feature hostas as prime plantings, since they look good the entire season.

I am going to make a small rock garden, like a pocket-size Zen garden, in part of the garden plot. I am going to arrange a collection of rocks—some gathered by me, some gathered over the years by my mother, some found digging in the new garden here—into a symbolic mountain and ocean, a dry stream, a tall peak over a flat lake. Mountains and rivers without end embrace the ten thousand things. It will be small enough that almost no one will see it form the street, unless they know how to look for it. It will be hidden but not concealed. I will know it's there, and I will look over it throughout the year.

I do this in remembrance of everyone I have known and loved who is now passed over.

I do this is memory of their love, and my love for them.

I do this knowing that all of us pass over, sooner or later. We are all ephemeral. Not even the land endures forever, changing slowly over millions of years.

I do this as part of my own healing, my own garden therapy. As I have learned to do in sweatlodge, give those tears to the earth, give them to Mother Earth, who takes them into her infinite bosom and returns light, love, and wholeness. I have cried many times in sweatlodge, and always come out blessed and healed by the Mother. She is there, in dark and heat, with the glowing heated rocks in the central pit, rising with the steam and sacred plants dropped onto the stones. Hearth and heart and home.

In my new rock garden, there will be Pueblo Quartzite from outcrops near Devil's Lake, rock 1.5 billion years old. In the garden, there will pink granite from a roadcut near the top of a pass in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. There will be dreamstones from Pescadero in California, and from Moolack Beach in Oregon. There will be a gravel path made of crushed mountain redrock, like a dry stream between two borders. There will be stones from around the world, that I have gathered from many states in the Rocky Mountains, and by the Pacific Ocean. There will be stones that my mother and father found over the years. When he was in college, my dad found on a beach of Lake Michigan, if I recall correctly, a black stone with white intrusion of quartz into, that had been weathered into the shape of the capital letter D, the initial of our family's last name. I found another D-stone on the northern shores of Lake Superior four or five years ago. The Great Lakes have given us a home, for many years, and remind us of our name.

I am remembering the dead tonight. They gather close; we talk together late into the night. I burn candles late into the night. I have two Buddhas carved from wood that sit in zazen before a carved lotus that holds a small candle. Calling the earth to bear witness. I burn candles that I have made, myself. My grandfather taught me to make candles, when I was a boy. I still have many of his candles, which I can't bring myself to burn. I wish I had his candle molds, but they were lost some years ago. I burn candles that I've made, and that close friends have made for me.

I don't understand people who say they don't make anything. That they can't, that they don't know how. I cannot understand the belief that one is incapable of Making. I think it's just a tragic misunderstanding. It is a tenet of my own faith that we all make. We are part of Creation, and we are made in the image of the Creator, so when we create, even if it's just making a meal, we are participating with the Creator, and being part of the ongoing flowering and unfolding of Creation itself. How could it not be so. We are the flowers of spring, and we are the flowers of October, when we the living remember and speak to the dead.

In October I have, many years, been at a creative peak. This has happened enough times in October to be a noticeable pattern. Often I write essays and poems at white heat. I begin enduring photo projects. I started a photo project when I was still in college that I called October Light, which was a celebration of the clear, cool blue light of the sky during October, in the Upper Midwest, and the way it colors everything with an almost spiritual clarity. I remember photos of the shadows of bare-branched trees falling across the bare ground, where one brightly-colored leaf had fallen. Even then, my aesthetic was akin to wabi-sabi, although it would be years before I knew and understand the importance of that term in Japanese aesthetics.

In October, I burn. Will we burn in heaven / like we do down here? / Will the change come / while we're waiting? / Everyone is waiting. The sky burns, the trees burn with colored light, the land burns with inner white light, the fire of living. The mind of light. The white light. The light that sheds across the lintel of the Door of Worlds, shining from the passage between worlds, no-place-between, the actinic light of the places we must traverse as we pass between. The dead open their hands: / their hands are filled with light.

In October, this year, I am freed as I have never been free. I am now an Orphan, without parents or rudder. But the Orphan is also free to create new worlds, new histories, because the past is gone and unknown. I come from a nation founded by immigrants; a nation that carries the Orphan archetype. It's no wonder we still are seen, even in dark and unfavorable times, as a land of opportunity. What drives us is our constant need to reinvent ourselves. To explore. To become pioneers, again and again, to seek new frontiers, the distant horizon. The sun is going down over there; let's follow it and see where it takes us. In my new home, my own orphanage, there have been times when I've felt haunted, oppressed, burdened, with the family history. Now, though I feel blessed to be making my own history—free at last, free at last, Lord God Almighty, I'm free at last.

Words weave together in new spells for the memory of the dead. We speak to the dead through our lives, as part of our lives. The walls between the worlds are thinnest around Samhain, All Hallow's, Halloween, and it's very easy to cross over, and have a chat. Sometimes you see little ghost cats flicker around the edges of your vision, chasing after ghost mice and ghost hares. Sometimes you see more significant and eerie presences. Some are more friendly than others. Deflectors up.

Purple were-lights gather in the fields at dusk, when the mists rise. Golden pumpkin eyes glow on porches. Harvest sheaves of wheat gathered into effigies stand at the corners of fields, and as door guardians. A distant train sounds in the deep night, echoing from the hills.

We do these things is remembrance of our beloved dead.

So Mote It Be.

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Blogger Rachel Fox said...

I love that word big-hearted. There are people who really do seem to have huge hearts and people who are quite the opposite. The former make you glad to be alive and the latter..well...they can be hard work!

My Dad died when I was 6 so I always expected to be an orphan fairly young. I used to dream about my Mum coming to tell me she was dead too. Nearly 36 years later she is still going fairly strong and it's odd that things were so different. I know what you mean about the 'free at last'. Strange things, families. Strange business, life.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Yes indeed.


8:13 AM  

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